This past weekend's sweep of the Milwaukee Admirals was something I've been looking for all season. It wasn't clawing and scratching for 4 points while giving away 2 like the Monsters did against Rochester right before Christmas, this was domination against a very good team for six periods and damn it looked good.
Coming into the weekend, Milwaukee had the fewest losses and had given up the fewest goals in the Western Conference, and were riding AHL player of the Month goalie Scott Darling who spent December letting in 8 goals in 7 games with a .964 Sv%, a 6-1-0 record and 2 shutouts. Coach C remarked that the Chicago Wolves coaches had told him that this was a very tough team to play against.
Before Friday night's game started out we learned that David Van der Gulik would return from a broken bone in his foot, this would turn out to be a very good thing on Saturday. Andrew Agozzino and Matt Hunwick would score in the first with Markus Lauridsen assisting on both goals. Mark Olver scored in the 2nd with Joey Hishon picking up his second assist of the night and that would be all the Monsters needed, although Brett Clark would add an empty-netter at the end.
The story really was the defense though. Calvin Pickard saw a grand total of 14 shots on the night and only 3 in the 3rd period, while the Monsters put 30 on Scott Darling and dominated possession more than we've ever seen. The forecheck was relentless, loose pucks were contested, everyone was skating hard and generally doing all the things we hear Dean Chynoweth preach that Lake Erie needs to do to win games. Often times you hear Coach Roy talk about the F3 getting back in the neutral zone and disrupting the opponent's entry and this game was the best I've seen the Monsters at executing that.
Before the start of Saturday night's game, we got the bad news that Michael Schumacher and Paul Carey were out with upper body injuries forcing Lake Erie to dress 7 D. Facing a frustrated Admirals team and one of the hottest goalies in the league looked like it was going to make for a tough night, and it was for the first 15 minutes at least. Joey Hishon opened the scoring late in the first, then Milwaukee retaliated by ripping Sami Aittokallio's catching glove off his hand then putting the puck in the net. The refs were ok with this but the Monsters weren't.
Vandy came out and scored 40 seconds in to the 2nd period, then again 8 minutes later, then again 2:08 into the 3rd for a natural hat trick. After that the game got chippy. Lots of penalties, lots of fights, Scott Darling's frustration boiled over and he challenged Sami to a fight. Earlier in the year Antti Raanta, now of the Blackhawks, wanted to go with him during a blowout but the refs wouldn't allow it. This time, Sami went for it, might have regretted it but had a respectable showing against the much larger Darling.
Lake Erie - 4 goals, 30 shots, 15 PIM
Milwaukee - 2 goals, 14 shots, 13 PIM
Lake Erie - 6 goals, 28 shots, 47 PIM
Milwaukee - 1 goal, 23 shots, 77 PIM
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The Monsters scored at least one goal in every period.
The Admirals managed more than 6 shots in a period once, the 1st of the second game, which was the only period where LEM were outshot.
Scott Darling's final stat line - 8 goals against on 55 shots in 109:31 of ice time. .854 Sv%, 4.38 GAA
What to take from this:
First of all, it's easy to say that it's the AHL and everybody gets smoked by lesser teams once in a while, and that is a part of it. What Lake Erie showed was that even with lots of good players out, the system in place can function quite well, both with a smothering defense and an opportunistic offense. As we near the halfway point of the season and start to get some of the injured skill players back, the Monsters should have the confidence to pile up some wins.
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Coming up this weekend, the beloved Monsters head to the midwest to play 2 against Rockford, who they traded blowouts with on the second weekend of the year, and then a Sunday 3-in-3 game against our new BFFs Milwaukee.
There were 3 roster transactions this week, David Van der Gulik was called up to the Avalanche, Mikael Tam was sent down to the Cutthroats and Ryan Wilson joined LE for a 5-game conditioning stint.
Wilson played 11 games in 2 stints with the Monsters back in 2009, accumulating 2 assists and 42 PIMs. This assignment was "suggested" as Coach Roy put it, to get him back into game shape after missing most of the last 2 years with injuries. One might wonder if the powers that be want to get a look at him head to head with Brett Clark and what might happen if Clark outplays him on the ice over this span.
Removing Vandy and the forwards that were out with injuries for the last game leaves you with just 10 forwards. That's not enough. We are pretty sure Mike Sgarbossa will be back for this weekend, no team confirmation of course, but that gives us only 11. Still not enough. So, at least one of Carey, Schumacher, Desbiens, or Desjardins will be back in action Friday night in Rockford. I wouldn't totally rule out a return from Stefan Elliott either.
The Getting to Know segment has been on hiatus over the holidays, but it's back this week with brawler & olympic X-C skiing fan Sami Aittokallio and talented chef Gabe Beaupre.
Friday night at Rockford 8:00pm, radio on WKNR
Saturday night at Rockford 8:00pm, radio on WKNR
Sunday evening at Milwaukee 6:00pm, radio on WHKW
AHL standings - LEM steady in 3rd North/8th WC
Ryan Wilson interview from the Monsters practice rink Tuesday
Preview from the LEM crew - not available at press time
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A long weekend so let's keep it fresh with 3 totally unrelated Pre-game tunes
Friday - "Watch the Children Pray" from Metal Church
Saturday - "Time Bomb" from Rancid
Sunday - "Electric Worry" from Clutch. Yes, I know whose goal song this is. Fuck it, it's a great tune.
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I'll be here and on twitter for the games, stop by Friday before the Isles game or Sunday if football isn't your bag. Saturday is a direct conflict with the Wild, but the LEM game will be more interesting - bet on it. Enjoy!