Our beloved Monsters capped off game 19 Sunday in Toronto with a win, bringing them exactly one-quarter of the way through the 14-15 campaign. This is a good time to step back and look at what's working and what's not and what might be in the cards for the rest of the year.
Lake Erie stands at 7-8-4 for 18 points and 12th in the Western Conference. For various reasons, they've only had 8 home games so far but have a 4-3-1 record there, which is hopeful. The 11 road games have netted only 9 points and a 3-5-3 mark. There's a difference in quality of competition home vs road that explains some of this, but it's something to watch.
The Monsters have scored 55 goals, 39 at even strength, 11 on the PP and a WC leading 5 shorties. On the other hand, they've allowed 67, 48 at evens, 17 on the PK and 2 while on the power play. This averages out to 2.89 G/gm for and 3.52 G/gm against and at even strength 2.05 for and 2.52 against. At home LEM have a dead even goal differential but on the road they have allowed 12 more than they have scored.
LEM have 528 SOG for a 27.8/gm average while allowing 607 for a 32.0/gm average.
The power play stands at 15.1%, 21st in the AHL and the penalty kill is 28th at 79.3%. In a nice change of pace the PIMs are way down from last year, 278 total or 14.6/gm, 4th lowest in the conference.
Not So Fancy Stats
Even Strength Goal % - 44.8
Shots For % - 46.5
Estimated Fenwick Close* - 47.35
Sh% - 10.4%
Sv% - 89.0%
PDO - 994
Special Teams % (PP+PK) - 94.4
* - Source: Kevin McAllister, @joshweissbock. Don't know exactly how he comes up with the number, but it's about what you'd expect.
The shot stats jump right out as pretty poor but should increase with more games. In the early part of the season, LEM were ending some games with less than 20 SOG but recently the norm has been over 30. 5 out of the last 6 games have seen the Monsters with 32+ shots and Shots For % in the mid-50s. The shots against have stayed pretty high but goals against are down more than .5/gm.
Even though PDO is close to even, it comes from a shooting percentage that is slightly high and a save percentage that is horrible. Outside of Pickard's play, the goalies have been a weak point but are showing signs of improvement. I expect the Sv% to rise to 90% at least with the Sh% staying pretty close to where it is. A PDO close to 1010 could be sustainable for the year.
Special Teams have dragged the team down, the power play has been mediocre all season and the PK has gone from ok to good to bad, basically inconsistent, but again that has a lot to do with goaltending. Even though PIMs are down, minors are pretty close to last year. The change there has been more aggression penalties and less lazy stick penalties, they still need to chill a bit.
All in all, the Monsters are a young team on an upswing. They're probably going to struggle against the top teams in the conference throughout the season and it's hard to predict how much they'll improve by March when things really matter but a playoff berth is definitely attainable. Right now the main thing they need to improve is the goaltending, which should happen with Pickard's return.
With a couple of exceptions, the forwards have done a great job this year. Seven of them have spent time with the Avalanche and done the Monsters proud while doing so. Some more scoring would be nice, but considering the most skilled and experienced guys have been injured or in Colorado it's tough to ask for more.
The Lake Erie forecheck and neutral zone strategy honestly puts the Avs to shame. There's pressure on the opponent leaving the zone all the way into the D-zone. Lots of forced offside calls are a great sign that they make teams earn every foot of the ice.
After training camp, Joey Hishon was told to work specifically on his defensive play and I'll say there are signs of improvement but it looks like it's going to take a while to bring that out in his game. Meanwhile, he leads the team in SOG and is 2nd in goals after a slow start so there's still that upside.
Borna Rendulic is struggling, I don't know exactly with what either. He's extremely turnover-prone, hangs on to the puck far too long and doesn't make good passes. His defense is somewhat less than outstanding too. You can make a bit of a case that it's the transition to the North American ice surface holding him back, but I'm starting to have my doubts about that. He does have 4 goals so he's not an empty suit, but there's a long way to go still.
There's glowing praise I can put on a lot of guys, but I'll just single out a few nice surprises. Kenny Ryan leads the team in goals with 6 and plays tough minutes defensively. Mike Sgarbossa has arisen from the dead and put together a fine season so far culminating with his recent callup to the Avs. Not a total surprise, but Michael Schumacher is 2nd in points and very steady on PK and defense. With all the talent on Avs contracts, it's nice to see a couple of guys like Ryan & Schumi being big contributors while on AHL deals.
