Grand Rapids Griffins Fall 1-3 vs Cleveland Monsters at Van Andel
Last time the Grand Rapids Griffins faced the Cleveland Monsters, their offense exploded for eight goals. On Wednesday night, that offense was nowhere to be found.
The Griffins dropped this game 3-1 at Van Andel Arena, marking their sixth regulation or overtime loss in their last seven games. For the entirety of the game the Griffins were pestered by the aggressive forecheck and neutral zone play of Cleveland. Seemingly every time Grand Rapids would attempt to skate through the neutral zone there would be two or three Cleveland players quickly closing down on them and forcing a turnover. This led to many odd-man rushes for Cleveland that were shut down quite well by Grand Rapids defensemen and the stellar goaltending of Patrik Rybar. On the occasion the Griffins were able to enter the offensive zone, they could only make it two steps in before a Cleveland defenseman would step in and knock the puck away. Grand Rapids tried to beat this neutral zone defense with stretch passes but as with most other things on this night they just could not connect. Cleveland successfully forced Grand Rapids into playing a dump and chase game on a night where Grand Rapids did not seem to be able to chase nearly as hard as Cleveland.
The lone Griffins goal came at 13:59 of the first period. The puck went into the corner and David Pope was able to fight the puck free and get it out to Dominic Turgeon. Turgeon then quickly passed it back to Pope who cut in close across the front of the net, stickhandled a couple times and snuck a backhander through the arm of Cleveland netminder Jean-Francois Berube for his second goal of the season. The Griffins were unable to generate much of any offense for the rest of the night until a slight flurry in the final minutes of the game with their goalie pulled.
After dominating the first period and yet finding themselves down 1-0, Cleveland was able grab the lead in the second. Their first goal came on the powerplay when defenseman Tommy Cross shot the puck in from the point. Rybar made the initial save, however, the puck bounced out front and Kole Sherwood, who had been screening Rybar, was able to spin around and knock the puck out of the air and into the net. Just two minutes and thirty-three seconds later, Cleveland defenseman Doyle Somerby tossed the puck on net from the point. It managed to make its way through five bodies and finally passed Rybar who could not see it. This was the second goal of the game for Cleveland and would hold up to be the game winner.
Outside of their single goal, the only noticeable bright spot for Grand Rapids was the goaltending of Patrik Rybar. Cleveland carried most of the game offensively and yet Rybar was able to keep Grand Rapids in the game until an empty netter sealed it in the final minute. Rybar was facing odd-man rushes all night and made multiple saves on breakaways. He had to deal with lots of traffic in front of him, but, his positioning was sound all night and he was making difficult saves look routine. In the end Rybar stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced.
Overall it was a disappointing effort for the Griffins. They have two more games before the break for Christmas both of which will be in Manitoba this Friday and Saturday. Dylan McIlrath should be rejoining the team there as well as Matt Puempel returning from suspension. These two being back in the lineup will hopefully give the team a bit of a boost, however, they will have to deal with missing Filip Zadina for a while as he leaves to represent the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship.
Grand Rapids looked tired and lacked chemistry. They were coming off two days without games after a back to back to back. From the first few minutes of the game you could see that the Griffins simply could not keep up with Cleveland. Cleveland was driving play and not allowing Grand Rapids any space to maneuver. This was most obvious through the neutral zone. When asked about his team's neutral zone struggles, head coach of the Griffins, Ben Simon, stated, “I don't think it was them, more so us being too individualistic and turning the puck over.” The individualistic play could very well be because of the amount of players currently missing from the roster due to either injury, suspension, NHL call up, or family matters. This may have had a large role to play in the apparent lack of chemistry displayed on Wednesday night.
Rybar was excellent. As I stated in the game summary, Rybar's positioning was solid all night and he was making difficult saves look easy. Cleveland was trying to get Rybar moving side to side but he was reading plays well and getting into position well before any Cleveland player could get a shot off. On the two goals he allowed there was heavy traffic in front which resulted in two arguably fluky goals that got by him. Overall I was very impressed with his play and it will be interesting to see what happens with the goalie situation in Grand Rapids as Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings has gone down with injury.
The World Junior Championship will hopefully be a good confidence builder for Filip Zadina. He will get the opportunity to be a leader for the Czech team and should be a dominant force against the rest of the world junior teams. There were a few times on Wednesday night where Zadina was becoming visibly upset with either a shot being missed or tipped or the puck being taken away from him. I feel that the World Junior Championship will be a good time for him to reset and remind himself and the world of why he was selected sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in last years draft.
Grand Rapids (15-11-2-2) will travel to Manitoba (11-14-2-0) for a set of back to back games this weekend. They should receive a bit of a boost with both Dylan McIlrath and Matt Puempel coming back to the lineup. However, the team will be missing Filip Zadina as he heads off to represent the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship. The Griffins look to snap out of their losing ways against a Manitoba team that currently sits last in the Central Division and has dropped six of their last seven games. These two teams have faced three times already this season with Grand Rapids holding the edge in the season series with a 2-1-0-0 record compared to Manitoba's 1-1-1-0.