Last week, Lake Erie Monsters Coach Jared Bednar said one of the main things he's looking for from his club at this point of the season is to begin tightening up defensively.
We'll consider this past weekend a good sign of progress there.
Still lacking their two main goaltenders (Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg), the Monsters traveled to Charlotte for a pair of games against the division rival Checkers, and they came away with two victories in which they yielded a combined one goal.
Team defense is largely to be credited, but so is the solid play of goalie Brad Thiessen, who stopped 49 of the 50 total shots he faced in the two games. Thiessen, a call-up from the East Coast Hockey League, was one of Assistant General Manager Bill Zito's major finds of the offseason. He was signed to a two-way AHL/ECHL contract, and Lake Erie can't have asked for more from the almost-30-year-old veteran since they brought him up to handle netminding chores in the absence of Korpisalo and Forsberg.
Players who impressed over the weekend? There were many in addition to Thiessen, but two we'll highlight below are Josh Anderson and Michael Chaput.
Friday, February 5
Lake Erie 1, Charlotte Checkers 0
Thiessen stopped 27 shots to earn his second AHL shutout of the season in this one. Meanwhile, it was Anderson netting the lone goal of the game, bursting through the neutral zone to create a breakaway and burying a puck for his 10th goal of the season. The goal was officially unassisted.
Thiessen admittedly got lucky a few times on pucks he lost sight of, but there was no luck involved in one dandy of a save he made. I can't seem to find video, though you can see a .GIF version here from the Checkers' Twitter feed. That was nifty.
Saturday, February 6
Lake Erie 4, Charlotte Checkers 1
The Checkers needed a late-game power play to finally solve Thiessen, but it didn't matter because the Monsters controlled this one throughout, running their record to 24-16-4-3 and inching closer to Charlotte for fourth place in the Central Division.
Anderson notched a Gordie Howe hat trick by engaging in some first-period fisticuffs with the Checkers' Brody Sutter, assisting on John Ramage's second-period power-play goal, and finishing off the night with an empty-netter with 1:20 to play. That's goal #11 and a nice evening's work for the 21-year-old from Burlington, Ontario. He's coming along just fine down here, Jackets fans.
Chaput, meanwhile, also scored in the contest and notched two assists. The three points put him one behind AHL all star T.J. Tynan for the Monsters' team lead with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists). Big Nick Moutrey had the other Lake Erie score as the young grinder took a feed from Sonny Milano (who just returned from injury) in the opening period and found twine for his fourth of the year.
The Monsters have a busy week ahead with four games in six days. They return home to Cleveland to host the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis affiliate) on Tuesday and Thursday, then it's a road trip to Austin for a pair against the Texas Stars (Dallas).