Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 18

Antler Banter makes a rare Tuesday appearance thanks to the NHL trade deadline tomorrow. The Herd traveled through Texas with stops in Houston and San Antonio before returning home for a Tuesday night game with the Worcester Sharks. With the NHL trade deadline less than 14 hours from completion, some players are already on their way out, so we'll look at the player moves that affected the Moose. Check all of your Manitoba Moose news and information regarding Moose player moves on the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Let's look back at this past week's Hardcore Hockey!

Kick It Off In Houston

The Moose rolled into Toyota Center in Houston, Texas for one game against the Houston Aeros. The Moose were 1-2-0 against the Aeros this season, so they were looking to even up that mark. Cory Schneider got the start for Manitoba while Barry Brust got the call for the Aeros.

The first period saw the two teams trade minor penalties, but nothing more. It really looked like both teams were playing a little on their heels rather than being aggressive, but the good news is that the score at the intermission was still zeroes.

Manitoba opened the scoring on the powerplay while Aeros' defenceman Justin Falk served time for holding. Barry Brust got caught behind his net as the puck was fired in, and Guillaume Desbiens came up with the puck as the goaltender had his pocket picked. Desbiens attempted to wrap the puck around the left post, but J.P. Testwuide got back in time to breka up that play. However, the puck rolled to the top of the crease where Sergei Shirokov had all the time in the world to bury it. Give Shirokov 18 goals on the season with the powerplay marker, and give the Moose the 1-0 lead at 10:16 of the second period.

Houston stormed back. Defenceman Jamie Fraser received a cross-ice pass at the blueline, and had daylight in front of him. He took three steps before Brian Salcido cut off his path, causing Fraser to fire a wrist shot at the net. The shot caught Salcido, however, and bounced into the slot on to Duncan Milroy's stick. Milroy snapped a quick shot past Schneider for his eighth of the season, and the game was tied 1-1 at the 13:35 mark.

It didn't take the Moose long to respond, though. 36 seconds later, Marco Rosa won a puck battle along the left wing half-boards against Colton Gillies, and fired a centering pass to Michael Grabner in the high slot. Grabner wasted no time in one-timing the puck past Brust on the short side, and the Moose were back on top by a 2-1 score.

Manitoba recorded an amazing 17 shots in the second period, and led 23-18 on the shot clock after two periods. Of course, they also had the lead going into the third period, so you had to know that the Aeros weren't just going to roll over.

Matt Pope found himself in the penalty box for high-sticking at the 14:21 mark of the third, and the Aeros went on the powerplay. Houston had a few chances, but they finally broke through. Maxim Noreau loaded up the cannon from the blueline and let a blast go. The puck got by a screened Schneider who, for it was worth, had no chance. Noreau's rocket past Schneider's glove was his 16th goal of the season, and the powerplay marker tied the game 2-2 with 4:33 remaining.

However, 1:10 later, the Herd regained the lead. Mario Bliznak fed a gorgeous pass through to Mike Keane on the right hash marks, and his wrist shot got through the Pierre-Cedric Labrie screen, but not Brust. The rebound wasn't covered, though, and Labrie jammed the puck under Brust's right pad and into the net. Labrie recorded his fourth goal of the season, and the Moose had the 3-2 lead with 3:23 remaining.

Schneider shut down the Aeros the rest of the way, and the Moose picked up two important points in Houston with the 3-2 win. With that victory, the Moose pushed their record to 29-25-5-1.

Losing At The Alamo

Game two of the Texas road swing happened on Friday night as the Moose set up shop at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The Rampage are trying to fight their way back into a playoff spot, so the Moose had to be on their toes. Cory Schneider was back in the Moose net while Justin Pogge was sent out to the Rampage net.

You knew things were not going well from the drop of the puck. The Rampage had already fired six pucks at Schneider before Pogge made his first stop. And it didn't get any easier from that point on.

