OK, so we're going quick and dirty this week...
I'm sitting in a hotel room in Anaheim at the tail end of a 10-day business trip, I have an early flight home Monday morning – potentially as you read this – and the Monsters had the audacity to play an inconvenient Sunday game that just ended an hour or two ago.
Also, as long as I'm whining, tomorrow is the first day of what should be a two-year journey for me toward a master's degree. It's all online classes through Kent State University. Their nickname is the Golden Flashes. None of that means anything to you, but I thought it might be worth noting that things are a little hectic right now.
You know what else is worth noting? Cleveland's Lake Erie Monsters are a pretty good team. Not the best the AHL has to offer right now, and they're technically only in fourth place. But undeniably a pretty good team.
Regarding that fourth-place thing, you could argue they're playing in the league's toughest division, top to bottom. And they're only a point out of second place (though the league this year goes by winning percentage to determine team standings). At 33-19-5-5, you have to believe the Blue Jackets' brass is pleased with the overall progress of the youngsters in Cleveland.
The Monsters swept two games in San Antonio over the weekend to win the season series with the Rampage, 3-0-0-1. All but one of those games – yesterday's – were decided by a single goal.
Lake Erie welcomed some old faces back into its lineup. Dean Kukan returned after a 33-game absence stemming from a lower-body injury (and got his first point since late December with an assist yesterday). Ryan Craig was also back after missing 15 of 17 games with an injury, while Joonas Korpisalo returned from his extended call-up in Columbus.
Clearly, it was good to have all three on the ice.
Friday, March 11
Lake Erie 3, San Antonio Rampage 2
The Monsters faced the old Monsters again, and it was just as close as the first two times the teams played at Quicken Loans Arena a few weeks ago. This time Lake Erie fell behind 2-0 and clawed its way back for the win. The hero? Alex Broadhurst with two goals. Broadhurst is asserting himself more as the season goes on. Assuming the whole playoff thing happens for the Monsters, he's going to be key, I have to think.
Anton Forsberg picked up the win in net, with the recently reassigned Korpisalo backing him up. When Korpisalo was sent down from Columbus, Brad Thiessen was shipped back to the ECHL. You're the AHL Goalie of the Month one day, and the next you're back in Cincinnati, keeping yourself sharp should the call come to return to Cleveland. Brad is a true professional, but I assume we won't see him again this season.
Oh, and Dillon Heatherington had the other Lake Erie goal on a long point shot. He's good. We've noted this before.
Sunday, March 13
Lake Erie 4, San Antonio Rampage 2
Lake Erie led most of the way in this one. And Korpisalo got his first AHL victory since forever, making 28 saves (including 16 in the third period alone). Ten different Monsters got onto the score sheet, and none of them had more than a single point. Getting offensive production from multiple lines? That's a good thing.
For what it's worth, it was Lukas Sedlak, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and T.J. Tynan getting goals for the Monsters, all in even-strength situations. Tynan's was the only unassisted marker of the bunch, as he gave a nice individual effort in the neutral zone, skated in and buried his fifth of the year.
Lake Erie comes back home for three games this weekend. On Friday and Saturday it's the lowly Manitoba Moose who will be in Cleveland with their league-worst record, then on Sunday it's the AHL's best team, the Toronto Marlies, taking to the ice at the Q. Talk about a study in contrasts. It will be interesting to see how the Monsters first manage to keep themselves motivated against Manitoba, and then how they measure up against Toronto in their third game in three days. Big weekend on tap for the boys...