Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Antler Banter: Volume 2

We're back today for another round-table discussion known as Antler Banter! Happy Remembrance Day to all the Canadian readers out there, and Happy Veterans Day to all the American readers. Please don't forget about the men and women in the Armed Forces today. They deserve all of our respect for the job they did and the jobs they are doing. They are the bravest men and women on the planet. On the hockey front, the Moose spent some time down in the "Lone Star State" as they battled the Houston Aeros and Texas Stars, and we'll look back at those games. There have been a few player moves, and we'll go in-depth on one Moose forward today as we profile Tommy Maxwell. As always, for all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Without further adieu, let's get to the Hardcore Hockey!

Aeros Bomb Moose

The Moose rolled into Houston, Texas on a two-game losing streak, having dropped both games to the Eastern Conference's Norfolk Admirals by identical 3-1 scores. Houston entered the game sitting in third place in the West Division, and had split two previous meetings with the Moose way back on October 2 and 3.

I'm not about to suggest that the Moose were tired or simply didn't give a solid effort in any of the three games. They are clearly skating hard and making good hockey plays, but everything seems to be an uphill battle at this point in the season. If one is to make their own breaks, the Moose are owed at least a couple because the effort is there. The results, however, are not.

Danny Irmen scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season for Houston while teammate Maxime Noreau scored his first two of the season. Marco Rosa's fourth goal of the season broke a ten-game scoreless streak for the speedy Moose forward, but it was all the scoring that the Moose could muster in a 4-1 loss to the Aeros.

Anton Khudobin, goaltender for the Aeros, looked as impressive as he did during last season's Calder Cup Playoffs, but was simply not tested enough during the game as the Moose were outshot 34-15. When a team is being doubled in shots, there's almost no chance of winning the game.

Case in point? A 4-1 Houston victory pushed the Moose's record to 8-7-2-0.

Stars Shine Brightly

The first meeting of the season between the expansion Texas Stars and the Manitoba Moose appeared to be a mismatch as the Stars are on the rise in the West Division while Manitoba was struggling through a three-game losing streak in which the Moose only managed a paltry three goals. Would David slay Goliath on Friday night?

In a word: no.

Goaltender Rejean Beauchemin made his debut with the Moose, and he spent most of the night scrambling as the Stars buzzed the Moose zone. Ivan Vishnevskiy's third goal of the season opened the scoring for the Stars just past the midway point of the first period. The second period saw Texas add to their lead as Perttu Lindgren scored his fourth goal of the season, and Aaron Gagnon added his third of the season as Texas took a 3-0 lead into the second intermission. Just to add a little salt to the wound, former Manitoba Moose forward Greg Rallo fired his team-leading sixth goal of the season past Beauchemin on one that Beauchemin probably would like a do-over on.

The Stars played suffocating defense all night, and shut the Moose down at every opportunity as Matt Climie earned the shutout with a 4-0 victory. The good news? The Moose managed to throw a pile of additional shots on Climie as compared to Khudobin the night before, but were still outshot 26-24. With the loss, Manitoba dropped to .500 with a 8-8-2-0 record.

Get The Heck Out Of Dodge

The Saturday night rematch saw Daren Machesney return to the Manitoba net. The Moose, having been outscored 14-3 on their four-game losing streak, shuffled lines and looked to generate a spark to salvage at least one point from this Texas road trip.

This game was a fight-filled affair in the first period. However, just like the previous two games, the Moose found themselves down a goal midway through the first period as Aaron Gagnon's powerplay marker found the back of the net. The Moose pulled even midway through the second period as Marty Murray buried his third goal of the season past Stars goalie Brent Krahn on rebound off a Nolan Baumgartner shot. Unfortunately, the Stars regained the lead late in the second period. With what appeared to be a football huddle taking place in Machesney's crease, Sergei Korostin backhanded home his sixth goal of the season to restore Texas' one-goal lead. Perttu Lindgren netted his fifth goal of the season just past the five-minute mark of the third period as he roofed the puck from just outside Machesney's crease. With a two-goal cushion against an offensively-challenged Moose club, Texas simply let the clock run out, earning the 3-1 win.

With the loss, the Moose drop to 8-9-2-0 and sit fourth in the North Division, one point back of the Abbotsford Heat. The Heat, however, have three games in hand on the Moose, so that lead could become a huge chasm over the next few days.

Into The Sunset

I'm going to be honest here: this team is suffering mightily with all of their top offensive players being in Vancouver or on the injury list. The Moose, despite sitting in fourth in the North Division, have been outscored 36-51 on the season, a goal differential of -15. There is no way an elite team has a negative goal differential, let alone a league-high total in goals-against.

This Moose team needs its scoring threats, defensive presences, and star goaltender back. Right now, the Moose's strategy - as much as this pains me to say this - should be to trap as much as they can. The only way they are going to defeat some of the better AHL teams is to trap them to death, and wait for mistakes to occur. Until their top offensive stars return, there's no point in going into a gunfight with a water pistol. Trap, trap, and trap some more. With limited scoring ability, this is the Moose's best chance at ending this five-game losing streak.