David Spina fed a gorgeous tape-to-tape, cross-ice pass from the right wing to pinching defenceman Shaun Heshka across the faceoff circles on the left wing that had the Moose moving the wrong way. Heshka quickly changed directions again by feeding Kevin Porter in the slot, and Porter had no trouble finding the back of the net, going high blocker on Schneider. With the beautiful tic-tac-toe passing, Porter picked up his 15th goal of the season at the 3:49 mark, and the Rampage were out in front by a 1-0 score.

A turnover at the offensive blueline led to the next Rampage goal. Mikkel Boedker poke-checked Matt Pettinger at the line from behind, and the puck came to David Spina. Spina saw Boedker turn on the jets, and he fed the youngster with a perfect pass. Pettinger hustled to catch Boedker, but Boedker protected the puck with his body extremely well as he went forehand to backhand in roofing the puck behind Schneider on the breakaway. Mikkel Boedker's ninth goal of the season was a beauty, and the Rampage had the 2-0 lead with 5:29 left in the first period.

After the first intermission, the teams seemed to play a little more defensively. However, a holding penalty to Sergei Shirokov at 11:17 gave the Rampage the man-advantage for two minutes or less. And less it was. Justin Pogge, showing his puck-handling skills, caught the Moose making a change and fired the puck down to Kyle Turris at the Moose blueline. As the two-on-one developed, Turris kept and fired a wicked wrist shot from just inside the right circle that went over Schneider's right shoulder and ended up under the bar. Turris' 15th goal of the season popped the water bottle off the net, and gave the Rampage a 3-0 lead with his powerplay goal at 13:15.

The Moose trailed 20-16 in shots, and were down 3-0 on the scoreboard. They would need a big effort in the third period to try to secure a point. Would they be able to stop the bleeding?

Unfortunately, no. I'm not sure what Nick Boynton was thinking, but his weak backhander up the middle of the ice was intercepted at the blueline by Andrew Orpik. Orpik made no mistake in feeding a wide-open Gavin Morgan in front of Schneider. Morgan made no mistake as his shot got under Schneider's pads and found the twine. Morgan picked up his fifth goal of the season, and the Rampage were out to a 4-0 advantage just 2:51 into the third.

I'm sure Morgan's goal is one that Schneider would like to have back, but what was Boynton thinking? His pass was nowhere near any Moose player, and was far too soft to be a legitimate clearing attempt. That may have been the worst play on a night of many bad plays.

In any case, the Moose couldn't get one past Pogge as he pitched the 4-0 shutout of the Moose. With the loss, the Moose dropped to 29-26-5-1 on the season.

Second Chances Are All About Redemption

With little time to reflect on their effort from a night before, Saturday night featured the Moose and Rampage again at the AT&T Center. The Moose changed it up by sending Daren Machesney to the cage. The Rampage turned to Josh Tordjman to tend to the twine.

The Rampage struck first in this game. Sasha Pokulok's blast from the point was stopped by Machesney, but he couldn't corral the rebound. Kyle Turris did, however, and he swept the puck past the sprawling Moose netminder. Turris' 16th of the season put the Rampage up 1-0 at the 8:22 mark.

Honestly, the Moose needed to play a little more disciplined in that first period. They had five minor penalties assigned to them, and spent a good portion of the period chasing the puck rather than controlling it. As the 15-9 shot totals indicate, the Moose needed to step up if they wanted to escape San Antonio with at least a point.

The second period saw both teams buckle down as neither team had many scoring chances. Both goaltenders were solid on the penalty kill, and the Moose responded by outshooting the Rampage 11-9 in that period.

The third period saw the Moose break out of their mini-scoring slump. Gavin Morgan was sent off at 4:51 for hooking, and the Herd's powerplay took to the ice. The Russian kids, Sergei Shirokov and Nikita Kashirsky, had a couple of chances on Tordjman, but it took Nolan Baumgartner's shot off a rebound to break the Moose's goose egg. Baumgartner's fifth goal of the season came on the powerplay, and the Moose were even at 1-1 just 5:57 into the third.

