Antler Banter returns as the Moose begin to slow down in terms of the number of games they're playing. The Moose entertained the Hamilton Bulldogs for a couple of nights this past week, and they won't see action again until tonight as they head to Rockford, Illinois on a roadtrip. We'll look at the games against the Bulldogs, preview the upcoming three-game roadtrip, check out the injury ward again, and look at the multiple player moves in this edition of Antler Banter. 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!
The Hamilton Bulldogs, sporting a 10-4-1-3 record, visited MTS Centre for a Friday-Saturday set against the hometown Moose. The Moose, having played four more games that the Bulldogs by the time Friday rolled around, needed to earn the majority of points in these weekend games in order to try to close the gap between them and the second-place Bulldogs.
The game started at an intense pace, going up and down the ice with scoring chances at either end. However, it seemed that the Moose were slightly off as a number of their shots rattled off the endboards. At the 13:46 mark, the visitors struck as Blake Trotter snuck a low shot under Cory Schneider's right pad to the far corner of the net for his fourth goal of the season, and the Bulldogs were out to a 1-0 lead. That lead, however, was short-lived as Sergei Shirokov's team-leading eighth goal of the season just 54 seconds later drew the Moose even again. Shirokov literally has a ridiculous arsenal of moves, and his backhander past Curtis Sanford's pad and the post was a big league move.
Newly-arrived Erik Christensen, here on a conditioning stint from the Anaheim Ducks, put the Moose ahead at 4:02 of the second period with his first goal of the season. Evan Oberg's point shot was stopped by Sanford, but Christensen won a battle for the loose puck and netted the rebound. Mario Bliznak, on a solid rush displaying his speed, broke into the Hamilton zone and wristed his third of the season past Sanford at the 8:23 mark. While Sanford would have liked that one back, he found himself on the bench after Bliznak's unassisted marker as Cedric Desjardins took over in the Bulldogs' crease. The Moose went into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead.
The third period saw some craziness in the last two minutes of action. With Brian Salcido sitting in the penalty box, Hamilton pulled Desjardins for a 6-on-4 advantage. Mike Keane, whose hard work did not go unnoticed tonight, was rewarded with 91 seconds to play as he scored his fifth of the season into the yawning cage. Hamilton, not willing to go away quietly, responded with two goals in 38 seconds. Andrew Conboy fired a laser past Schneider for his second of the season at the 18:48 mark, and PK Subban added his second goal of the season at the 19:19 mark to close the gap to 4-3. However, Mike Keane iced the game, this time for good, by scoring his second empty-net goal of the night twenty seconds later. With the win, the Moose improve to 11-9-2-0 on the season.
Kind of a neat statistic, but Mike Keane's empty-net goals are the first time in his professional career that he has netted two empty-netters in the same game in his illustrious career.
Saturday night's game saw the Moose play to their largest crowd of the season as 13,582 people passed through the turnstiles to see the Moose tangle with the Bulldogs. And some of them, admittedly, were also there just to see Jason Earles, aka Jackson Stewart, from Disney's Hannah Montana. Luckily for those fans, they got to see a great AHL game between these two rivals.
Despite Manitoba mounting early pressure in the first period, it was Hamilton who struck first. With Hamilton pressuring the Moose by the midway point of the first period, out-shooting them 10-3, Mathieu Carle's point shot off an offensive zone face-off win eluded Cory Schneider and found the back of the net for his second goal of the season. The first stanza closed with the Bulldogs leading 1-0 on the scoreboard, and leading 10-9 in shots.
The second period saw the scoring happen early and often. Hamilton made it a two-goal advantage at the 2:04 mark when Mathieu Carle slapped home his second of the night off a rebound on a David Desharnais shot that had found the goalpost. Sergei Kostitsyn scored his fourth goal of the season at 7:35 of the middle frame as he one-timed a wrist shot to the top of the net over Schneider from the face-off circle. With the Bulldogs leading 3-0, things looked a little bleak.
Manitoba came back to life seconds later. Erik Christensen scored his second goal in a Moose uniform as he redirected a Sergei Shirokov pass under Curtis Sanford to put Manitoba on the board at 8:13. 1:07 later, Marty Murray slapped home a backhander as Sanford kicked out an Evan Oberg shot to the slot. Murray's fifth goal of the season narrowed the gap to 3-2. David Desharnais restored the two-goal lead for Hamilton at the 13:06 mark when he converted Sergei Kostitsyn feed in the slot for his fourth goal of the season. And finally, Sergei Shirokov showed a little moxie with 13 seconds left. Eric Walsky fed a lead pass to the streaking Russian at the blueline after a scramble in the Moose zone, and the shifty playmaker used a headfake in combination with a forehand-backhand-forehand to freeze Sanford, allowing Shirokov to record his ninth goal of the season. Again, another big league move from the young Russian.
The third period saw the Moose trailing 4-3, so the pressure was on the home team to equal the score. The Bulldogs rang a couple of shots off posts, but it took a powerplay for the Moose to respond. From the top of the face-off circle, Marco Rosa hammered a slapshot past Sanford for his sixth goal of the season at the 10:39 mark. Both teams battled down the stretch, but neither goaltender would allow another goal as the horn sounded.
