Antler Banter returns on a Thursday as it's game day for the Moose. The AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs start this evening, and the Moose will be in Hamilton, Ontario to battle the North Division Champion Hamilton Bulldogs. These two teams battled to even 4-3-1 records this season, proving that there wasn't a lot of difference between the teams in the North Division. The familiarity also breeds contempt as the Bulldogs and Moose had moments of hand-to-hand combat this past season. We'll take a look at how these two teams match-up in this series, and what will be the keys to victory for the Moose. Any Manitoba Moose news and information can be found on the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose Calder Cup Playoff game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. "Believe In Green" as we look at some playoff Hardcore Hockey!
The season series went as follows:
- October 19 in Hamilton: Manitoba wins 2-1 in overtime.
- October 20 in Hamilton: Hamilton wins 4-1.
- November 20 in Winnipeg: Manitoba wins 5-3.
- November 21 in Winnipeg: Hamilton wins 5-4 in overtime.
- March 23 in Winnipeg: Manitoba wins 3-2.
- March 24 in Winnipeg: Hamilton wins 7-1.
- April 4 in Hamilton: Hamilton wins 6-2.
- April 6 in Hamilton: Manitoba wins 2-1.
- Manitoba scored 20 goals, while Hamilton scored 29 goals.
- Manitoba recorded 170 shots on net, while Hamilton recorded 250.
- Manitoba scored on 11.8% of their shots, while Hamilton scored on 11.6% of their shots.
- Manitoba never had more than 27 shots in a game against Hamilton this season, but never less than 15. Hamilton, on the other hand, recorded 38 shots in a game, had over 30 shots in four games, and never recorded less than 26 shots in a game over the series.
- The Moose powerplay went 5-for-39, scoring on 12.8% of their chances. Hamilton went 7-for-46, scoring on 15.2% of their man-advantage chances.
- Manitoba's Cory Schneider played in seven games, going 4-2-1 while Daren Machesney was 0-1-0.
- Hamilton's Cedric Desjardins was 3-2-0 in his five appearances, while Curtis Sanford went 1-1-1.
- Sergei Shirokov was Manitoba's most dangerous scorer against Hamilton, recording three goals and four assists. Evan Oberg and Marco Rosa recorded two goals and four assists each. A total of 22 Moose players recorded one point in the eight games against Hamilton.
- Brock Trotter was Hamilton's most dangerous scorer against the Herd, recording four goals and seven assists. David Desharnais had two goals and seven assists, and Andrew Conboy had three goals and three assists. 25 Bulldogs recorded at least one point in the season series.
Offence: There is no doubt that the Bulldogs have a potent offensive attack. Brock Trotter lit the lamp 36 times this season on his 77-point season, and linemate David Desharnais put up another 27 goals with 51 helpers. Including those two players, the Bulldogs had ten players with double-digits in goals. They get great support from their blueline, as PK Subban had a team-high 18 goals from the back end. The Bulldogs ended the season with 271 goals-for, and were +89 in the goal differential.
The Dogs play a very structured offensive system that begins in their own zone. They control the puck very well, and they make tape-to-tape passes if not challenged. Hamilton doesn't have a problem scoring, and this is helped by their overall team speed.
Manitoba, as has been documented all season, has struggled in the offence department. Marco Rosa and Sergei Shirokov shared the team lead in goals with 22 markers apiece, and Rosa led the team in scoring with 55 points. Shirokov had 45 points in his rookie campaign, and Peter Olvecky, who arrived from Milwaukee, had 38 points. Evan Oberg led all defencemen in points with 26, while Brian Salcido had the lead in goals from the blueliners with eight. The Moose ended the season with 204 goals-for, but their goal differential was a -28.
The Herd is a defence-oriented team due to the fact that they have no offensive superstars. They don't score a lot, but they do forecheck well to cause turnovers that can result in goals. However, goals mainly come from one line, and that won't carry you very far in the playoffs.
Defence: The Bulldogs showed that they were one of the better teams in their own zone this season by allowing a league-low 182 goals-against. Part of this is due to how well they ran their offensive system, and part of it is due to their penchant for blocking shots. They pressure very well in the offensive zone on the forecheck, and seem to enjoy chasing the puck carrier in search of a turnover.
