The beloved Monsters finished up a brutal 3-in-3 weekend 1-1-1 to finish off the first half of the season 16-16-6 and in 12th place, a slight (1 point) improvement over where they were last year at this time.
FIRST HALF REVIEW
The Monsters 2nd quarter ended up 9-8-2, which includes a 6-game win streak, giving them a 16-16-6 record through the first half and 12th place in the WC. Basically no change from where they were 19 games ago. They've played a more road-heavy first half schedule so there's room to move up just from playing more at home in the 2nd half. Last year at this time they were at 17-18-3 after a horrendous losing streak.
Compared to the first quarter, LEM's defense was a bit more stingy which can be mainly attributed to PK improvement and better possession numbers. The downside is that scoring went down too. The power play was more efficient but had fewer opportunities so that was no help. So far, the Monsters have 106 total goals for, 77 at evens, 23 on the PP and 6 shorties. They've allowed 130 goals against, 2nd most in the conference, 101 at evens, 27 on PK and 2 shorties against.
One bright spot for Lake Erie is turning a 180 on their shot differential. In the first quarter they were outshot by over 4 SOG per game but managed to make that up and more and ended up outshooting opponents by a shot per game in the 2nd quarter. While this isn't translating to wins yet, it's a major step in the right direction.
The Power Play improved from 15.1% to 16.3%, still not great and opportunities are down but it's a start. The PK went from 28th in the league at 79.3% up to 82.8% thanks to only 10 goals against versus 17 against in the first quarter. PIMs were more or less the same 278 to 282.
Stat: 1stQ - 2ndQ - Tot
Even strength goal percentage: 44.8 - 41.6 - 43.3
Shots for %: 46.5 - 50.9 - 48.7
Shooting %: 10.4 - 9.1 - 9.7
Save %: .890 - .883 - .886
PDO: 994 - 974 - 983
PP+PK%: 94.4 - 99.1
Max Noreau leads the team with 28 points, Stefan Elliott 24, Mike Sgarbossa & Colin Smith 22 and Paul Carey 21
Elliott leads with 11 goals, Carey 10, Smitty & Hish 9 and Aggz 8
Noreau also leads in assists with 21, Boss 19, Elliott & Smith 13, Schumacher 12
Agozzino leads in SOG with 94, Elliott 87, Hish 82, Noreau 81, Boss 74
Maggio leads in PIMs with 94, Heard 47, Cheek 42, Stollery 41, Siemens 40
Max Noreau & Stefan Elliott are the only players to appear in each game so far.
Fundamentally the Monsters play is improving. Shot differential, PK%, PP% are all up and even though that's not translating to wins yet, it should in the long run. Even though shooting percentage came back to earth in the 2nd quarter, there's still a few players that should see some regression back to the mean. Guys like Schumacher (6.6%), Sgarbossa (4.1%) Street (3.7%) and Corbett (5.9%) are due to correct upwards.
The thing that's really killing the team now is save percentage. Bad in the 1st quarter, it got even worse in the 2nd. Not to pile on the rookie, but Roman Will is the outlier. The other 3 goalies are fairly similar while Roman's .869 Sv% 3.54 GAA & 2-6-1 record stand out. Swap that for even average goaltending and the Monsters are in a playoff spot right now. With the Avs goalie situation up in the air until Berra's conditioning stint wraps up, this could continue for the rest of the year unfortunately.
Bottom line: Keep the pressure on, keep shooting and pray for better goalie play.
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Review of Last week's action
Of course Friday's game will always be known as the "Berra scores a goal" game but don’t let that overshadow a fantastic performance by the Monsters in the 58:33 preceding that. Timely goals, relentless forechecking & neutral zone play and good puck movement end-to-end made this one of the best performances of the year for Lake Erie, who haven’t looked this competent on the ice in about a month. Chicago became unglued as the game progressed and ended up with 3 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for mouthing off to the officials, including one to their mopey coach.
The scoring began on the power play if you can believe it. Joey Hishon and Ben Street set up Stefan Elliott for a nice rebound goal. Stef was feeling it and converted another one 49 seconds later after a great rush up the ice by Troy Bourke. Paul Carey tipped in a Karl Stollery point shot later in the period for the third tally in the frame. 3 goals and 15 shots on net. Dominant.