Player Moves

The Moose, in an effort to find veteran players with some AHL experience, continued signing players to professional tryout (PTO) contracts. Former Moose forward Darryl Bootland was brought back into the fold after playing the majority of last season in Salzburg, Austria. His excellent reputation with the team and fans prompted GM Craig Heisinger to bring the fiesty forward back.

Mario Bliznak was returned to the Moose by the Vancouver Canucks last Wednesday. Bliznak's speed and bursts of scoring will be a welcomed addition to the Moose attack.

Another Darryl was signed as well. Darryl Smith was brought in from the CHL's Laredo Bucks on a PTO to help the Moose out. However, he lasted one game, and was released from his PTO without recording a point in his one appearance after Bliznak was returned to the Moose.

As seen above, goaltender Rejean Beauchemin has been recalled from the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads, singing a PTO with the Moose. The Winnipegger had been in training camp with the Moose over the past two years, but has not been able to stick. He's hoping to make an impression with this second chance.

And as of Tuesday afternoon, goaltender Cory Schneider was on his way back to Manitoba as Vancouver's Roberto Luongo has recovered from a cracked rib. Getting Schneider back should help defensively as he was a wall in the net most nights last season. With the return of Schneider, Beauchemin was released from his PTO.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

The Moose will be without a few key players as they take on the Toronto Marlies this weekend. Again, injuries and call-ups to the Canucks have significantly handicapped this team at this point in the season. Hopefully, some of these players will be back on skates soon.

Michael Funk, the leading scorer amongst defensemen on the Moose, is out for at least seven days after suffering his third concussion within the last year. Funk had concussion problems last season that limited him to just 13 games, so the Moose are proceeding very carefully with Funk before allowing him to even think about lacing up the skates. I commend the Moose for this decision as Funk's health is a lot more important than a few games against the Marlies.

Defenseman Lawrence Nycholat is still nursing shoulder and knee injuries after behind hit from behind by Chicago's Brett Sterling in the third game of the season. His progress hasn't seen much improvement and still isn't on skates at this point. There's no timetable for his return, but his presence on the blueline is missed. The Moose are hoping he'll be able to suit up on their late-November road trip.

Forward Matt Pope is watching from the press box as he nurses a high ankle sprain. Pope's wonky ankle is keeping him off skates as well, and there hasn't been a return date set yet.

Forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie is still recovering from a shoulder separation, and is looking at a possible return against the Hamilton Bulldogs on November 20 at best. At worst, Labrie should be back for the Moose's road trip that begins on November 25.

Forward Guillaume Desbiens will be out for at least another month as his broken foot heals. Desbiens suffered the injury against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on October 30, and won't be back on skates for at least another four weeks.

Forward Michael Grabner was injured in his call-up to Vancouver, and his ankle injury has him listed as day-to-day. There is no word on the severity of the injury that is keeping him out of the Canucks line-up, but he's in the press box as it stands. The Moose would love to get Grabner back as soon as possible.

Forward Alex Bolduc is in the same predicament with the Canucks as he's listed day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Much like Grabner, the Moose could use Bolduc's grit and goal-scoring sooner than later.

Forward Jannik Hansen, a possible returnee to the Moose once he's healthy, has a broken hand that will keep him out of any lineup until the beginning of December. Hansen's abilities would be a blessing to the Moose right now.

Forward Matt Pettinger is enjoying his time with the Canucks as a call-up right now. Pettinger has a goal in four games and is a respectable +1, showing that he isn't a defensive liability on the ice. Again, the Moose would love to have Pettinger back.

Stats Scrum

Thanks to their recent scoring drought, there's little change in the stats department this week.

Leading Moose scorer: Sergei Shirokov - 5G + 6A = 11pts.
Leading Moose goal-scorer: Sergei Shirokov - 5 goals.
Leading Moose setup man: Shirokov/Michael Funk - 6 assists each.
Leading Moose plus/minus guy: Grabner/Pettinger at +2 each.
Leading Moose sin bin resident: Tom Maxwell - 55 PIMs.
Leading Moose power player: Sergei Shirokov - 3 PPGs.
Leading Moose shortie: Keane/Bliznak - 1 SHG each.
Leading Moose shooter: Marco Rosa - 57 SOG.
Leading Moose blueliner: Michael Funk - 1G + 6A = 7pts.

AHL Notes
  • The league-leading Rochester Americans continue to tear through the AHL schedule. The Amerks are 11-1-1-0, and have six games in hand on the Manitoba Moose! They have rattled off eleven straight wins since starting the season 1-1-1, and show no signs of slowing down. Their eleven-game streak ties their 54-year-old franchise record, and they can break it in their next game against the Portland Pirates tomorrow night!
  • Manny Legace's time with the Chicago Wolves came to an abrupt end when Carolina Hurricanes' goaltender Cam Ward was sliced open by a skate blade. The free agent goaltender signed a two-way deal with the 'Canes for a reported $500,000 NHL salary. AHL fans will most likely see him with the Albany River Rats once Ward returns from his injury, but Michael Leighton should feel some heat from the 36 year-old in regards to his backup job.
  • Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack continues to lead the league in scoring with 21 points. He's also tied for the league lead in goals with Chris Minard of the Springfield Falcons and teammate Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau. All three players have nine goals apiece.
  • The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are your new leaders for team PIMs. They have amassed 528 PIMs in the sin bin over 17 games - an average of 31.06 PIMs per game! Pascal Morency is a large reason for Bridgeport's increase. Morency already has piled up 97 PIMs by himself! In comparison, the Milwaukee Admirals have a league-low 157 PIMs in 12 games.
  • Hamilton's streak of no losses in regulation time came to an end at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday night. The Binghamton Senators tangled with the Bulldogs in Montreal, and the Senators came away with a 2-1 win in regulation time.
Know Your Moose

