Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Antler Banter: Volume 5

Antler Banter returns this week and finds the Moose making all sorts of noise in terms of player moves, news, and games. The Moose worked their way through the state of Illinois, meeting up with the Rockford IceHogs, the Peoria Rivermen, and the Chicago Wolves before returning to the friendly confines of MTS Centre to face the Rochester Americans for two nights. With all of the stuff going on, we've packed this edition of Antler Banter full, so let's get started. 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. On to the Hardcore Hockey!

Wednesday in Rockford

This game was a defensive battle from the start as both teams felt each other out in their first meeting of the season in front of 3522 fans at the Rockford MetroCenter. Cory Schneider started in net for the Moose while Alec Richards drew the netminding assignment for the IceHogs.

Not much happened in the first as both teams played cautiously. Defenseman Geoff Waugh squared off with Bryan Bickell, fresh off his recent call-up with the Blackhawks, at the 8:09 mark of the first period, but that was the only real excitement in a rather careful opening stanza for both teams.

The second period saw the IceHogs open the scoring at the 13:42 mark. Brian Connelly's point shot was kicked out by Cory Schneider, but Kyle Greentree was standing in perfect position to whack the rebound home, giving Rockford the 1-0 lead. Both teams went into their defensive shells for the remainder of the period, however, and Rockford carried the one-goal advantage into the second intermission.

Bryan Bickell's double-minor for high-sticking at the 4:49 mark of the third period gave Manitoba four minutes of extra attacker time, and they put it to good use. On a disputed offside call, Matt Pettinger skated into the IceHogs zone and wired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle past Richards for his third goal of the season. Pettinger's powerplay goal tied the score for the visitors at 8:01 of the third period, and the recently-assigned Dan Sexton recorded his first AHL point with the Moose as he assisted on Pettinger's goal.

At the 11:43 mark, a turnover in the Rockford zone led to another Manitoba goal. Dan Sexton intercepted an errant pass by Richards behind the net and fed a wide-open Matt Pettinger in the slot for the easy empty-net goal as Richards couldn't recover. Pettinger's fourth goal of the season gave the visitors a 2-1 lead. Despite Rockford mounting some incredible pressure near the end of the game, Manitoba hung on to win the game by that 2-1 score. In game where they were outshot 40-21, Manitoba has Cory Schneider to thank for preserving these two points. Manitoba improves to 12-9-3-0 with the victory.

The big note in this game was the loss of defenseman Nolan Baumgartner. Baumgartner blocked a shot with his hand, and broke his pinky finger. The prevailing chatter is that he'll need a wire inserted into his finger to align it, and he may miss up to six weeks of action. More on this below.

Friday in Peoria

The Rivermen and Moose tangled for the first time this season on November 27, and 3882 fans got to see Cory Schneider battle Hannu Toivonen at the Carver Arena. Again, there was a lot of defensive posturing in this game as neither team wanted to give an inch to their opponents.

Tommy Maxwell and Peoria's Anthony Peluso decided to give the fans some excitement after a rather dreary 17 minutes of play. Maxwell and Peluso dropped the gloves to earn five minutes each after Peluso had already been singled out for interference. The Moose could not solve Toivonen on the powerplay, however, and both teams went into the intermission with a scoreless draw.

The second period was much the same as the first: defensive shells with little offensive action in either end, only with less fights. Again, no scoring took place, and both Schneider and Toivonen held their respective forts. Rockford did have the edge in shots as they led 17-11 through two periods.

It only took 33 seconds for the Rivermen to open the scoring in the third, though. Nicholas Drazenovic scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season after he fired a wrister from the slot high on the blocker side past Schneider, and Peoria led 1-0. Just over ten minutes later, the Moose tied the game up. Matt Pettinger's long wrist shot deflected off Marty Murray and past Hannu Toivonen to knot the game at one goal apiece. Murray was credited with his sixth goal of the season, and Pettinger had his third point in two games since returning from Vancouver. Once again, defense took over, and these teams battled down to the final horn at a 1-1 tie.