In overtime, the extra ice benefited the Hamilton Bulldogs. Their defense jumped into plays and pressured the Moose. With 1:07 left in overtime, PK Subban used the extra room to find himself a lane where he wristed home the game-winner just inside the post from the face-off circle. Subban's third goal of the season gave Hamilton the 5-4 overtime victory. With the loss in the extra frame, the Moose drop to 11-9-3-0 on the season.
Continuing with the neat statistics, goaltender Cory Schneider picked up his first professional point as he earned the second assist on Shirokov's breakaway goal at the end of the second period.
Manitoba did themselves a huge favour by capturing three of four points against the Bulldogs. While it may seem small now, winning these weekend series could prove huge down the stretch. As it stands today, Manitoba remains one point ahead of the surging Grand Rapids Griffins and Abbotsford Heat, one point back of the Hamilton Bulldogs, and six points back of the division-leading Rochester Americans.
There are still a lot of bodies in the intensive care unit this week.
- Michael Funk - concussion. No return date set as he is still suffering from symptoms.
- Lawrence Nycholat - foot and shoulder problems. Just had his knee scoped, so he's out another month. Let's set this return tentatively for January 2010.
- Matt Pope - high ankle sprain. Looks like late December.
- Pierre-Cedric Labrie - shoulder separation. Potentially this roadtrip if all things continue well.
- Guillaume Desbiens - foot injury. Has been skating, but an early December return is most likely.
- Michael Grabner - ankle injury. According to his blog, he gets his cast off in two weeks. Let's put this return at mid-December.
- Alex Bolduc - shoulder injury. Early to mid-December at this point.
- Matt McCue - concussion. No return date set as he is still suffering from symptoms.
Centre Erik Christensen made his Moose debut after being assigned to Manitoba by the Anaheim Ducks on a reconditioning stint. After two games, he has two goals and a +3 rating. Honestly, Christensen was one of the better players this past weekend for the Moose in their games against Hamilton.
The Ducks also assigned ECHL scoring star Dan Sexton to the Moose. Sexton comes to Manitoba from the Bakersfield Condors. The right-winger has put up an impressive 13 goals and 13 assists in 18 games at the AA level. He's fourth overall in ECHL scoring, and second in goal-scoring. Keep an eye on this 22 year-old.
Matt Pettinger returned to the Moose after Daniel Sedin was cleared to play in Vancouver. Pettinger will be in the lineup tonight as the Moose begin a three-game road trip through the state of Illinois. The downside to Pettinger returning is that he could be recalled at any time as his salary in the AHL allows him to avoid re-entry waivers if Vancouver finds themselves down a player again.
John Lammers was released from his professional tryout contract (PTO). Lammers appeared in 11 games with the Moose, but recorded no points and had two penalty minutes. The one stat that jumps off the page at you is the -7 rating. Those numbers won't keep you around for long.
The Moose also recalled defenceman Taylor Ellington from the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL. Ellington has one goals and four assists in 13 games with Victoria. The 33rd overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft should hopefully see some action on the Moose's three-game roadtrip.
Finally, centerman Derek Leblanc was assigned to the Rapid City Rush of the CHL. With the myriad of centermen in Manitoba right now, Leblanc wasn't seeing much playing time. In order to maximize his ice-time, the Moose assigned him to the Rush where he played last season. Here's hoping that Leblanc can get back with the Moose before the season's end.
Moose forward Sergei Shirokov got back on track this week after being paired with Erik Christensen. He was named the AHL Player of the Week, and Shirokov showed off some serious talent and speed in the two games against the Bulldogs, proving that if teams don't keep a shadow on him, he'll do some damage. Goaltenders in the AHL haven't been able to solve him in the shootout or on breakaways, and that's a great sign from a young player. Over the long term, Shirokov appears to be headed for a long career in Vancouver if he continues to develop at his current pace.
The Moose head into Rockford, Illinois tonight to play the IceHogs. The IceHogs sit sixth in the West Division with a 9-10-2-1 record. Led by former Moose Mark Cullen's 19 points, the IceHogs only have three players in double-digits for points. Goaltender Corey Crawford should provide a formidable test for the Moose, though.
Friday night sees the Moose in Peoria, Illinois to battle the Rivermen. Peoria sits fourth in the West Division with a 9-7-1-2 record. Jonas Junland leads the team with 16 points, while Nicholas Drazenovic and Chris Porter have seven goals apiece. Ben Bishop and Hannu Toivonen have split the goaltending duties down the middle, and both have GAAs above 3.00.
The third game of the three-game roadtrip will be another meeting with the Chicago Wolves on Saturday night. The Wolves sit third in the West Division with a 10-8-0-1 record. Former Moose Jason Krog leads the way with 18 points while Tim Stapleton has dented the twine 10 times thus far this season. Former Moose goaltender Drew MacIntyre should draw the assignment against the Moose, and his 2.36 GAA is showing how effective this defensive unit can be.
These three games can go a long way in helping the Moose climb in the standings. While all three teams will be a test, the Moose should be aiming for a minimum of four points while spending some time in Illinois.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!