Today, I want to introduce one Moose player who I mistakenly identified as "lumbering" in a comment on my blog last week. This Moose player did a ton of off-season work to get himself into excellent shape, and I want to apologize for my misleading comments. Today, we're going to take a look at Moose left winger #44 Tom Maxwell.

Maxwell was acquired in a trade with the Hershey Bears on January 7, 2008, and played his first game in a Moose uniform against the Iowa Chops on January 9. After four season with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL, Maxwell became a free agent after going undrafted. He signed on with the ECHL's Phoenix Roadrunners in 2006-07, appearing in 53 games while scoring five goals and adding eight helpers. Where Maxwell shone was in the pugilism department as he racked up 213 PIMs.

In 2007-08, Maxwell signed on with the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays. He only appeared in nine games for the Stingrays that season, but also saw action with the AHL's Hershey Bears. It was in Hershey that he recorded his first AHL point - an assist against the Bimghamton Senators.

After starting last season with the Stingrays, the Moose, needing a little more toughness to compete in the Western Conference, swung a deal for Maxwell. In 36 games with the Moose, Maxwell only scored one goal and added four assists, but his 72 PIMs showed he wasn't afraid to mix it up. However, one of Maxwell's noticeable issues last year was his penchant to take bad penalties. Because of this, head coach Scott Arniel sat him in the press box for all but one game of the entire Calder Cup Playoffs last season.

"The toughest thing about the guys that play that physical role, that guys who you need to be a big part of your regular season, well, the coaches, the way you play, we didn't want to get caught up in the fighting side of things," Moose coach Scott Arniel told Tim Campbell during training camp this season. "We wanted to be the ones on the power play. It was especially against Toronto last year.

"Now, you ask these guys to stop doing that. We took him right out of the lineup at times. No slight on Tom, but we wanted more skill in there. He still has to learn a lot about the game. He's gotten better. I like how he's come in here this camp and recognized that nothing's guaranteed, that he's got to work for a spot."

And he has been noticed by this writer. Maxwell is clearly one of the better skaters that the Moose have this season, and, while his old habits are dying hard, he has been a better offensive presence this season. Maxwell still leads the Moose with 55 PIMs, but he's clearly faster and stronger than he was last season. I credit his change to his professionalism when head coach Scott Arniel suggested that he change his game.

The other major change that I've noticed? Maxwell is clearly more aware of his defensive responsibilities, and that speaks volumes to his improved play. While he sits with a -3 on the season, Maxwell rarely takes a shift off and always seems to be shadowing his man during the play. Thanks to his off-season work, he also has enough speed to break away from his check now on the transition from defense to offense. Last season? That wasn't the case, and he couldn't keep up to faster forwards that he was checking, resulting in Maxwell spending a lot of time in the penalty box. When you average one minor penalty per game, that's not what coaches want to see.

Tommy Maxwell is an effective checking presence out on the ice this season, and he's doing all that he's been asked to do this season. While he is still in the middle-weight enforcer role, he's no longer just filling that role. Instead, coach Arniel can now feel comfortable putting his out against the opposition's better players in a checking role.

Look for #44 Tom Maxwell at your next Moose game! As a little trivia on Maxwell, the 23 year-old turns 24 next Thursday, November 19!

Moose Outlook

The Moose welcome the Toronto Marlies to the MTS Centre this week on Friday and Saturday for a two-game affair. The Moose come into these games on a five-game losing streak and in the midst of one of the worst goal-scoring droughts that I can remember. They'll need to be sharper defensively to try to and help both Schneider and Machesney while waiting for Toronto to make a mistake or two.

The Marlies sit sixth in the North Division, four points back of the Moose with an amazing seven games in hand. If the Marlies can win even one game in Winnipeg, they will put significant pressure on the Moose in the future. They lost their last game, so they will be looking to rebound. Christian Hanson and Mike Zigomanis lead the team with 13 points each. All of Zigomanis' 13 points have been assists thus far. Goaltender Joey MacDonald returns to the MTS Centre to battle the Moose.

The only other action that the Moose see before next Wednesday is the Moose Super Skills Challenge. Moose players will take to the ice in a series of competitions that will determine which Moose player has the hardest shot, who is the fastest skater, who has the most accurate shot, and which player is the Moose shootout specialist. This should be a fun night as Moose players will be available for autographs throughout the evening, and sections of glass will be removed so that fans can interact with the players as they compete. Come on down to the MTS Centre for this fun-filled night, and see which Moose player wins the events!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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