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Monsters keep rolling with 2-1 week

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Sweep of Grand Rapids highlights three-game set, offense comes alive

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, both wins came against the worst team in the American Hockey League right now, but it turns out they count those as full victories in the standings, which is why the Lake Erie Monsters can take satisfaction in yet another week in which they claimed four points in three games.

After sleepwalking through a 6-3 Wednesday morning matinee loss to the Milwaukee Admirals, the Monsters returned home to post consecutive victories over the Grand Rapids Griffins: 3-2 via the shootout on Friday, and an old-fashioned 5-1 butt-whipping Saturday evening in front of 10,245 satisfied fans.

Remember last week how we whined about Lake Erie having a hard time scoring in even-strength situations? For what it's worth, this week the Monsters remedied that by scoring eight of their 10 goals in 5-on-5 play. And even then, the power play still ranked a very healthy fifth out of 30 teams entering yesterday's action.

Your statistical standouts for the week included T.J. Tynan, who recorded four assists and is now 0-7-7 in 13 games. Josh Anderson checked in with a pair of goals on Saturday and three points on the week, while Alex Broadhurst went 1-2-3 and has points in six consecutive games. The captain, Ryan Craig, posted two goals and an assist.

In the comments last week I promised to keep an eye on Dean Kukan. I did. He was solid, though at times he looks like one of those European kids who is still adjusting to the North American game. Which, it bears mentioning, is exactly what he is. One thing I noticed: His passes are almost always tape to tape. You see a lot of passes in the skates (or even behind guys) at the AHL level, but Kukan puts the puck where it needs to be. He has a goal and an assist in 10 games and is showing potential. He's got a lot to learn, but the tools are there.

Anyway, Lake Erie runs its season record to 8-3-0-2, which is either second (by points) or third (by winning percentage) in the AHL Central Division, depending on how you want to look at it.

Let's take a closer look at each of last week's games:

GAME RECAPS
Wednesday, November 11
Milwaukee 6, Lake Erie 3

Yeah, this one didn't go well from the start, as the host Admirals jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead and pretty much stayed in control from there. This was the last game of a week-long, four-game road trip for the Monsters, and it showed. On the plus side, Michael Chaput netted his team-leading fifth goal in the contest, with Markus Hannikainen and Sonny Milano getting the other two scores. Anton Forsberg started in net but was pulled for Joonas Korpisalo after 20 minutes of work and three goals against.

Friday, November 13
Lake Erie 3, Grand Rapids 2 (SO)

Forsberg and his teammates were demonstrably better Friday night at home against the suddenly (and perhaps strangely) hapless Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings' affiliate. Grand Rapids is traditionally a very strong team, but this year it appears the Wings have stripped the cupboard bare of decent prospects and the Griffins are struggling.

Still, they didn't get down after Dillon Heatherington got his first professional goal and Broadhurst netted another one to give Lake Erie a 2-0 lead. The Griffins stormed back to tie it and force a shootout. (Heatherington's goal, by the way, was accurately described in the Monsters' post-game press release as "a seeing-eye wrist shot," but you know what they say about getting the puck on net...)

The shootout was when Kerby Rychel, who had an assist and was plus-1 in the game, decided it was time to end things in style. Rychel was the only one to score in the skill session, streaking down the left side and going forehand-backhand-forehand before nonchalantly depositing the puck behind Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau. Seriously, it was like he barely had to expend any effort. That's how you know you're playing at a high level, when you can make it look that easy.

Speaking of Rychel, he was called up to the Blue Jackets after Friday's game on an emergency basis and of course played Saturday against Arizona. It is his fourth recall to Columbus this season.

Forsberg also looked good, not just in the shootout but throughout the night. He ran his record to 5-2-0-0, stopping 21 of 23 shots in the first of 12 meetings this season between the teams.

Saturday, November 14
Lake Erie 5, Grand Rapids 1

Yeah, the goals were fun, but I spent much of the night watching Korpisalo, who made 37 saves and was as positionally sound as any goaltender that has played at Quicken Loans Arena this season. I saw maybe two mistakes, and on one of those you could argue that Forsberg was just trying to make up for a defensive miscue in front of him. During a post-game radio interview, Josh Anderson made a point of saying how impressed the team is with its two goalies. And while Forsberg is still clearly Coach Jared Bednar's #1 guy, Korpisalo continues to earn minutes with his play.

Speaking of Anderson, this was as good as he has looked in any home game this year. And it's not just because of his two goals, which were nice. It's also because he really used that 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame of his to great advantage, working the corners and establishing position down low. He's still young (21) but appears to be asserting himself more and more, which is fun to see.

Craig, Milano and Daniel Zaar also notched goals in the game. Zaar's shot was a blistering wrister from the slot that went high glove side with one second to play in the second period. That puck had serious velocity, as Zaar recorded his third goal in eight games and is showing promise since returning from training camp injury.

OTHER NOTES
  • Brett Gallant has 50 penalty minutes in 10 games. He and the fourth line got a heck of a lot of ice time on Saturday and Gally looked decent. He doesn't score a lot, but he really can do more than chuck the knuckles. Still, he's on his normal pace for 350 or so PIMs, and I believe he makes other teams think twice about going after Rychel, Milano and the other young forward prospects.
  • 50 Cent dropped the ceremonial puck before Saturday's game. You know, 50 Cent the rapper. I have no other commentary to offer up here because, frankly, the whole thing stumped me. There was no context given for his visit. He just kind of...showed up. They had an Army vet there to drop one puck, and right next to him was 50 Cent dropping another. Fiddy and his little entourage of mostly women watched the first period from a suite at Quicken Loans Arena and then left. I'm still trying to figure out what happened. (We later found out he was in Cleveland to promote a vodka brand.)
  • Lake Erie hasn't played many home games relative to other AHL teams so far, but the Monsters are fourth in the league in attendance, averaging 7,819 fans in six home dates. The new affiliation and the team's consistently impressive promotion are drawing crowds in a market that traditionally doesn't start thinking much about hockey until it's January and the Browns have turned in another 5-11 season.
  • The Monsters have a three-in-three this weekend, starting with games on Friday and Saturday against...Iowa again? Really? Haven't we played Iowa, like, 17 times already? Maybe it's just me. Let me check...OK, I see this will be the fifth and sixth times the Monsters and the Wild have faced off. Which means that by Saturday evening, six of the Monsters' first 15 games will have been against the Minnesota affiliate. That seems like a lot to me. In any case, Lake Erie is 3-0-0-1 against Iowa this year, though two of those wins have come in shootouts. The Monsters then travel 4½ hours to Rockford, Illinois, for a Sunday afternoon match-up with the Blackhawk-affiliated Rockford Ice Hogs. Rockford is the team directly ahead of Lake Erie in the standings, so this should be a stiff test for the good guys.