It didn't take long for Peoria to get things going in overtime. On a scramble in front of the net, the puck got through Schneider and found its way towards the goal line. Steve Wagner banged home the loose puck just 36 seconds into the extra frame, giving the Peoria Rivermen a 2-1 overtime victory over the Moose. With the overtime loss, the Moose drop to 12-9-4-0 on the season.

Saturday in Chicago

The Moose had a 3-0 lead in the season series over the Wolves thus far, and looked to wrap up a season sweep in their fourth meeting with the Wolves. 6722 fans saw Daren Machesney square off with Drew MacIntyre at Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago.

It didn't take long for the scoring to start in this game as both teams came out flying. The Moose struck first - a mere 19 seconds into the game - as Mike Keane picked up a loose puck in the corner, and cycled it to Marco Rosa behind the net. Rosa spotted Mario Bliznak cruising into the slot, and Bliznak buried his fourth goal of the season under MacIntyre to give the visitors the lead.

Manitoba added to their lead on the powerplay at the 7:00 mark. With Wolves defenseman Grant Lewis in the penalty box on a delay-of-game call, Matt Pettinger continued his torrid scoring pace with another powerplay marker. I'm not sure why the Wolves forward would consider a cross-ice pass in his own zone from the half-boards, but the puck was fired across the ice, and poked away from Chris Chelios onto the stick of Matt Pettinger who was all alone in the slot. A nifty bit of puck juggling led Pettinger to backhand the puck between MacIntyre's legs as he went down for his fifth goal of the season, and the Moose were off and running with a 2-0 lead. Manitoba would take this two-goal advantage into the intermission.

10:46 into the second period saw Manitoba make it a three-goal lead. Off a broken play, Mario Bliznak picked Grant Lewis' pocket at the Chicago blueline, and walked in alone on MacIntyre. Bliznak went forehand-backhand and found some space between MacIntyre's pads for his second of the night and fifth of the season. With that goal, MacIntyre's night was over and Peter Mannino was summoned to the net by head coach Don Lever.

It didn't stop there for the Moose. On a defensive miscue, Wolves defenseman Jamie Hunt found himself all alone behind his net against three Moose forecheckers. Matt Pettinger knocked Hunt off the puck, and Marty Murray fed Dan Sexton out front. Sexton wired a bullet past Mannino for his first AHL goal of his career at the 15:38 mark of the second period. The fans in Chicago let the home team know that they weren't happy with their performance at that point. The Moose, playing more defensive at this point, carried a 4-0 lead into the second intermission.

The Wolves seemed to come out energized in the third period. Sergei Shirokov was sent off for tripping, and the Wolves finally broke Machesney's shutout. John Pohl fired a low slapshot from the circle at Machesney, and Joey Crabb redirected the puck past Machesney to the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season on the powerplay at the 4:16 mark. The Wolves powerplay struck again at 11:53 of the third period with Neil Petruic in the sin bin. Anthony Stewart's wrister from the faceoff circle eluded Machesney's blocker, and the Wolves inched closer as they sat on the wrong side of the 4-2 score on the scoreboard.

Despite being outshot 12-5 in the final frame, Daren Machesney held strong for the victory, and the Moose recorded the 4-2 win. With the victory, the Moose improve to 13-9-4-0 on the season.

Tuesday At Home With Rochester

The Moose welcomed the best team in the AHL to MTS Centre on Tuesday evening to start a two-game set. The Rochester Americans came into the game with a 17-3-1-0 record, and look to be a titan in the AHL this season. The Moose would need a nearly flawless game in order to defeat the high-flying Amerks. 6343 fans would head down to MTS Centre for a battle between the two North Division rivals.

To show you how good this Amerks team is, goaltender Alexander Salak didn't see his first biscuit until nearly six minutes into the opening period. However, this lack of intensity for the youngster may have paid off for the Moose as they opened the scoring at the 16:16 mark. Mike Keane's wrist shot found some room through Salak's five-hole for his seventh goal of the season, and a 1-0 Manitoba lead. However, Rochester's explosive offense responded 21 seconds later when Michal Repik potted a rebound past Cory Schneider off a Jeff Taffe shot for his eighth goal of the season. With the first period coming to a close, the two teams were deadlocked with a 1-1 score.