Nearly six minutes later, the Moose struck again. Off a Shirokov feed, Matt Pettinger streaked down the left wing and fired a laser past Tordjman on the short side that appeared to have handcuffed the Rampage goaltender. Pettinger's 13th goal of the season put the Moose out in front by a 2-1 score with 8:09 remaining.

The Rampage battled hard, pulling their goaltender late for the extra attacker. However, Gullaume Desbiens was sprung by Mike Keane, and he slid the puck into the yawning cage with 17 seconds to play. Desbiens' 13th of the season guaranteed the Manitoba 3-1 victory over the Rampage.

Honestly, this was an excellent rebound game for the Moose. They looked lacklustre and sloppy on Friday night, but it appears that Scott Arniel and his staff got the Moose back on track. With the win, the Moose finish the roadtrip 4-3-0-0, and push their record to 30-26-5-1 with the win.

"Come on Chief, This Isn't No Boy Scout Picnic!"

The Moose returned home on Tuesday night for a midweek battle against the Worcester Sharks. The Sharks won both previous encounters in Worcester with the Moose, so the Moose were looking to return the favour on MTS Centre ice. Cory Schneider led the Moose on to the ice, while Alex Stalock drew the assignment for the Sharks.

These two teams came out throwing big hits. Lawrence Nycholat threw an ill-advised hit that resulted in an interference call, sending the Sharks to the powerplay just 5:09 into the game. And 10 seconds later, the Sharks opened the scoring. Logan Couture's shot from the left side was blocked by the leg of Jeff Waugh, but the puck ricocheted right to T.J. Trevelyan's stick at the top of the crease. Trevelyan wasted no time in putting the puck past a helpless Schneider, and the Sharks had the 1-0 lead off the powerplay goal. Trevelyan's marker came just 5:19 into the first period.

If it weren't for the efforts of both goalies, this game could have been a 6-5 affair after one period. Both Schneider and Stalock were outstanding in the first period, and it appeared that this game may be decided by a defensive mistake somewhere along the line.

Throught the first period, you could tell that the Moose and Sharks were feeling a little feisty. Every time a Shark bumped into Cory Schneider, the Moose were all over the offending player. While cooler heads prevailed in the first 20 minutes, you just had that feeling that something was going to happen.

The Moose opened the scoring in the second period. Matt Pettinger won a puck battle along the right board, and fed the puck back to Tom Galvin at the point. Galvin's low shot was tipped by Sergei Shirokov as he skated through the slot, and the redirection fooled Stalock as the puck found the back of the net. Shirokov's 19th goal of the season came just 4:21 into the second period, and the game was knotted at 1-1.

With Marty Murray already in the penalty box for tripping, the sin bins got a little more crowded. Cory Schneider made a routine save at 10:05 as Matt Moore was running a little interference on the Moose goaltender. Jeff Waugh didn't take kindly to Moore's treatment of Schneider, and pushed Moore behind the net as the two were jawing at one another. This drew a scrum where the chirping really began, and it resulted in punches being thrown between Moore and Guillaume Desbiens, followed by more facewashing and punching done by Matt Pettinger and Brandon Mashinter. After all of the parties were separated, each team received six minutes in roughing penalties, and that was that.

However, the dancing seemed to fire up the Moose. As Murray came out of the penalty box, he jumped up ice as a stretch pass was fed to him. The Sharks recovered as Murray crossed the blueline, and his drop pass found Marco Rosa as Sharks' defenceman Benn Ferriero rubbed out Murray along the boards. Rosa appeared to be one-on-one with Danny Groulx, but everyone forgot about Pierre-Cedric Labrie on the right side. Everyone, that is, except Rosa. As Rosa drew Groulx towards him, he flipped a beautiful pass over to PeeCee, and Labrie buried the one-timer past Stalock from the right face-off dot. Labrie's fifth of the season came at the 11:23 mark, and the Moose took the 2-1 lead into the intermission.

