By Dave Hart
But since Nov. 1, Muskegon has dropped five of its last six games and has fallen in the standings. The latest setbacks came in Omaha last weekend, when the Jacks lost 4-1 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday.
Now the big question is what happened to the Lumberjacks in recent weeks, and how are they going to quickly right the ship?
“We just need to work a little harder to get out of this slump,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “We have to find a way to figure this out. It’s really hard to win games in this league, but we must push forward.”
The Lumberjacks will try to get a new winning streak started on Wednesday night when they host the Team USA Under-17 squad at 7:05 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena.
They will travel to Chicago to play the first-place Steel on Friday, then return home to host the Steel at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday. Wednesday is College Night and $2 Beer, and Saturday night is the annual Teddy Bear Toss.
The Lumberjacks’ offensive production has decreased significantly in November, but it hasn’t been due to a lack of opportunities.
In October, when the Lumberjacks posted a 6-2 record, they averaged 31.4 shots per game. In November that average is virtually the same – 31.3 shots per contest. But a lot fewer shots have been going in the net.
The Lumberjacks scored 37 goals in October in eight games, for an average of 4.6 per game. They have only managed to score 17 goals in November’s seven games, an average of 2.4 per game.
Muskegon has also given up more goals in November than October, despite allowing about the same number of shots per game.
The Lumberjacks allowed 20 goals in October for an average of 2.5 per game. In November they’ve given up 28, for an average of four per contest.
“The team has been giving up too many good chances, and we haven’t converted on ours,” Hamilton said. “We are not going to panic, just continue to work hard.”
The Lumberjacks’ power play unit has taken a dip this month, after going 4-for-23 in October. They have only managed five goals in 36 chances with a skater advantage in November.
“We need to clean some things up on the power play,” the coach said. “It was nice to see us score a couple of power play goals recently, but we need to have more of that.”
Muskegon’s penalty kill has remained solid, allowing just four power play goals in 32 chances in October and five tallies in 33 shorthanded situations in November.
Over the last three games the second period has been a struggle for the Lumberjacks, who have been outscored 7-0.
“We have to figure out why we are struggling during the second period,” Hamilton said. “Is there something we are doing wrong during the intermission? Can we make some adjustments to make it a better period for us?”
Another Pitlick headed to Muskegon
The Lumberjacks may have left Omaha with a pair of losses last weekend, but on Monday they gained several players from the Lancers in a major trade.
The Lumberjacks acquired forwards Rhett Pitlick and Cam Berg and defenseman Dylan Davies, along with an affiliate player and two draft picks. They gave up forward Luke Mobley, veteran defenseman Nash Neinhuis, an affiliate player and two draft picks.
The last name of Pitlick is very familiar for Muskegon fans. That’s because Rem Pitlick, Rhett’s older brother, amassed an amazing 46 goals and 43 assists for the Lumberjacks in 2015-16. He went on to play three years at the University of Minnesota, and is currently playing professionally for the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, the top farm club of the Nashville Predators.
Rhett Pitlick, who will also play college hockey at Minnesota and has already been drafted by the Montreal Canadians, has four goals and seven assists this season for Omaha. Steve Lowe, the Lumberjacks’ new president of hockey operations, clearly has a very high opinion of his skills.
“Pitlick is one of the most dynamic players in the United States Hockey League, while Berg and Davies bring athleticism to our team,” Lowe said. “Having Rhett on the same line with Daniel Gushchin forms one of the best lines in this league.”
Mobley, a first-year player, had seven goals and four assists for Muskegon. Neinhuis, a third-year Lumberjack and team co-captain, had nine assists.
Challenging week ahead
Muskegon is now 8-8-1 on the season, good for seventh place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
The Chicago Steel lead the conference with 29 points, followed by Dubuque (25), Team USA (22), Cedar Rapids, Green Bay and Youngstown (all tied with 21 points), Muskegon (17) and Madison (5).
The Jacks have had good success so far against the Team USA Under-17 squad, their opponent on Wednesday. They are 2-0 with a 15-5 scoring advantage in those two games.
Muskegon has yet to play the first-place Steel, who have been rolling so far this season. Chicago is 14-3-1 and has all three of the league’s top point producers – Sean Farrell with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists), Mathieu De St. Phalle with 23 (12 goals, 11 assists) and Sam Colangelo with 23 (11 goals, 12 assists).