I'm not sure what was going through the minds of the Manitoba players in the second period, but the first eighteen minutes of the period were played extremely well. However, with Guillaume Desbiens being sent off for holding near the 17:00 mark, it should be elementary that giving the league's best offense a chance to play in odd-man situation will kill you. So with Desbiens already in the box for holding at 16:59, Travis Ramsey decided to join him after demonstrating how to trip an opponent at 17:10. Less than a minute later, Graham Mink scored his eighth of the season at 18:08 with a beautiful one-timer in the slot past Schneider on the five-on-three. The Amerks weren't done in this period, though. Jason Garrison's one-timed point shot with 61 seconds to play in the period found its way through the traffic in front of Cory Schneider. Garrison's third of the season made it a 3-1 advantage for the Amerks as 40 minutes were in the books.

Rochester's Evgeny Dadonov went inside-outside on Aaron Rome before firing home a laser of a wrist shot past Schneider at the 14:53 mark in the third period. Dadonov's third of the season capped off a marvelous defensive effort by the Americans in the third period, and the Amerks skated to the 4-1 victory over the Moose. With the loss, the Moose drop to 13-10-4-0 in the standings.

So Where Are We Exactly?

Well, at this point, the Moose sit tied for second-place in the North Division after 27 games. They have 30 points, and are equal with both the Hamilton Bulldogs and Abbotsford Heat in the standings. However, the Bulldogs have four games in hand on both the Moose and Heat, and the Heat have scored more goals thus far this season. Because of this, the Moose are technically in fourth-place in the North Division at this point. Every single point becomes crucially important for the Moose at this point, so they need to find ways of picking up every point that they possibly can.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

What a difference a week makes.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - broken pinky finger. The earliest he could return would be after Christmas.
  • Michael Funk - concussion. No return date set at this time.
  • Lawrence Nycholat - foot and shoulder problems. I'm guessing January 2010 at this point.
  • Matt Pope - high ankle sprain. Looks like possibly Christmas.
  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie - shoulder separation. Hopefully he's back for this weekend.
  • Michael Grabner - ankle injury. According to his blog, he gets his cast off in about a week. He should be skating by the third week of December.
  • Matt McCue - concussion. No return date set at this time.
Player Movement

We saw the additions of Erik Christensen, Dan Sexton, and Matt Pettinger last week. Pettinger had himself one heck of a week with the Moose, posting two goals and two assists in the four games. Sexton has a goal and a couple of assists to his name in his AHL debut. Christensen played well against the Bulldogs last week, but hasn't hit the scoresheet since.

With the loss of Baumgartner, the Canucks assigned Aaron Rome to the Moose on a conditioning stint. Rome should be able to eat up some of Baumgartner's minutes, and has a pretty good eye for the offensive side of the game. Rome has sat in the press box for most of the season with Vancouver thus far, so the jury is out in terms of how long it will take for him to round into game form.

The Canucks also returned Alex Bolduc to the Moose. Bolduc's gritty play will be counted on in the Moose lineup, and his penchant for heading into high-traffic areas is something the Moose could use. While Bolduc's shoulder injury should be fully healed, there may be some time before taking a hit on that shoulder will feel normal.

Moose Outlook

The Moose tangle with the division-leading Americans tonight, and really need to find a way to earn at least one point from the Amerks. After watching the Amerks last night, they skate like the wind, shoot bullets with their sticks, and really are "the team to beat" in the AHL right now.

This weekend has the Moose back in the American midwest as they travel to Peoria on Friday, head into Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Saturday, and finish off the three-games-in-three-nights roadtrip in Rockford, Illinois. Much like last weekend where I stated that the Moose needed to earn a minimum of four points on this weekend roadtrip, I will repeat the same mantra: the Moose need to earn a minimum of four points on this midwestern roadtrip. Anything less, especially after playing these teams just a week ago, would be considered a bad roadtrip.

The last thing I need to mention is that the Moose really don't need any additional players injured on this roadtrip. I'm knocking on wood right now that no other players find themselves unable to play after the three nights of hockey in a row.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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