The Monsters defense has been the most consistent personnel-wise, 5 guys locked into starting roles and one rotation spot that hasn't rotated much because of the surprisingly good play of Markus Lauridsen. Cody Corbett and Gabe Beaupre have been solid in the little action they've seen, but PT is hard to come by for both.
Bruno Gervais was picked to be captain by the staff and it's hard to make an argument with that. Captain in the A is a mentor role and he's the most experienced guy by a mile. I really didn't care for his play much at the start, but as Coach Dean and Randy Ladouceur have tweaked the system a bit recently he's been better, as has the defense in general. He and Duncan Siemens are the shutdown pair and take a lot of the tough minutes.
Duncan has been steady all year, he makes a good first pass out of the zone, can carry the puck when needed and does more offensively than the stats show. It's too bad there are so many offensive D on the team because he could definitely be racking up some points if used more in offensive situations. He's very crafty when he does shoot the puck and often times puts it where a forward can make something happen with it rather than just blasting it at the goalie.
Karl Stollery and Max Noreau have been the top pair all year and done a respectable job. Both are fairly offensively inclined but can move the puck well enough that their D-zone play is more than adequate.
Stefan Elliott is the team's leading scorer with 4G/9A and he and Markus Lauridsen are the sheltered pair. As long as the puck is moving they're fine but there are issues with static defense. Elliott's gone through a few partners so far and Moose is the only one that seems to work well with him. Lauridsen's defense is better than in the past and with the relatively sheltered usage these two get he's managed a respectable 2G/2A in 14 games.
Like any small, mobile defense this crew is good at moving the puck but struggles against the bigger teams set up in the D-zone. Whatever the staff cooked up to change the zone coverage it's working well so far but I'd like to see it work against the Rockford/Chicago/Utica type teams better.
This is the weak spot and the key to the Monsters moving up in the standings. Calvin Pickard has been good when he's around, although that hasn't been much lately. Sami Aittokallio was brutal to start the year but he's been better in the last couple of games and also benefiting from some defensive and forechecking tweaks that have taken some of the pressure off of the goalies. Roman Will has been mainly atrocious with a decent performance here and there. With Calvin on his way back to Cleveland, it should be interesting to see what happens to Roman/Sami, neither will play much until the Avs need Picks again.
Troy Bourke is very fun to watch, he's also playing very well after coming back from a nasty stick to the face earlier in the year. 2G/6A and he and Hish have found good chemistry lately. So excited to watch him progress this season.
Sam Henley is huge. He anchors the 4th line, takes a lot of tough minutes late in the game and even manages to contribute a bit offensively while playing with some of the lesser skilled guys. Also very excited to watch him develop, he could be a big upgrade for the Avs 4th line in a couple of years.
Cody Corbett has been in 7 games, a few of them as the 7th D and definitely shows promise moving the puck and running the power play. Only a single assist so far, but the potential is there.
I've already covered Will and Rendulic and I won't count Everberg as a rookie even though he is. Reid Petryk has been in Ft Wayne most of the year but in 3 games has a goal and an assist playing with Big Sam on the 4th line.
With all the injuries in Colorado, the Monsters haven't had a chance to ice the most powerful group of forwards much so far, and unfortunately that looks like status quo for the foreseeable future. There have been a couple games where the talent level on the 4th line rivaled some top-6 lines from last year which is very encouraging. The main complaint I have about the defense is that there isn't enough PT to get Corbett and Beaupre into games right now. The goaltending has been the weak spot but Pickard is back, Sami looks like he could be getting out of his funk and ready to be a viable backup and Roman's inconsistent play won't be a factor for a little while.
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Aside from all that, we have a game tonight! Lake Erie and Chicago meet at the Q for the first of 2 meetings this week.
The Monsters haven't seen the Wolves since the second weekend of the year, which you might recall was Roman Will's debut and resulted in 2 losses, 4-0 & 7-2. Chicago is 4th in the Western Conference with a 13-6-3 record and 2 good goalies. With regulars Mike Sgarbossa & Karl Stollery still with the Avs, LEM will be a bit depleted in scoring and D, but getting Calvin Pickard back should be a shot in the arm for the whole team.
Monsters vs Wolves Wednesday night 7:00pm in the ET, radio on WHK 1420
Rematch Friday with the Wolves, then off to Rockford for a Sunday afternoon game
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Catch all the action right here and on twitter @mckinley06. Enjoy!