Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 15

Antler Banter returns today with a look back on this past week's events with the Manitoba Moose. The Moose welcomed the San Antonio Rampage to MTS Centre for a pair of games last weekend with the Moose needing to get back on some sort of winning streak after limping through Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. There have been a few player moves that have affected the Moose as well, so we'll look at who went where and who is new in town. Lastly, we'll look ahead as the Moose welcome a North Division rival to MTS Centre this upcoming weekend. Of course, you can always find 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. It's time for some Hardcore Hockey!

Next Goal Wins!

The San Antonio Rampage rolled into Winnipeg for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday night last weekend. The Rampage are sitting in last place in the tightly-contested West Division, so the Moose were looking to stop the Rampage in their tracks. Cory Schneider got the call for the Moose in the crease while the Rampage sent Josh Tordjman out to their net.

Just 2:44 in saw the game's first goal. San Antonio's Gavin Morgan put a shot into traffic in front of Schneider that just squeaked through his pads to sit behind the Moose goalie. However, Francis Lessard was there to poke the loose puck in on the right side of the net for his first of the season, and San Antonio was out to the 1-0 lead.

The Moose evened the game up after controlling the play midway through the period. With Kyle Turris sent off for interference at the 10:04 mark, the Herd's powerplay went to work. Brian Salcido's blast from just above the high slot area went into traffic where Dan Sexton tipped the puck past Tordjman from the right side of the crease. Sexton's second goal of the season came on a powerplay at 10:49, and the Moose were squared up at 1-1.

The first period - and an entertaining period at that - drew to a close with the teams tied at 1-1, while San Antonio had the slight edge in shots at 10-9.

The second period saw chances on both sides, but only San Antonio capitalized. Matt Watkins broke hard down the left wing and gained a step on Brian Salcido, but Salcido forced him deep enough that Watkins had to head behind the net. Thanks to the speed he had built up, he was able to circle the net quickly and slide home a wraparound goal before Schneider could go post-to-post to make the save. With Watkins' sixth goal of the year, the Rampage took a 2-1 lead at the 11:57 mark of the middle frame.

Honestly, Watkins' goal is not going to make Cory Schneider's highlight reel. It was a weaker goal than what I've seen Schneider normally allow, but the Moose netminder is human. Mistakes happen, and the Moose needed to rally yet again. However, there were no more goals in the second period, and San Antonio led on the shot clock by a 21-15 margin.

The third period saw the Moose pull even. Michael Grabner broke down the right wing into the Rampage zone, and put on the brakes as the Moose flooded the zone. Grabner threaded a pass through to Marco Rosa cutting down the slot, but Tordjman got enough of it to keep the puck out. However, his rebound hit the hash marks where Dan Sexton was lurking, and Sexton wristed home his third goal of the year. Just 5:06 in, and the Moose tied the game at 2-2.

Three minutes later, and the Rampage claimed the lead for the third time over the course of the evening. Mikkel Boedker took a pass just over the red line and cruised into the Moose zone on the right side. Boedker teed up the puck from just above the face-off dot, and hammered the puck inside the left post just above Schneider's right leg. With Boedker's fifth of the season, the Rampage were back on top at 3-2.

Back came the Herd as the back-and-forth scoring continued. Matt Pettinger nearly replicated Boedker's goal as he took a pass in flight from Salcido as he crossed the Rampage blueline on the right side. Pettinger made a cut towards the middle, put the brakes on, and wired a wrist shot from the face-off dot over Tordjman's blocker just inside the left post. Pettinger's 11th of the season put the Moose back on even terms at 3-3 with 4:11 to play.

And the pattern continued. The Rampage went back to the powerplay at 17:34 of the third period when Lawrence Nycholat was sent to sin bin for delay of game. Off the draw, Sean Sullivan's centering attempt deflected off Chad Kolarik's skate into the slot. San Antonio's Kevin Porter ripped a low shot that deflected off Jeff Hoggan's shin, and found its way to the back of the Manitoba net. Hoggan's powerplay goal, his eighth of the season, made it 4-3 for the Rampage with 2:26 to play.

The Moose didn't go away. With the extra attacker on the ice, Evan Oberg's pass from the right face-off dot found Marty Murray in the slot. Murray deflected the pass up high towards the net where a number of players were battling, and the puck found its way over Tordjman, who had dropped to the ice, and into the net. At 19:39, Murray's ninth goal of the season drew the Moose even at 4-4, and overtime looked inevitable.

The extra frame didn't last long, however. Mikkel Boedker took a pass down the right wing from Shaun Heshka, and carried the puck into the Moose zone. His pass from the top of the face-off circle was intended for Kevin Porter who was streaking into the slot, but the puck deflected off Evan Oberg who had good position on Porter. Unfortunately, the deflected puck went straight back and into the Moose net. Boedker's sixth goal of the season sealed the win for the Rampage just 45 seconds into overtime.

With the 5-4 overtime loss, the Moose's record drops to 24-22-5-1 on the season. The Moose really picked up the pace in the third period as they outshot the Rampage 15-9, but the Rampage still won the battle on the shot clock by a 32-30 margin. It seems like it has been weeks since the Moose outshot anyone.

Staring Down A Moose

With the Moose having lost after rallying four times to tie the game the night before, you know head coach Scott Arniel wanted more from his players. Like the first goal. And a lead. Either way, the Moose and Rampage tangled again on Saturday night with both teams looking for the two points. Cory Schneider got the call for the Moose again, but the Rampage responded with Justin Pogge in between the pipes.

The action was fat and furious in the early going. Both goalies had to be sharp as the teams were flying around the ice. Jannik Hansen nearly had his first goal of the season for the Moose, but the puck rattled off both posts as it danced along the goal line.

However, one of the Moose newcomers got the home squad on the board. Russian speedster Nikita Kashirsky caught the Rampage defencemen flat-footed at the Moose blueline, and he broke away down the right side with the Rampage in pursuit. On the breakaway, Kashirsky went from right to left, and showed a nice deke from the backhand to the forehand before sliding the puck through Pogge's five-hole. Kashirsky's third goal of the season came unassisted at 10:56 of the first, and the Moose were out to a 1-0 lead.

The Moose couldn't celebrate long, however. Mike Keane took a hooking penalty at 11:14, and the Rampage went to work on the powerplay. A turnover in front of the Moose net found its way into the back of the net. Rampage forward Chad Kolarik picked Brian Salcido's pocket in the slot, and fired a wrist shot high stick-side that Schneider couldn't stop. Kolarik's 16th of the season while on the powerplay tied the game at 1-1 at the 12:13 mark.

The Moose should consider themselves lucky that they found themselves tied with the Rampage after being outshot 8-4 in the first period and, by my count, outchanced at least 5-2. However, a 1-1 score after one period of play was where the game stood.

It appeared that the wake-up call was sounded in the Moose dressing room between the periods. 52 seconds in, Guillaume Desbiens tipped a Travis Ramsey shot from the point past Pogge, and the Moose regained the lead. Desbiens' 11th goal of the season put the Moose back on top at 2-1.

4:02 later, however, the Rampage pulled even again, and in a gorgeous way. Kyle Turris showed NHL talent as he walked around Michael Grabner like he wasn't even there. With Ryan Weston off for hooking, Kyle Turris broke down the left wing on Grabner. As Grabner attempted the poke-check on Turris, Turris pulled the puck between his legs from back to front, and avoided both the poke-check and the bodycheck from Grabner. As Turris brought the puck from left to right as he crossed the crease, Schneider went down, Turris slid the puck under his left leg, and Turris might have scored the prettiest goal at MTS Centre this season. With Turris' marvelous shorthanded effort and 11th of the season, the Rampage tied the game up at 2-2.

Mario Bliznak was sent off for hooking at 17:39, and the Rampage powerplay was back on the scene. Mikkel Boedker started off the tic-tac-toe scoring play as he dished the puck to Matt Watkins along the right half-boards who one-timed a pass to Brett MacLean cruising into the slot. No one picked up Watkins as he headed to the net, and MacLean returned a pass to Watkins on the backdoor for the easy tap-in goal. Watkins' seventh goal on the powerplay gave the Rampage their first lead of the night at 3-2 with only 35 seconds remaining in the second period.

The third period saw the two teams settle down defensively, but one lost check changed the fortunes for the Moose. Tom Galvin's point shot was deflected on net by Mike Keane, but Pogge was there for the save. However, Pogge's kick-out went right on to the stick of the unchecked Guillaume Desbiens on the left side of the crease, and Desbiens had no trouble sliding the puck behind Pogge. Desbiens' 12th of the season at 13:53 tied the game at 3-3.

The third period drew to a close, and the Rampage only had a one-shot lead on the shot clock as overtime approached. With the 26-25 advantage, it seemed as though the Rampage had carried the play more often, but the Moose hung around long enough to salvage at least one point.

Overtime saw the Moose put three more shots on Pogge, but the Rampage didn't manage a shot. However, nothing was decided, so a shootout would decide this game. Boedker was stopped, but Rosa scored in the first round. Kyle Turris put one past Schneider, but Dan Sexton responded to keep Manitoba ahead 2-1 in the shootout. Chad Kolarik was stopped by Schneider, while Michael Grabner beat Pogge to give Manitoba a 3-1 lead. With Schneider stopping David Schlemko on the fourth shot, no more shots were needed, and the Moose earned a 4-3 shootout victory.

With the win, the Moose improve to 25-22-5-1, keeping them in third place in the North Division as of today. They are two points ahead of the Lake Erie Monsters and Abbotsford Heat, and trail the second-place Rochester Americans by six points.

This Isn't A Super Bowl Halftime Show

The Who sang "Who Are You" during the Super Bowl halftime show this past weekend, and the Moose should look at buying rights to that song. The amount of turnover on their roster is bordering on ridiculous.
  • Nick Boynton - recalled by Anaheim. The Ducks didn't give Manitoba anytime to get acquainted with the defenceman. Just days after assigning Boynton to the Moose, they recalled him on re-entry waivers hours before Friday's game. However, after he cleared waivers again, the Ducks re-assigned him to the Moose, and he should be in uniform for this weekend's games.
  • Jannik Hansen - recalled by Vancouver. The reconditioning assignment for Hansen came to an end quickly as the Canucks recalled the speedy forward on Monday.
  • Evan Rankin - released from PTO. Rankin played well while in Manitoba, but simply didn't fit into Manitoba's long-term plans. Rankin scored one goal in four games before his release.
  • Taylor Ellington - re-assigned to Victoria. Ellington is caught in the numbers game again, but he showed he isn't out of place on the Moose blueline. Ellington will most likely be back sooner than later.
Coming Up: North Division Rivals

The Moose have a couple of games on Friday and Saturday against a division rival in the Toronto Marlies. As I have repeatedly stated on this blog, divisional games mean everything in the grand scheme of things, so the Moose should be gunning for four points over the weekend.

Tough guy Andre Deveaux has proven his hands are more than just fists as he leads the Marlies in scoring with 14 goals and 32 points. With several of Toronto's better players currently playing for the Maple Leafs, the Moose need to capitalize. There's a good chance that Joey MacDonald will play one of the games against the Moose, and his stats are rather unspectacular. MacDonald enters the weekend with an 8-15-3 record and a 3.33 GAA. James Reimer has been much better in his limited action, posting a record of 6-1-1 with a 2.29 GAA. Reimer would be my choice, but it appears MacDonald has been shouldering the workload.

Four points or bust this weekend for the Moose. The Marlies are 19-24-5-5 and sit eight points back of the Moose. The mantra of this writer remains the same: beat teams that are lower than you in the standings, and always win divisional games. We'll see what happens when we reconvene next week.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

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