Highlight of the period? Tom Galvin's glove save along the goal line. Galvin pushed a puck outside of the crease that had found its way behind Schneider, but had not crossed the line. A huge effort by Galvin shows just how important the veteran defenceman is to the Moose blueline.

The third period featured some amazing goaltending at both ends of the ice again. However, the Moose struck again late in the period off what appeared to be a goaltending miscue.

Michael Grabner raced down the right wing to catch up to a rolling puck. With the puck still rolling and a defender bearing down on him, Grabner fired a hard wrist shot that caught Stalock square in the mask. I'm not sure if the shot dazed Stalock, but he didn't move after the puck hit him. The rebound fell to his left which, coincidentally, was in the slot. Matt Pope raced in and whacked the loose puck into the unguarded cage, giving the Moose a 3-1 lead. The goal was Pope's first of the season, and it came with just 4:06 to play. Talk about getting your proverbial gorilla off your back!

With the net empty late in the game, there were a few good chances for the Sharks. However, the Moose stood tall and didn't give up the fight in reeling in the Sharks on this night by the 3-1 score. An interesting development occurred at the 20:00 mark of the third period when Guillaume Desbiens and Matt Moore participated in a round of fisticuffs. Guillaume scored the win in the scrap, but it appeared that the Sharks wanted more of the Moose. They'll have to wait until tomorrow night! With the win, the Moose up their record to 31-26-5-1.

For the record, I just want to point out a young man who sat in Section 202 tonight. During a stoppage in play while a pane of glass was being repaired, this young man put on a display of dance moves like never seen before. It was perhaps the finest combination of dance moves I've ever seen at a Moose game. It wasn't long before both he and Dancin' Gabe were having a dance-off in his corner of the rink, and it was some of the best entertainment seen off the ice at a Moose game this season. Thank you to the gentleman who showed off the amazing dance prowess in Section 202. You, sir, are an all-star!

If anyone knows who this man is, please contact me. He deserves a little recognition for his phenomenal arsenal of Moose-related dance moves.

Changing Nameplates On Lockers

The Moose saw a couple of players leave town to join NHL teams, while another was shipped out of town via a trade.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - recalled by Vancouver. Baumgartner was up with the Canucks before the Olympic break, and it appears they still need him.
  • Dan Sexton - recalled by Anaheim. The scoring sensation is back in California after helping the Moose for a second time this season. Honestly, it's no surprise that he went back. He had a great run in his first audition for the Ducks.
  • Nick Boynton - traded by Anaheim. Boynton was on his way to Rockford, Illinois during Tuesday night's game to join the IceHogs as the Anaheim Ducks traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for future considerations.
The Week Ahead

Wednesday night sees a rematch with the Worcester Sharks. Worcester will want to try to come away with a win and split the series in Winnipeg, so I expect them to come out fired up, especially after the fight at the final horn on Tuesday night. I would expect the same from the Moose as they're defending home ice, so here's hoping that they can take two from Worcester.

Friday and Saturday sees the Moose in Grand Rapids, Michigan to battle the Griffins. The Griffins are toiling at the bottom of the North Division with 54 points and a 25-33-2-2 record. These are two "must-win" games for the Moose if they hope to keep pace with Abbotsford and Rochester.

Jeremy Williams leads the team with 44 points. Williams is tied for the goal-scoring lead with Jan Mursak. Both players have 20 goals apiece. With Jimmy Howard in Detroit, the Moose no longer have to worry about Howard stealing a game or two from them. However, Daniel Larsson is still a capable goaltender. His 17-20-1-1 record doesn't do him any justice, but his 2.95 GAA and .902 save percentage shows that he can make the necessary stops.

If the Moose can grab all six points this week, that would be a huge help in their battle for second-place in the North Division. If nothing else, the two games against Grand Rapids have to wins. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: divisional games are "must-win" games. Here's hoping Manitoba can bring home all six points, and end the week on a five-game winning streak!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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