The Lake Erie Monsters have spent the bulk of 2016 so far playing cards, watching movies and engaging in the time-honored minor-league tradition of team bonding on the bus, as they near the end of a season-long 10-game road trip. The team, whose roster is slowly coming back together after a series of injuries and call-ups, performed well in four games last week, all things considered.
The Monsters split two games in Winnipeg against the Manitoba Moose before suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss in Grand Rapids and registering a solid win in Chicago over the Wolves. Lake Erie's record now stands at 20-13-3-3, which puts the Monsters all alone in fifth place in the AHL Central Division.
Lake Erie's penalty kill, which has been excellent all season, was 19 of 21 in the four games and ranks second in the AHL with a success rate of about 88%.
As for individual prospects who have shined recently – which after all is why most Jackets fans read these Monsters recaps in the first place – give gold stars to the likes of Michael Chaput, Sonny Milano, T.J. Tynan, Jaime Sifers, Dillon Heatherington and Daniel Zaar, among others.
Here's the week that was in Monsters Land:
Monday, January 11
Lake Erie 7, Manitoba Moose 3
So this was one was pretty fun. The Monsters built a 3-1 lead through two periods then broke it open with a four-goal third. Milano had a goal and two assists and was a plus-5. Heatherington was also plus-5.
Other statistical standouts included Chaput (a goal and two assists), Joe Devin (two goals), Trent Vogelhuber (a goal and an assist), Oliver Bjorkstrand (two assists), Sifers (two assists), Ryan Craig (goal) and Zaar (goal).
By the way, one of Bjorkstrand's assists came on a nifty centering feed to Milano, illustrating the kind of offensive-zone vision that Bjorkstrand was touted to have coming into the season. He still doesn't seem 100% since returning from a several-week injury layoff, but things are starting to click for the young Dane. We'll keep you updated.
Big Oleg Yevenko had a nice little scrap with Manitoba's Darren Kramer and leads AHL rookies in both PIMs (110) and fighting majors (10).
Wednesday, January 13
Manitoba Moose 4, Lake Erie 0
This game also happened and the Monsters allegedly participated. Let's move on...
Friday, January 15
Grand Rapids Griffins 1, Lake Erie 0 (OT)
Well, this was about as bizarre an ending as you're likely to see this season on any level.
Lake Erie's Brad Thiessen and Grand Rapids' Jared Coreau engaged in a good old-fashioned goaltender dual, with neither giving any ground through three periods and the five-minute overtime session.
Or at least that's how it seemed. When the horn sounded ending the OT, the officials skated over to the monitor to review a play that had happened nearly three full minutes earlier at the 2:08 mark. The Griffins' Nick Jensen fired a slap shot from the circle that appeared in real time either to deflect high off the far post or to miss the net completely. Play continued without a stoppage – which would have been necessary to conduct a video review – until time ran out in the OT.
What became clear upon review, thanks to a camera positioned behind the Lake Erie goal, was that the puck had actually gone in and quickly exited the net through a gap in the mesh. (Aren't the linesmen supposed to check this stuff at the start of each period?) Instead of proceeding to the shootout, Jensen was rightly awarded a goal and the game ended.
That's a tough way to lose.
Here's some good video of the play, courtesy of CBSSports.com. You'll notice the Griffins bench celebrating after the shot. They had a good view of it and very likely lobbied referees Mike Langin and Mark Lemelin to check the replay.
Saturday, January 16
Lake Erie 4, Chicago Wolves 2
The Monsters grabbed win #20 on the season with a victory at Allstate Arena over the St. Louis-affiliated Chicago Wolves. It was Anton Forsberg's first AHL action since being sent back from Columbus, and he was steady in a 31-save performance.
Centerman and Chicagoland native Alex Broadhurst, playing his second game since returning from injury, had three assists. Broadhurst, like defenseman Michael Paliotta, was one of the prospect pieces of the Brandon Saad trade and was a valuable part of the Lake Erie attack before he got hurt.
Zaar, meanwhile, had two assists on the night, while the goals came courtesy of Bjorkstrand and fellow winger Derek DeBlois, and blueliners John Ramage and Eric Roy. DeBlois and Roy, you will note, are ECHL signings of the Monsters. They're likely of relatively little interest to Jackets fans right now, but finding key pieces in the lower minors is often an important part of winning at the AHL level.
Lake Erie finally ends the road trip today (Monday, January 18) with an afternoon game (2 p.m. Eastern faceoff) in Rockford, Illinois, against the Blackhawk-affiliated Ice Hogs. Then its back to the cozy confines of Quicken Loans Arena for match-ups Wednesday against the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit farm club) and Friday and Saturday nights against the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville).