Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 16

Antler Banter would like to interrupt your regularly-scheduled Olympic coverage to bring you the latest news on the AHL and the Manitoba Moose. While the 2010 Winter Olympics are being played in Vancouver, the Canucks, along with the rest of the NHL, is off on break. The AHL, however, remains full steam ahead, so we'll look back on the three games that the Moose played, and look ahead to the upcoming games. As always, player moves are mandatory if you're associated with the Moose, so we'll cover those as well. Don't forget that you can always find all of your Manitoba Moose news and information on 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!

Just What The Doctor Ordered

The Toronto Marlies rolled into MTS Centre this past weekend to face the Moose. The Moose were 2-0 against the Marlies this season, so there was hope that the Herd could continue down that path. Cory Schneider got the call for the Moose while Joey MacDonald was sent to the nets for the Marlies.

The first goal was scored just past the midway point in the first period. Tom Galvin kept a puck in at the point during some five-on-five hockey, and fired a shot towards the slot. Marco Rosa was cruising through the slot, and picked up the loose puck. Rosa, on his backhand, found just enough room along the ice between MacDonald's left leg and the left post, tucking it past the sprawling goaltender's glove to give the Moose a 1-0 lead. Rosa's 15th goal of the season at 12:39 wouldn't be the last time he was heard from on the night.

At the end of one period, Manitoba was outshooting the Marlies by a 15-14 margin. Normally, it takes Manitoba the better part of two periods to reach that total, so it appeared that the Moose were out to shoot the lights out. One noticeable thing about the Marlies was the number of times they ran goaltender Cory Schneider. While I'm sure they wanted to rattle Schneider's cage, it seemed to happen early and often, and the Moose began to take exception to the Marlies' frequent abuses of their netminder.

Early into the second period, the Moose struck again. On a two-on-one, Michael Grabner streaked down the right wing and into the Marlies' zone. Brendan Mikkelson attempted to cut off the pass across the ice as he crowded Grabner, but Grabner threaded a pass across to Lawrence Nycholat on the left side who had nothing but net to shoot at with MacDonald overplaying Grabner's shot. Nycholat buried his second goal of the season at 2:55 off the gorgeous feed from Grabner, and the Moose a 2-0 lead.

Just 28 seconds later, and the Moose found themselves up 3-0. Dan Sexton crossed from left to right along the high slot, bringing two Marlies defenders with him. That left Michael Grabner wide-open on the backdoor, and Sexton spotted him. Showing his NHL-calibre hands, Sexton delivered an amazing pass to Grabner's tape, and Grabner buried his gift. With eighth goal of the season at 3:23, Grabner put the Moose up 3-0.

Sexton's pass, however, was certainly deserving if anyone was needing highlight reel fodder on Friday night. He went tape-to-tape through both Phil Oreskovic and newcomer Keith Aulie to Grabner for the goal. Sexton is showing why the Anaheim Ducks are so high on his abilities, and why he may only spend this season in the AHL.

Sexton was also in on the next Moose goal, again showing some fabulous hands in the process. Grabner caught up to a puck in the left wing corner, and shoveled a pass back to Dan Sexton at the hash marks. Sexton made a nice deke, going forehand to backhand to draw Brendan Mikkelson away from the slot and the wide-open Marco Rosa. Sexton spotted Rosa as both Mikkelson and MacDonald committed to him, and Rosa fired the puck past the outstretched glove of MacDonald to the back of the net. Rosa's 16th of the season at 7:11 not only gave the Moose a 4-0 lead, but Rosa officially took over the goal-scoring lead on the Moose as he pulled one ahead of Sergei Shirokov.

Kyle Calder and Alex Berry cut the deficit for the Marlies a short time later. Calder and Berry broke in on a two-on-one with Calder carrying the puck towards Schneider. Travis Ramsey tried to play the pass, but the puck got between his legs, giving Alex Berry a clear shot as Schneider tried to slide across. Berry found the back of the net with his third goal of the season at 18:08, and the Marlies trailed 4-1.

Remember how I was talking about the Marlies running Cory Schneider? Well, things turned ugly in the third period. 85 minutes in penalties were handed out for a variety of infractions, but there were two fights that highlighted the card. Pierre-Cedric Labrie served a buffet of knuckle sandwiches to Richard Greenop after Greenop had been jawing and poking at Labrie for about a minute straight. Give the decisive win to Labrie in this battle.

