Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Antler Banter: Volume 8

With the holiday season upon us, the Moose took to the ice against the Lake Erie Monsters before beginning their Christmas vacation. There were some great promotions that went on at MTS Centre during these two games, and we'll look at both the games and the promotions. Of course, we'll check out the Moose Intensive Care Unit once again, chat about who is in and who is out of the lineup, and take a look at where the Moose stand as they roll into the break. 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. Merry Hardcore Hockey!

Everyone Wins On "Teddy Bear Toss" Night

7388 fans took part in the Manitoba Moose's annual Teddy Bear Toss on Friday night in supporting the Christmas Cheer Board. We'll look at those stats after the game in terms of how well the fans did, but the hockey game featured the Manitoba Moose and the Lake Erie Monsters. Cory Schneider got the start for the Moose while Tyler Weiman started for the Monsters.

The first period was quite uneventful as the two teams tested the goaltenders unsuccessfully. In an interesting development, Lake Erie's Patrick Bordeleau and Manitoba's Pierre-Cedric Labrie skated the length of the ice jawing at one another. After crossing into the Lake Erie zone, Bordeleau dropped his gloves, but Labrie skated away. The fans seemed a little bewildered at this turn of events, but Tommy Maxwell jumped in to battle Bordeleau. Bordeleau got the jump on Maxwell with a couple of decisive blows, sending a bloodied Maxwell to the ice just 2:17 into the game. Aside from that, not much else happened as the officials tucked away the whistles. After one period, the teams were knotted in a scoreless draw, but Manitoba led in shots by a 7-4 margin.

The second period was much like the first in that there wasn't much excitement. However, the Moose finally broke the stalemate. Travis Ramsey's pass into the slot found Guillaume Desbiens' stick, and the Moose forward caught Weiman going down as he roofed the puck over Weiman's blocker. Desbiens' fourth goal of the season at the 7:22 mark gave the home side a 1-0 lead. Besides that goal, there were a couple of chances at either end, but neither team could find the back of the net. After forty minutes, the Moose lead 1-0. In what may have been some foreshadowing of the rest of the weekend, the Monsters outshot the Moose 13-5 in the second.

The third period saw neither goaltender give an inch. The Monsters outshot the Moose by a 10-5 margin, but Cory Schneider held the fort. The Moose backstopper turned away 27 shots for his second shutout of the season as the Moose captured the 1-0 victory. Weiman also had an impressive showing, but the one that got away cost the Monsters two points. Weiman stopped 16 of 17 shots in the loss. With the victory, the Moose improve their record to 17-13-4-0.

The Teddy Bear Toss, which took place in the second intermission in support of the Christmas Cheer Board, was a rounding success for both the Moose and the charity. The Moose collected 2073 stuffed animals that were tossed onto the ice and into the back of several pick-up trucks, and raised $3212 for the Christmas Cheer Board through the Teddy Bear Toss! This marks the best showing in both the number of bears collected and the amount of money raised for this event! Congratulations, Moose fans, on a job well done! Many Winnipeg families will benefit from your generosity!

Beaten On "Beat The Winter Blues" Night

7859 fans turned out for the second game of the back-to-back set between the Moose and Monsters on Saturday night. The same goaltenders who put on a clinic the night before took to the nets as Schneider and Weiman drew the assignments. After a solid defensive game from the Moose despite being outshot, there was hope that Manitoba would respond with some jump in this one.

The first period was end-to-end action as both teams fired 13 shots apiece on the opposing netminder. However, it was the Moose who found the cracks in Weiman's armor.

With Moose forward Marty Murray in the penalty box for boarding, the Moose struck. A turnover at the blueline between Lake Erie point men Brett Skinner and Tom Preissing sprung Alex Bolduc. Bolduc settled the puck down before making an excellent move to open up Weiman's five-hold, netting the shorthanded goal. Bolduc dragged the puck across the crease from left to right with Preissing pestering him from behind, and Weiman slid across to cut Bolduc off. However, as he pushed off with his right leg, the five-hole opened up, and Bolduc made no mistake as he slid it along the ice between Weiman's legs. With Bolduc's second goal of the season, the Moose led 1-0 at the 9:04 mark of the first.

The Moose doubled their lead at 16:41. As Guillaume Desbiens tried to go around Lake Erie defenceman Travis Gawryletz, he threw a quick pass into the slot. There were no Moose players there, but the skate of Monsters' defenceman Kevin Montgomery was, and the puck deflected past Weiman to give the Moose a 2-0 lead. A lucky break to be sure, but Desbiens' second goal in two nights and his fifth of the season put the Moose up 2-0.

Remember how I said that the second period of Friday night's game was a little foreshadowing? Saturday was the day of reckoning as the Moose looked overwhelmed in the middle frame. Marco Rosa was sent to the penalty box for holding at 10:56, and Lake Erie's Ryan Stoa netted his eighth goal of the season on the powerplay at 11:41. Stoa converted a gorgeous backdoor, cross-crease pass from TJ Hensick to make it a 2-1 game.

Lawrence Nycholat was sent off for interference at 15:10, and the Lake Erie powerplay scored their second goal of the game. Captain Brian Willsie picked up a rebound off a Philippe Dupuis shot and shoveled it over Schneider for his seventh of the season. With their two powerplay goals, the Monsters had squared the game at 2-2, leaving the final twenty minutes to determine a winner in regulation. The Monsters outshot the Moose 14-10 in the period, giving them a 27-23 advantage.

The third period saw the two teams throw caution to the wind as both sides had several good scoring chances. With the game being played a little more wide open, the speed of the Monsters began to dominate the play, and they took advantage at 15:35 of the third. Philippe Dupuis streaked down the left wing, cutting between Travis Ramsey and Alex Bolduc as he crossed the blue line. With his shoulder down, he drove the net hard on his backhand, finding a hole through Schneider as Matthew Ford crashed the net. Dupuis' backhander just got through Schneider, and the winger's fourth goal of the season gave the Monsters a 3-2 lead with just over four minutes to play.

The last four minutes were pretty much the same as the previous 36 minutes in that the Monsters controlled the play. The Moose had some chances with Schneider sitting on the bench, but the Monsters were the better team tonight, and earned the 3-2 comeback win. They outshot the Moose 42-31, carried the play, and played like they wanted the win. With the loss, the Moose enter their Christmas break with a 17-14-4-0 record.

Into The Christmas Break

This is going to be a bit of an editorial, but I have to get this off my chest. That Dupuis goal was some of the worst defensive play I have seen this season by the Moose. Neither Ramsay nor Bolduc did much in the way of slowing down Dupuis, let alone stick-checking or bodychecking him. And, of course, it ends with a goal against. Over the final forty minutes of Saturday's game, the Monsters carried the play, yet no one on the Moose stepped up to try and swing the momentum back in their favor. A big hit, a fight, some gritty play... any of that would have been better than what the Moose put on display in the final two periods against the worst team in the AHL. The Moose are 2-2 against the lowly Monsters this season.

The worst part about watching this Moose team is its apparent lack of character and/or toughness. They have some guys who will drop the gloves if need be, but they don't have anyone who wants to be the sandpaper that this team needs night in and night out. Darryl Bootland knew his role well, and routinely was causing havoc for opposing players out there, but there is no one on this roster right now that looks like they're willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Until each Moose player discovers that hard work trumps talent, this team will be no better than an average club. And that's disappointing considering the talent that has been assembled by GM Craig Heisinger.

Opportunities Missed

It goes without saying that the Moose dropped two important points in the Saturday loss. Instead of being two points behind the fading Rochester Americans and three points behind the division-leading Hamilton Bulldogs, the Moose are stuck at 38 points. The Grand Rapids Griffins are a mere one point behind the Moose while the Abbotsford Heat trail by two points.

With the Moose having played the most games in the AHL at 35, every single divisional game is a must-win, and every game against teams lower than them in the standings is a must-win. If this team wants to make the playoffs, they need to capitalize on these games because they have no wiggle room in the standings. As it stands, Hamilton has four games in hand (GIH), Rochester has three GIH, Grand Rapids has four GIH, and Abbotsford has one GIH.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

It seems like a surreal situation considering the number of injuries this team has seen, but the Moose sick bay is almost cleared out. There are still a couple of guys nursing injuries, though.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - broken finger. Was re-evaluated, but is still expected back around the start of 2010.
  • Michael Funk - concussion. No return date set.
  • Matt McCue - concussion. No return date set.
The Revolving Door

The Moose send one fan favorite off into the sunset, but get back three familiar players.
  • Darryl Bootland - released from PTO. Bootland's stay in Manitoba lasted 12 games, and he scored one goal and added one assist. However, his gritty play will certainly be missed by this Moose fan.
  • Michael Grabner - re-assigned by the Canucks. Grabner's speed and goal-scoring will be welcomed for a team that is struggling to put pucks in the net on a regular basis.
  • Lawrence Nycholat - returned from injury. Nycholat didn't set the world on fire like Aaron Rome did, but he ate up the minutes that Rome was playing and wasn't a liability.
  • Matt Pope - returned from injury. Pope played this weekend in the games against Lake Erie, but looked invisible on Saturday. However, getting another regular back is big for the Moose as they start piecing their opening night roster back together.
Upcoming Moose Action

The Moose aren't back in action until next Monday when they welcome the Abbotsford Heat to MTS Centre. The Christmas break might be what this team needs to refocus and get themselves on track to make a run in the second half of the season. As it stands, scoring will be important in the second half of the season, and head coach Scott Arniel is preaching the mantra of shooting from everywhere.

The Moose are 9-1-1-0 this season when scoring three or more goals. They are 8-13-3 when scoring two or less. And playing this win-one, lose-one style of hockey has to end as well. If Arniel's mantra takes hold, the Moose may see better results as well. They have been outshot in 19 of 35 games thus far. When they outshoot their opponents, the Moose are 10-3-1-0, but fall to 6-10-3-0 when being outshot.

With Abbotsford coming in, the Moose have to be aware of former teammate Jason Jaffray. Jaffray leads the team in goals (12), assists (16), points (28), powerplay goals (5), and is tied for the lead in shorthanded goals (2). Leland Irving has played extremely well for Abbotsford, posting a 2.73 GAA and a .909 save percentage in 23 games. Matt Keetley is a solid backup as well, so it doesn't get any easier if the Heat decide to give Irving the night off.

Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus/Etc.

Lastly, I just want to say "Happy Holidays" to everyone who stops by, and I hope you and yours are safe and sound this holiday season. I appreciate each and every one of you who stop by, and thank you for making this "job" seem like fun instead of work.

If you are celebrating this holiday season with some festive spirits, please be sure not to drink and drive. Call a cab, spend the night, do whatever you have to so that the holidays remain merry!

Until next time, Happy Holidays from Hockey Blog In Canada!

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