The Wolves got their shit together during intermission and came out aggressive for the second. Lots of pressure and some extremely long shifts spent in the Monsters zone gained them a goal early but as the period wore on LEM were able to balance things out with a few chances of their own. The 3rd was much the same, both teams creating some good chances but few shots on net until…
Chicago coach John Anderson decided to pull goalie Matt Climie with 2:08 left in the game. 42 seconds later, the Wolves dumped the puck on Reto Berra but neglected to forecheck adequately. Berra had time and he used it to wrist the puck up and over the neutral zone and dead center into the Wolves net, becoming just the 11th goalie in 79 years to score a goal in the AHL. Like anyone else he went to the bench and high-fived the team, somehow pissing the opponents off. A minute later, noted idiot Cody Beach decided to take a run at Berra, who was more than willing to go but was saved the trouble by Big Sam Henley frightening Beach away. Mitch Heard beat someone up in the resulting scrum. Troy Bourke scored a nice goal in garbage time off a Gabe Beaupre shot and that’s all she wrote. 5-1 victory.
Ah, the dizzying highs and the terrifying lows. After Friday’s dominant victory over Chicago, the Monsters boarded a bus and headed west on I-80 for a long bus ride to Des Moines, arriving and getting to sleep sometime in the dead of night. Which would be a great excuse for Saturday’s dud if Iowa hadn’t had to do the same thing coming from Rockford after their 3rd straight loss.
After a solid but unproductive 1st the Monsters found themselves down 1-0. Iowa turned up the heat on their high-grit low-skill game in the 2nd and LE were repeatedly trapped in their own zone with the net result of another 2 goals against. Goony defenseman Stu Bickel made it 4-0 early in the 3rd and it was garbage time for the rest of the game. Kenny Ryan broke the shutout with a second left. Yowza.
Reto Berra didn’t fare as well this game. He deflected a long snapper from the point into the net with his blocker for the first goal. The second was a goof play of Moose’s skate, no fault there. The third was a screen he couldn’t fight through and the fourth was an open shot that he should have had. He didn’t lose the game by any means but considering why he’s there in the first place it was a poor outing.
For 3-in-3’s, coaches in the AHL customarily rotate players, especially defensemen, so as to have a little gas in the tank for the final game of the set. Saturday, Coach Dean sat Michael Schumacher for Dan Maggio which really didn’t help LEM’s scoring woes. The 4th line, which was powerful and productive Friday, was a mess. Duncan Siemens got the night off in favor of Markus Lauridsen, returning after missing a couple weeks with a shoulder injury. Unfortunately, Moose was rusty and ineffective for most of the game.
On Sunday afternoon Iowa scored 2 goals in the first 2:30 and the Monsters were left digging out of a hole for the rest of a game. They came back valiantly with an Agozzino goal halfway through the 3rd to send it to OT. Some overaggressive play resulted in a 3v1 for the Wilds, Paul Carey took the required penalty and Iowa finished off the game with a devastating penalty shot. Bleh.
Reto Berra's Perfomance
To sum up Yogi’s weekend, he saw 81 shots and saved 72 for an .889 Sv% and 2.98 GAA and ended up with a win, a loss and a loser point. Just to be arbitrarily critical, I’ll call 3 of the goals against as bad, 2 questionable then there was a fluke, a penalty shot and 2 that would have gone past anyone. Technically, he still presented himself as small in the net fairly often and got out of position by straying away from the crease a few times. He likes playing the puck, hence the goalie goal, which both helped the D and created some stressful situations. Now that he’s back in the swing of things, I’m really interested in seeing how he puts it all together against a good San Antonio team Thursday and Saturday.
Preview vs San Antonio
This is the first we've seen of San Antonio this season but historically the Monsters haven't fared well against the Ramps. SA sits 11 points ahead of Lake Erie in the Western Conference with a 23-13-3 record. Old friends Beauty O'Brien and Greg "Still Getting Checks From KSE" Zanon anchor the blueline so I'm sure some hilarity will ensue somehow.
Needless to say winning both games would be best for all concerned.
Stefan Elliott will represent Lake Erie at the AHL All-Star game. Altitude and Fox Sports Ohio among others will broadcast the game on Monday night. The Skills Competition happens Sunday night and can be seen on Altitude 2 and other outlets I'm sure.
Thursday night vs San Antonio 7:00pm in the ET, radio on WHK1420
Saturday night vs San Antonio 7:00pm in the ET, radio on 850WKNR and TV on WUAB
All-Star Game Monday night then off to OKC for a 2-game weekend set
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The Avs are off until Tuesday so enjoy watching Yogi and the Monsters kick off the second half of the AHL season tonight and Saturday. I'll have updates and recaps here and on twitter as usual. Enjoy!