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Roster shuffles, offense struggles for Lake Erie

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Call-ups and a general inability to finish lead to a lackluster weekend in Cleveland for the Monsters

John Saraya

The Lake Erie Monsters, at the best of times, are not what you would call an American Hockey League offensive powerhouse. It varies, but the Monsters these days generally rank somewhere around 20th among 30 AHL teams in goals scored.

Take away the likes of Oliver Bjorkstrand and Michael Chaput and even defenseman John Ramage, for that matter  and Lake Erie's popgun attack becomes even less intimidating.

Which, it bears mentioning, is exactly what happened to the Monsters over the last several days, resulting in a three-game stretch in which they only managed two points. And those points came against the worst team in the league (as did a shutout loss the previous night).

Starting last Wednesday, the Monsters' roster underwent a 72-hour period of upheaval that looked something like this:

  • Wednesday, March 16: Bjorkstrand, Chaput and Ramage all get the call up to Columbus.
  • Thursday, March 17: Justin Falk also gets recalled (his third time this season), and along with Bjorkstrand, Chaput and Ramage, plays in that night's 3-1 loss to the Red Wings. After the game, both Falk and Ramage are sent back to Lake Erie. In the meantime, the Monsters sign centerman Blake Tatchell to an amateur tryout contract. Tatchell recently finished up a four-year collegiate career at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
  • Friday, March 18: Falk gets called up again.
  • Saturday, March 19: Joonas Korpisalo is brought to Columbus after it's learned that Curtis McElhinney will undergo season-ending knee surgery.

That's the way it goes when you're a minor-league affiliate, regardless of whether you're chasing a playoff spot. Which Lake Erie ostensibly is.

But the Monsters aren't going to go very far if they can't improve their collective ability to finish. Lake Erie does a lot of little things right. Opposing coaches agree they're among the fastest, most physical teams in the AHL.

But when it comes to actually putting the puck across the goal line, the Monsters undoubtedly struggle at times. They do so many other things well that this inability to put goals on the board can be puzzling  and ultimately might be the thing that ends their season earlier than perhaps it should.

Here's how the week broke down for Coach Jared Bednar's boys:

GAME RECAPS
Friday, March 18
Manitoba Moose 4, Lake Erie 0

Ugh, what a clunker. Facing off against the AHL's last-place team (or, if you prefer, it's 30th-place team) at home, the Monsters laid the biggest of eggs. Credit to Moose goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who is one of the few bright spots on the Manitoba roster and who stopped all 36 pucks fired his way to get the shutout. Lake Erie, for its part, simply didn't have it. Korpisalo was off, the defense was confused, and the offense was aggressive only in spurts. These games happen over the course of a 76-game season, but you hate for them to happen now. At home. Against this team. So you move on...

Saturday, March 19
Lake Erie 5, Manitoba Moose 0

Yeah, this was how it was supposed to go on Friday. The Monsters controlled the flow of play throughout, and Anton Forsberg made the saves he had to make in notching his second shutout of the year. Alex Broadhurst led the way with a pair of goals, while Lukas Sedlak (goal, assist), Mark Cundari (goal, assist), and Trent Vogelhuber (two assists) also had multi-point games. Josh Anderson tallied the other Lake Erie goal in front of 12,472 fans at Quicken Loans Arena.

Sunday, March 20
Toronto Marlies 4, Lake Erie 1

And then it was back to this. Admittedly, Toronto has the AHL's best record (46-15-5-0) for a reason. The Maple Leafs' farm club is a very, very good team. But the Marlies, like the Monsters, were playing their third game in three nights, and on the road, no less. They had also lost six of eight games coming in. Yet Lake Erie couldn't sustain any sort of attack and had only a third-period Sedlak goal (from Vogelhuber) to show for its efforts. Forsberg took the loss in net. Again, the chances were there, but the Monsters don't have enough guys with the hands and quickness to convert those chances on a regular basis, and most of them go for naught. Let's hope the switch flips for many of these young skaters over the next few weeks before the playoffs begin.

COMING UP

The Monsters have another three-in-three stretch, as they host Rockford on Thursday and Friday and then bus to Michigan for a game in Grand Rapids on Saturday. The relentless AHL schedule will provide another test for an ever-shifting roster of young players. As long as Lake Erie can hold on to its fourth-place standing in the Central Division, they should be in good shape in terms of actually making the playoffs. But again, to win these games, the offensive has to start clicking a little more, regardless of whether Bjorkstrand and Co. are back on the ice in Monsters sweaters.