The Lake Erie Monsters are a relatively young team, even by AHL standards, and it's starting to show in a way that's crucial both to the team's performance in the standings and to the development of its players.
The Monsters, it seems, are having an awfully hard time winning on the road.
That was evidenced this past week as Lake Erie began a season-long 10-game road trip in less-than-satisfactory fashion, losing three away games in the space of four days. The Monsters have now lost eight consecutive games away from home dating back to November 22, and are a dismal 2-6-1 in their last nine overall. That road losing streak is the longest in the AHL this year.
The poor start to the trip put a damper on what had been a great start to the week. On Tuesday, Lake Erie beat the AHL's best team, the Toronto Marlies, in a low-scoring but well-played game at Quicken Loans Arena.
To hear Lake Erie radio play-by-play guy Tony Brown tell it, the Monsters' on-ice performance is not reflected in their recent results. Brown insists the Monsters are playing much better than the final scores would indicate. He may be right – and if he is, it's the kind of thing that is likely to balance itself out in the weeks to come – but for now, the numbers are what they are.
On the bright side, Josh Anderson had a point in each of the four games, going 1-3-4 and continuing to make an impact through his combination of size, grit and skill. Anderson takes more penalties than you might like (most of the obstruction variety), but he'll learn.
T.J. Tynan, meanwhile, went 1-2-3 on the week and now leads the team with 21 assists and 23 points overall.
Defenseman Michael Paliotta had two goals in the four-game stretch, while Kerby Rychel and Michael Chaput each had a pair of assists.
Let's take our customary look back at the week that was on a game-by-game basis:
Tuesday, December 29
Lake Erie 2, Toronto Marlies 1
The Monsters handed the team with the AHL's best record only its second road loss of the season, riding goals from Tynan and Paliotta to victory. But it was the play of goalie Anton Forsberg that really stood out, as the young Swede stopped 19 shots and was named first star.
Tynan's goal, his second of the year, opened the scoring 13 minutes into the second period. Tynan skated in from the left side of Toronto netminder Antoine Bibeau, waited patiently until Bibeau went to the ice and then lifted the puck up and into the net for a 1-0 Lake Erie lead.
Paliotta's goal came on the power play with a wrister from just inside the blue line. It was one of those pucks that seemed to take forever to get to the net but that a screened Bibeau never could quite pick up. Paliotta's five shots on net in the game tied him for the team lead with Daniel Zaar.
Thursday, December 31
Toronto Marlies 3, Lake Erie 2
The two teams met less than 48 hours later at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum in a New Year's Eve afternoon match-up. Lake Erie battled back from a pair of one-goal deficits but never managed to lead in the contest.
The Monsters' goals in this one were courtesy of Paliotta and Trent Vogelhuber. Vogelhuber's shorthanded marker tied it at 2 with only 13 seconds left in the first period, which you would have hoped would give Lake Erie a bit of momentum. But the Monsters wouldn't find the back of the net again.
Of note: A clearly miffed Rychel was held off the scoresheet, but did manage to finish at plus-1 and garnered 14 penalty minutes (a double minor for roughing and a misconduct for continuing an altercation) in a first-period sequence that saw no Toronto player sent to the box. Always good to see a bit of Kerby's dad Warren coming out in him, even if it results in the occasional four-minute penalty kill.
Forsberg took the loss in his last game before being called up to Columbus for the wild 5-4 shootout win over Washington.
Saturday, January 2
Milwaukee Admirals 3, Lake Erie 1
The Monsters had one of those third periods in which they gave all the effort in the world and came away with nothing. It happens.
Trailing 2-1, they outshot the host Admirals 14-6 in that final frame and kept absolute constant pressure on Milwaukee goalie Juuse Saros but just couldn't finish. The Admirals added insult to injury with a game-clinching empty netter in the final 15 seconds.
Credit the lone Lake Erie goal to captain Ryan Craig, a power-play tally late in the first period. Standing down low near the left post, Craig took a pass from Anderson and banked it in off the Milwaukee goalie. Tynan got the other assist.
In goal for Lake Erie was Joonas Korpisalo, recently returned from the Blue Jackets and a hard-luck loser after stopping 21 of the 23 pucks sent his way.
Sunday, January 3
Chicago Wolves 5, Lake Erie 2
The Monsters ended their busy week with another loss, this one coming at the Rosemont Horizon to a Chicago team that is directly behind them in the AHL's Central Division standings (and a team that is threatening to relegate Lake Erie to sixth place if the Monsters don't get their act together soon).
Not many highlights to consider, but Anderson's late-second-period goal was surely one of them. The 6-3, 221-pounder backhanded a puck home as he was falling down to give the Monsters some life (the goal made it 3-1), but the lift was short-lived.
ECHL signee Joe Devin had the other Lake Erie goal when he stuffed one in from close range on the power play in the final period. It was Devin's fourth point in seven games since joining the Monsters.
In net, Korpisalo saw his AHL season record dip below .500 (5-6-0-2), though it must be said that his teammates did relatively little to help him out.
COMING UP THIS WEEK
The Monsters will look to right the ship with the next two games on their road swing. Tuesday night they'll be in Milwaukee (again) to take on the division-leading Admirals (again). Then on Saturday it's meeting #8 of 12 on the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, whose long winning streak the Monsters ended a week ago. The division-heavy schedule gives Lake Erie plenty of chances to start to reel in the teams ahead of them, but it also means that further losses will translate into an even bigger hole from which the Monsters need to emerge. It's in no way time to panic, but Lake Erie must start establishing some consistency if it wants to guarantee itself a playoff spot in a few months' time.