The Griffins play the Monsters tonight to start off a seven game series. Grand Rapids won the season series against Lake Erie by way of a 7-4-0-1 record. While the Griffins won the season series, the Monsters are the number two seed and come in with home ice advantage. Let’s go a little deeper, what is the makeup of the Lake Erie roster? Let’s see how they stack up against the Griffins.
When looking at the Monsters stats, none of them are too eye popping. They have some name players but they have all had average to slightly above average seasons. Names like Sonny Milano and Oliver Bjorkstrand are a couple of names that you would expect at the top of the team’s scoring leaders, instead it is names like TJ Tynan and Michael Chaput. This team has some sneaky talent, it is just placed all through the lineup. This is a team that is truly the sum of its parts.
A couple of players to watch out for this evening and moving forward are names like Daniel Zaar and Josh Anderson. Both have had red hot starts to the playoffs and closed out the season quite strong as well. The Monsters will have waited twelve days since their last game, so the rust factor is something the Griffins can take advantage of if they get on them early.
During the regular season the Monsters had a 17th ranked power play, during the Calder Cup playoffs however they are number one by a large margin. Could they be riding the percentages? Possibly, it could also be the fact that they finally have their whole team together for the first time since the beginning of the season. They look to be peaking at the right time, the Griffins need to avoid penalties to stop them.
When looking over the defense, it looks like a veteran laden group. Players like Justin Falk and John Ramage, could be considered also-rans but on a team like this they occupy some important slots. While those veterans may be the steadying forces on the blueline, the offensive dynamos come in the form of Zach Werenski and Dean Kukan.
Werenski, the former University of Michigan star, has made the transition to the AHL with a level of ease not seen in sometime. He leads all Monsters defensemen in scoring this postseason and is seventh overall in defensemen scoring these playoffs. Kukan impressed in the final stretch for the Blue Jackets and has come back down to Lake Erie reinvigorated. This postseason he has seen most of his TOI with Werenski.
The Monsters penalty kill during the regular season was a top five unit. Whether it was the veteran presence or the youthful infusion, no one really knows why this unit is so successful. The team has had a strong defensive focus all season long, a staple in the Blue Jackets organization since the new regime has taken over.
The Monsters goaltending for much of the season was decidedly average, whether it was Joonas Korpisalo or Anton Forsberg, it just didn’t seem to click. A lot of that can probably be blamed on the Blue Jackets injury situation with Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney. Both saw time up in the NHL. It wasn’t ideal for Monsters fans but many Blue Jackets fans got to take in the breakout season of Joonas Korpisalo.
Korpisalo got to finish his season in the NHL, leading the Blue Jackets in wins and save percentage. Not too bad from a rookie netminder. His numbers while in the AHL were a bit more pedestrian this past year. In 18 games played in the regular season, Korpisalo only had a .913 sv%, hovering right around the league average. The player who really carried the Monsters this past regular season was Anton Forsberg, who has been relegated to a backup role since Korpisalo was sent back down from Columbus.
While the Monsters have an NHL experienced goaltender in net, he hasn’t been the world beater he was when in the NHL. The Griffins can take advantage of the goaltending matchup if they get on the Monsters early and often.
Game 1 – Thursday, May 5th – Monsters vs. Griffins – 7:00 pm EST
Game 2 – Saturday, May 7th – Monsters vs. Griffins – NOON EST
Game 3 – Sunday, May 8th – Monsters @ Griffins – 4:00 pm EST
Game 4 – Tuesday, May 10th – Monsters @ Griffins – 7:00 pm EST
*Game 5 – Saturday, May 14th – Monsters vs. Griffins – 7:00 pm EST
*Game 6 – Monday, May 16th – Monsters @ Griffins – 7:00 pm EST
*Game 7- Tuesday, May 17th – Monsters vs. Griffins – 7:00 pm EST
Stat Leaders for Lake Erie
Goals: 21 – Daniel Zaar
Assists: 40 – TJ Tynan
Points: 46 – TJ Tynan
Points per game: 0.73 – Kerby Rychel
SOG: 207 – Daniel Zaar
The Monsters are hitting their stride at the perfect time, they have a fully healthy team with playmakers all throughout the lineup. The Griffins have a chance to take advantage of an inexperienced club and a couple of goaltenders that have only played average to date. If they go skill player to skill player they won’t be able to keep up with some of the Monsters, line matching could be critical in this series. The Griffins though have shown that they are a resilient club, a club that can sneak up on another team, much like they did against Milwaukee. They have more than a fighter’s chance in this one, especially if their goaltending can keep up their hot start.
Buckle up, it is going to be a wild one.