In powering their way into third place in a very competitive AHL Central Division, the Lake Erie Monsters have feasted on the middling to bad teams, and found themselves famished against some of the real contenders.
Such was the case last week, when Lake Erie continued its domination of the Chicago Wolves with a pair of home-ice victories and then managed to take only a single point in two road games against a tough Texas Stars side. Those five of eight possible points left the Monsters with a 26-17-5-3 record, which is still third in the Central and fifth place overall in the Western Conference.
It should be noted that Lake Erie does in fact have a back-up goalie, a fella by the name of Mark Owuya who owns all the requisite equipment and presumably knows how to play the position. But you wouldn't know it by his stat line, which despite joining the Monsters several weeks ago is still sitting at 0 games played.
That's because veteran Brad Thiessen continues to be the workhorse and continues to give Lake Erie a chance to win night in and night out while the staff in Cleveland waits to see if and when they'll see Anton Forsberg (maybe) and Joonas Korpisalo (not until the regular season ends, if at all) again. Assuming the Monsters qualify for the AHL postseason, they'll presumably have the goaltending needed from one of those three guys to make some sort of run.
In the meantime, though, it's Thiessen, Thiessen and more Thiessen. He was in net for all four of last week's games and thus got both victories and was a one-goal loser in the two Texas contests.
Of course, this being a Blue Jackets-themed site, you're presumably more interested in how some of the actual Columbus prospects did. In which case I'm pleased to tell you that Daniel Zaar had a point in three of the four games and finished the week at 1-3-4, while Michael Chaput rode a three-assist game against Chicago to a 0-4-4 week.
Other multi-point scorers on the week were Oliver Bjorkstrand (2-1-3, with both goals coming in a 3-2 overtime win against Chicago on Tuesday), Dillon Heatherington (0-3-3), Markus Hannikainen (1-1-2), T.J. Tynan (1-1-2), Michael Paliotta (1-1-2) and Sonny Milano (0-2-2).
We'll take our customary look back at the week that was with a few recaps:
Tuesday, February 9
Lake Erie 3, Chicago Wolves 2 (OT)
Bjorkstrand popped home a rebound in the opening period for his first goal, and tied the game at 2 early in the third when he buried a slapper from the top of the left circle. But the hero of the night was Hannikainen, who was on the ice with Zaar and Heatherington during the 3-on-3 overtime when he potted a deceptive wrist shot from the left side to win it. Thiessen made 22 saves in net.
Thursday, February 11
Lake Erie 5, Chicago Wolves 0
The two teams met again 48 hours later because this is the AHL and it's what we do. We pack games together in baseball-like fashion to save travel costs, though the Wolves must have wished their bus had pulled out of Cleveland about 48 hours earlier.
Actually, this was a very tight game for most of three periods before the Monsters scored THREE shorthanded goals on the same minor penalty during one bizarre 61-second stretch late in the third period. Here's how it went down:
The Monsters were up 2-0 when Hannikainen was whistled for an ill-advised interference penalty with 2:55 to play in regulation. Chicago pulled its goalie, creating a 6-on-4. Manny Malhotra beat two defenders to the puck in the Wolves' zone and was immediately slammed to the ice by Chicago's Andre Benoit in an attempt to deny Malhotra the easy open-net goal. Normally the infraction would have been cause for a penalty shot, but of course with the net empty, the rules call for a goal to be automatically awarded, which it was. Malhotra was credited with his third of the season despite never actually touching the puck, and the Monsters led 3-0 with 2:03 to play.
Then, just 26 seconds later, it was Nick Moutrey recording another short-handed empty netter. Chaput launched a shot from his own side of the red line that dinged off a post, but Moutrey beat his man to the loose puck and backhanded it in, making it 4-0 with 1:37 to go.
Chicago then put goaltender Jordan Binnington back on the ice and everyone naturally thought that was that. But no one told Tynan, who carried the puck down the left side and centered to a charging Trent Vogelhuber, whose wrister from the slot beat Binnington high to the glove side to produce the final count with 1:02 showing on the clock.
Apparently that feat (scoring three shorties on a single minor penalty) hadn't been accomplished in the AHL since 1998. And as far as anyone can tell, it had never been done in the league prior to that, so you know, pretty heady stuff. Everyone was feeling good as the Monsters, who ran their season record against Chicago to 5-1, packed their bags and boarded a flight to Austin, Texas, to take on the Dallas-affiliated Texas Stars...
Saturday, February 13
Texas Stars 4, Lake Erie 3 (OT)
This absolutely should have been the Monsters' fifth win in a row, as they led it 3-1 with under 14 minutes to play. But Texas scored three goals in the final period to tie it, and the Stars went on to score 3½ minutes into overtime to grab the extra point. That's disappointing, especially since the Monsters recently split a pair of entertaining one-goal games with Texas at Quicken Loans Arena and were looking to establish themselves as a team that could beat the best in their conference. And maybe they can. Just not on this night.
By all accounts, the standout in both Texas games over the weekend was Stars goaltender Maxime Lagace, who made 33 saves in each of the two contests and was a main reason Lake Erie only managed to secure a single point. It happens. As solid as Thiessen has been of late, Lagace this past weekend was better. C'est la vie.
In any case, three Monsters did manage to beat Lagace on the evening with goals: Tynan, Jaime Sifers and Lukas Sedlak. And it was also good to see Lake Erie captain Ryan Craig back on the ice after missing a few games with an injury.
Sunday, February 14
Texas Stars 2, Lake Erie 1
So it was an even tougher Lagace who stared down the Monsters in net and preserved the regulation win for Texas. A Paliotta slap shot (with the assist to Milano) was the full extent of Lake Erie's offense in this one. Thiessen stopped 26 of 28 in the hard-luck loss as Lake Erie fell to 1-2-1-0 against Texas this season.
We in Cleveland have been looking forward to this coming weekend, when the San Antonio Rampage come to town for games on Friday and Saturday evening at the Q. The Rampage are largely the former Lake Erie Monsters from when the Monsters were affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, and you have to believe many of the guys on the San Antonio roster will get warm welcomes from the fans before the puck is dropped on Friday. Of course, after the puck is dropped they can all go to hell. But you know, beforehand it's OK to have some warm and fuzzies...