They occasionally get caught when their defencemen pinch and press for goals, so this may be a concern for the Hamilton coaching staff if it can be exploited. Their speed is excellent on the back end, though, and they normally angle players off the puck before they can get shots off.
The Moose gave up a ton of shots this season as their goaltenders faced 2276 shots - 245 more than the Bulldogs' goalies faced. They were regularly outshot by their opposition, but it speaks volumes to their blueline's "bend but don't break" policy. You don't normally end up 40-33-5-2 by allowing teams to outshoot and outscore you during the season, but the Moose weathered a lot of storms in their own zones. This experience may prove to be valuable in this post-season.
The Moose have excellent, smart defencemen when they are focused and determined, but mental lapses occur. When they do, the Moose seem to get burned. Badly. The overall speed of the team is a little slower than what I'd like to see, but the Moose defencemen battle hard in front of their net, and there are no free passes given to the opposition. The forwards do a great job in backchecking, and work hard to keep players to the outside.
Goaltending: There's no doubt that Cedric Desjardins has been spectacular this season for the Hamilton Bulldogs. He went 29-9-4 with a 2.00 GAA and a 91.9% save percentage. He also recorded six shutouts, showing that he is a very capable stopper in his own right. Desjardins was entirely the reason that the Bulldogs charged up the standings in December, resulting in their North Division title. Veteran Curtis Sanford backed up the talented youngster, and showed what two solid goaltenders can do as he went 23-11-3 with a 2.13 GAA, four shutouts, and a 91.6% save percentage. It's hard to argue with numbers like that, but Desjardins and Sanford rarely had to steal a game for their team.
The Moose were led by last year's top goaltender in the AHL in Cory Schneider. Schneider went 35-23-2 this season with a 2.51 GAA, four shutouts, and a 91.9% save percentage. Some nights, Schneider stood on his head in securing a win for the Moose, and, in my opinion, is the reason why the Moose are playing in this year's Calder Cup Playoffs. Back-up Daren Machesney was 5-14-0 with a 3.34 GAA and an 89.4% save percentage. It always seemed that Machesney never got any scoring when he was in the net, and his record is indicative of that. Machesney is a capable goaltender, but there's no doubt that the Moose will ride Schneider.
As surprising as this may be, I believe that if Schneider plays as his usual outstanding self, the Moose have a very legitimate shot at defeating the Bulldogs in this series.
- Special Teams. If the Moose stay out of the penalty box, and can convert on a few powerplays of their own, Hamilton could find themselves in trouble. The Bulldogs don't take a lot of penalties, so the Moose have to make them pay when they do take a penalty.
- Discipline. This goes without saying when playing an offensive juggernaut like Hamilton. The Moose can't take dumb penalties, and need to be faster, smarter, and more disciplined when playing the puck. Anything after the whistle should be avoided entirely. The Bulldogs can score, so there is no reason to allow them additional chances to capitalize.
- Need A Blanket. If I were head coach Scott Arniel, Mike Keane would follow Brock Trotter around the ice like they were siamese twins. There's no secret that the majority of Hamilton's offence runs through Trotter, so I'd assign my best defensive forward to cover him. Keane has been in this role in his career many times, and the Moose captain may even be able to draw a few penalties if he can get Trotter off his game.
- Force Mistakes. The Moose have to score the first goal to have the Bulldogs change their strategy. As stated above, the Bulldog blueliners love to jump into the play, so putting them behind the eight-ball would force those defencemen to start pressing a little earlier. Defensive breakdowns will happen, and the Moose can look to take advantage of those chances.
- Sacrifice Everything. The Bulldogs love to shoot the puck. The Moose play extremely defensively. The only answer is to block shots, block shots, and block more shots. There should be no shortage of bruises and contusions if the Moose put their bodies between the puck and Cory Schneider, but the Moose have to help their defencemen and Schneider by limiting shots and second chance opportunities. The best way to do that is to stop the puck from getting to the net. Sacrifice the body, Moose players. And get the ice packs ready.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!