Shortly after the fisticuffs died down, Michael Grabner picked up his second goal of the game. Marco Rosa made a couple of nice moves around Justin Hodgman and Brennan Evans, making them look like pylons in the process. Rosa found himself on a two-on-one with Grabner, and defenceman Juraj Mikus did nothing to help MacDonald. Rosa slid the puck under a sprawling Mikus to the open Grabner, who flipped the puck over MacDonald's pad and into the yawning cage. Grabner's ninth goal of the season at 17:37 rounded out the scoring as the Moose went on to a 5-1 victory.

I'm surprised there weren't more goaltender interference calls made in this game with the number of times that Schneider found himself on the ice with a Marlie all over him. Sometimes, I wonder how these AHL referees are adjudicated when it comes to reviewing their work. In any case, the Moose improve to 26-22-5-1 with the victory.

From Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde

Saturday night saw the Moose and Marlies conclude their two-game series at MTS Centre. The Moose looked to build on their win from the night before, but they would be in tougher as Winnipeg-born James Reimer would take the nets for the Marlies. Cory Schneider was back between the pipes for the Moose. The Moose wore the jerseys of the East St. Paul Aces, a minor hockey team in Winnipeg, as part of the Moose's commitment to community and their celebration of hockey and community spirit. Honestly, though, with the Moose in the Aces' jerseys, this game resembled a Toronto-Ottawa battle from the mid-1990s.

There was no scoring in the first period, and the bad blood from the previous night had apparently subsided. The shots were 14-14 after one period, similar to the night before, so the goaltenders were busy.

7:45 into the second period saw the Marlies crack their goose egg. Justin Hodgman dropped a pass to Tim Brent at the top of the right face-off circle. Brent's shot on net was partially screened by Kyle Calder, but Schneider made the save, kicking out to the left side. Travis Ramsey, who was checking Calder, ended up on top of Schneider as Justin Hodgman picked up the loose puck. With no one standing between him and the net, Hodgman fired home his fourth of the season, and the Marlies took the 1-0 lead.

A couple of penalties later, and the Marlies were in the dressing room with the 1-0 advantage. It was clear in this second period that the Marlies were the far superior team in terms of puck control. The Marlies closed out the period with a 20-8 margin on the shot clock, and the Moose should have considered themselves lucky that the score wasn't worse than what it was.

4:17 into the third period, and we had ourselves another goal. Off a face-off in the defensive zone, Michael Grabner picked up a loose puck and turned on the jets. It appeared that there was some confusion between Brendan Mikkelson and Jonas Frogren as to who was going to take Grabner, and Grabner exploited that mistake. He split the defence to go in alone on Reimer. It appeared that Reimer squeezed the puck as Grabner went to his left on the forehand, but the puck squirted loose and snuck across the goal line. Grabner's tenth of the season evened the score at 1-1.

The Marlies fought back. Tim Brent cut in towards the slot and attempted a wrist shot, but the puck rolled off his stick. Both Brian Salcido and Cory Schneider went down on the whiff, but Brent corralled the puck, stepped around Nick Boynton, and flipped a backhander at the right post. Kyle Calder had crashed the net, and the puck ricocheted in off his body. Calder's fourth of the season with 8:47 to play put the Marlies up 2-1.

While the Moose valiantly tried to tie the game up, James Reimer stood tall, turning aside 33 of 34 shots to keep the 2-1 victory intact. With the loss, the Moose fall to 26-23-5-1 on the season.

Everyone Loves A Roadtrip

The Moose traveled to Rochester, New York for a Tuesday night game against another division rival in the Rochester Americans. Rochester sat six points ahead of the Moose, so the Herd needed a big game against their New York opponents. Cory Schneider got the nod from head coach Scott Arniel, while Rochester sent out impressive rookie Alexander Salak for the game at Blue Cross Arena.

Rochester got on the board first in this game. Chris Taylor's fantastic pass to Jeff Taffe was wired by Taffe past Schneider on the left side for his 18th goal of the season. With the goal at the 11:39, the Amerks took the 1-0 lead.

It's hard to say anyone was a stand-out in the first period except for Cory Schneider. The Americans outshot the Moose 11-4, and carried the play for the majority of the period. Without Schneider in the nets, it could have 2-0 or 3-0 easily.

Manitoba's leading goal-scorer evened the score in the second. Travis Ramsey's point shot was stopped by Salak, and the rebound came out to his right. The loose puck sat idly just outside the crease, and Marco Rosa pounced on the opportunity. Rosa dove across the slot on his stomach, and swept the loose puck into the unprotected Amerks' net. With Rosa's effort, he recorded his team-leading 17th goal of the season, and the two teams were square at 1-1 at 9:37.

Shawn Matthias didn't let that tied score last long. Just 2:07 later, Matthias crossed into the Moose zone, and he wristed a laser on net that got under Schneider's pad. Matthias' fifth goal of the season was a little unexpected, but it gave Rochester the 2-1 lead.

1:09 after Matthias' goal, the Moose drew even again. Lawrence Nycholat set up a gift for Dan Sexton to tap in with his cross-crease pass. Sexton's fourth goal of the season at 12:53 made it 2-2, but credit has to be given to Nycholat. His cross-crease pass was superb, and even I could have scored with that much time. Ok, maybe not. But I digress.

48 seconds after the Moose tied the game, they went on the offensive. Nolan Baumgartner moved into the high slot and crushed a slapshot past Salak after taking a feed from Guillaume Desbiens. Baumgartner's second goal of the season for the Moose put the Herd ahead 3-2.

Chris Taylor was sent off for a slash at 14:31, and that sent the Moose powerplay onto the ice. It took a little time for the Herd to get the powerplay going, but the Moose did capitalize. Nick Boynton fed Marco Rosa on the backdoor, and the Moose sniper roofed a shot past Salak. Rosa's 18th goal of the season ended Salak's night at 15:57 as the Moose pulled ahead 4-2. With Salak on the bench, the Amerks went to former Brandon Wheat King Tyler Plante to see if he could change their fortunes.

Just to note: Boynton's pass was something you'd see in the NHL. It was crisp and hard, and Rosa made no mistake when it arrived on his tape. There are a few reasons why Boynton has played nearly 500 games in the NHL. That's one of them.

After two periods, Manitoba had stormed ahead on the scoreboard, and made a serious dent on the shot clock. Manitoba outshot the Americans 17-8 in the second, and led 21-19 overall. I don't want to sound any alarms, but why don't the Moose shoot more often?!?

Matt Pettinger didn't take his foot off the gas pedal in the third period. Just 3:09 in, Pettinger's quick shot beat Plante on the blocker side, and the Moose jumped out to a 5-2 lead. Pettinger's 12th of the season wasn't the prettiest goal, but it certainly does the job.

Michael Duco of Rochester tried to narrow the gap with his goal at 14:10. Duco took a cross-ice pass from Jamie Johnson and slapped the puck home before Schneider could get across to block the shot. Duco's seventh of the season made it 5-3.

However, Manitoba iced the game less than two minutes later. Michael Grabner added his 11th of the season when he went upstairs past Plante to make it 6-3 for Manitoba with only 3:59 to play. Grabner extended his three-game scoring streak with the goal as well.

When it was all said and done, Manitoba had secured the 6-3 win. Maintoba improves to 27-23-5-1, and found themselves tied with the Abbotsford Heat in third-place in the North Division. The Moose sit four points behind the Americans, and four up on the Lake Erie Monsters.

Back To The Farm

Nolan Baumgartner was re-assigned to the Moose by the Vancouver Canucks with the Olympic break underway in the NHL. Because Baumgartner was back with the Herd, the Moose faced a veteran problem again. To solve this issue, it appears the Moose will sit a veteran player on a rotating basis until the Olympics are over. Captain Mike Keane took the seat in Rochester, allowing Baumgartner to be inserted into the lineup.

Didn't We Just Play You?

The Moose are in Toronto tonight for a date with the Marlies. On Friday, they return to Rochester for another game with the Americans. And Saturday sees the Moose back in Toronto again. Nice scheduling, right?

Manitoba won't see Toronto's Andre Deveaux on Wednesday night after the AHL handed him a three-game time-out for his actions on Friday night in Winnipeg.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: divisional games must be won. The Moose need to take points off the Marlies to keep pace with the other teams in the division, and need to win against the Americans in order to close the gap. They already gained two points from Rochester of the possible eight divisional points this week, so they have to keep that momentum rolling.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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