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Lake Erie Monsters battling through roster turbulence

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With new faces in the locker room every day, Lake Erie has solid week against division foes

Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Admirals

Every minor-league hockey team has to adjust to roster churn over the course of a long season. But things are especially turbulent when the parent club is in the throes of a disappointing year and guys have real opportunities to establish roles for themselves in the NHL.

Such is the position of the Lake Erie Monsters as they approach the halfway point of the season. A combination of injuries and lack of production in Columbus means that many of the young guys who started the year in Cleveland are finding themselves getting significant ice time  and the attendant opportunity to impress John Tortorella and his staff  with the Blue Jackets.

In the last week alone, the Monsters have said hello and goodbye to several players:

  • Last Monday, it was goalie Joonas Korpisalo joining his Lake Erie teammate Anton Forsberg in Columbus after injuries sidelined Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney. It's Korpisalo's second call-up this season.
  • On Wednesday, the Monsters got Sonny Milano back after his stint playing for the U.S. at the World Junior Championship. There was a rumor that Milano, whose play has been up and down during his first pro season, might go back to the OHL to work on his game, but the organization seems to have determined that he's best off honing his skills in Cleveland.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Monsters returned center Peter Quennville to Cincinnati of the ECHL and released defenseman Steve Weinstein from a PTO.
  • On Thursday, right wing Josh Anderson was called up for the second time and got his first NHL goal Saturday against Carolina. The primary assist on the play went to Monsters teammate Kerby Rychel.
  • Oh, and speaking of Rychel, he received his FIFTH call-up of the season on Friday. One hopes he has apartments in both Cleveland and Columbus...Torts has said there are jobs open if the kids earn them, so maybe Rychel can finally stick. We'll see. He is the Monsters' lone representative to the upcoming AHL All-Star Game.
  • Friday also saw the Monsters release veteran defenseman Jan Hejda from his PTO contract after 11 games with Lake Erie. Rumor is that Hejda may be signing with another NHL organization (possibly the Penguins) and he wanted to take a few days to consider his options. To replace him, the Monsters signed another blueline veteran, Steve McCarthy. McCarthy was drafted in 1999 (Milano was barely three years old at the time) and has played 302 games with Chicago, Vancouver and even the Atlanta Thrashers. He had been skating this season with Kalamazoo of the ECHL. At least Manny Malhotra has someone on the roster with whom he can swap stories about playing against Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau.
So a constantly shifting group of guys wearing Monsters uniforms played two games last week. We'll get to those in a minute. First you should know that three guys who have been with Lake Erie all along had solid statistical weeks: Michael Chaput had a goal and three assists in one game, while defensemen Michael Paliotta and Dillon Heatherington each had a goal and two assists in the two contests. Rychel, meanwhile, notched a pair of assists before his call-up.

A lot of people ask me about Paliotta because he came over in the Brandon Saad trade and could be the piece that gives the Jackets the clear win in the exchange, should he pan out as a decent NHL defenseman. Offensively, he has been very productive with 6 goals and 11 assists in 32 games, putting him first in scoring among Monsters d-men and fifth on the team overall. Defensively? Well, I can tell you he has been on the ice for some pretty bad goals against. And his minus-5 rating  even taking into consideration the vagaries of the plus-minus stat  isn't what you want to see from a top prospect at the AHL level. He's last among Monsters blueliners in that category. So he has some developing to do when it comes to his main job of stopping the other team.

Anyway, the Monsters as a team sit in fifth place in the AHL's Central Division with an 18-12-2-3 record. They earned three of a possible four points last week in games against division opponents Milwaukee and Grand Rapids.

GAME RECAPS
Tuesday, January 5
Lake Erie 4, Milwaukee Admirals 0

This one came as a bit of a pleasant surprise considering the Monsters hadn't beaten Milwaukee in three previous tries this season, were without both of their regular goalies, and had lost their previous eight road games dating back into November. But journeyman netminder Brad Thiessen was up to the task, stopping 19 pucks to notch his first AHL victory of the year. (Backing up Thiessen while Forsberg and Korpisalo are in Columbus is Mark Owuya, a 26-year-old Swede who has played for several different teams in three countries, and who the Monsters signed to a 25-game tryout contract.)

This was the game in which Chaput notched all four of his points on the week, while Heatherington and Paliotta each had a goal and an assist. Credit Malhotra with the other Lake Erie goal, a shorthanded tally that marked his first goal in nine games with the Monsters.

Saturday, January 9
Grand Rapids Griffins 4, Lake Erie 3 (SO)

This was a solid point for the Monsters in the standings, as they went toe to toe with a very solid Red Wings farm club on the Griffins' ice. Lake Erie found itself trailing twice in the game only to tie the score on goals by Ryan Craig and T.J. Tynan (Tynan's goal came on the power play). Then they briefly took a 3-2 lead on Nick Moutrey's third of the season before Grand Rapids sniper Andy Miele tied it back up.

Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Chaput were all denied by obnoxious Griffins goaltender Jared Coreau in the shootout seriously, that guy is annoying while Thiessen stopped one attempt before Miele bested him to end the game and give Grand Rapids the extra point.

COMING UP

Lake Erie continues its season-high 10-game road trip this week with four contests in six days:

  • Monday, January 11 @ Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg affiliate)
  • Wednesday, January 13 @ Manitoba Moose
  • Friday, January 15 @ Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit affiliate)
  • Saturday, January 16 @ Chicago Wolves (St. Louis affiliate)