Thursday, 21 October 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 2

We're two weeks into the season, and that means we're back with another Antler Banter edition. This past week, the Moose tangled with the Grand Rapids Griffins at MTS Centre as they attempted to improve upon their 2-0-0 record while attempting to avoid any setbacks. Can they get some more timely scoring from the newcomers? Will the goaltending be as solid as it was on the road? All that and more coming up! 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. Let's get to the Hardcore Hockey!

MacDoughnut For MacDonald

The Moose haven't been overly successful against Joey MacDonald when he has suited up for the Griffins. The AHL veteran goaltender has seen decent success against the Moose, and has helped the Griffins get past the Moose in the Calder Cup Playoffs in the past. The Detroit Red Wings' AHL affiliate has some firepower, but both Manitoba's Eddie Lack and Grand Rapids' Joey MacDonald put on a goaltending clinic in this 1-0 Griffins win.

Eddie Lack is a beast. There's something to be said about the great goaltenders being developed in Sweden with the likes of Jonas Gustavsson, Jhonas Enroth, Henrik Lundqvist, and, seemingly, Eddie Lack grabbing the spotlight. Lack was sensational at times, making 27 of 28 saves in the game. On more than one occasion, the Swede found himself making second, third, and even fourth saves during a flurry to keep the Moose in the game. Lack is looking like a very good goaltender early in his professional career. If it wasn't for a loose puck on a rebound, Lack could have carried his zero into an extra period for sure.

Despite being snake-bitten on Friday night, the combination of Cody Hodgson and Aaron Volpatti looked dangerous all night. Both men recorded four shots on MacDonald, but neither could find the back of the net. Hodgson looks like he is rediscovering his touch as he set up Volpatti a couple of times on the doorstep, but MacDonald was equal to the task. I liked the energy these guys showed, and they should have better results if they keep it up.

Sergei Shirokov was a speed demon again, including being stopped on a shorthanded breakaway in the first period. Again, I have to say that Shirokov is improving in his own zone, and is actually proving that he is committed to defence by playing on the penalty killing unit. Much like the rest of the Moose who were snake-bitten on Friday, Shirokov couldn't get one by MacDonald, but he should find the back of the net often if he continues to show the solid effort he has put forth thus far.

The Moose drop their first game to a defence-first Griffins squad as Joey MacDonald records the 1-0 victory. With the loss, the Moose drop to 2-1-0 on the season, but they would have their opportunity for revenge on Saturday night as these two teams clashed again.

Hot Goalie Problem

For the second straight night, the Moose would face Joey MacDonald in the Grand Rapids Griffins' net. He had stopped all 25 shots the night before, so the Moose had to find a way to solve MacDonald. The Moose responded with Tyler Weiman in between the pipes, and he was looking to improve his record to 2-0 on the season.

This might be a common theme in these weekly updates, but goaltending was a major factor in this game again. Tyler Weiman made several excellent saves, including a breakaway stop on Jamie Tardif in the early going and another breakaway stop on Francis Pare later. Weiman has long been thought of as an excellent goaltender who played for some pretty bad Lake Erie teams, but the AHL veteran showed exactly why that thought is correct. If it weren't for Weiman on this day, the Moose could have lost this game by a large margin.

I have to hand it to the Moose who decided to play a much more physical game in this affair. Tommy Maxwell threw a couple of big hits in the game, and really got his nose dirty in scrums. Aaron Volpatti, who should be leading Manitoba in hits and fights thus far, got into a scrap with Sergei Kolosov, but it didn't last long. I'd call it a draw, but Volpatti would have more than held his own, in my estimation. Travis Ramsey missed seventeen minutes after he was hit with an instigator penalty in the first period, so the Moose definitely were showing some anger. I'll have more on Ramsey below, but if the Moose want to score a lot this season, they'll need to create some room for the scorers to do so. Saturday's game was a good example of what these three players need to do for this team.

Much like last weekend, the active blueline really helped the Moose, and this needs to continue. Lee Sweatt tied for the lead in shots with four, and Kevin Connauton was a +2 on the evening. Not all was good for Connauton as his penalty led to the first Griffins goal, but the young defenceman played well when he was on the ice. Ramsey, as stated above, was a force on the blueline, and he and Nolan Baumgartner really need to be the big, physical players they appear to be. Overall, the defence corps of the Moose are looking good thus far into the young season, and that has to continue.

However, the Moose fall 3-2 to the Griffins on the strength of another solid game by Joey MacDonald in net. With the loss, the Moose fall to 2-2-0 on the season, and find themselves in their first losing streak of the campaign.

Small Adjustments, Big Difference

With the two losses, there are definitely some problems in how the Moose play. These problems, from the stands, appear to very correctable, though, so there shouldn't be a lot of alarm after four games.

First, the powerplay was a horrific oh-fer this weekend. The Moose powerplay failed to capitalize on twelve chances while on home ice, and this must change quickly. All elite teams use the powerplay to absolutely kill their opposition, and this has to happen for the Moose. If the Herd can't find themselves in the top-five powerplay percentages by the All-Star Game, something has to change. With their firepower, there's no way this team should miss on twelve man-advantages.

Secondly, the Moose lost one of their better players from the first weekend as Victor Oreskovich left Saturday's game with an "upper body injury". I put that in quotations because it seems likely that Oreskovich may miss some considerable time. Griffins defenceman Brendan Smith caught Oreskovich with a forearm or elbow to the head, and the Moose forward did not return. I'm guessing concussion, but the Moose camp has been quiet. With Oreskovich out, the Moose need to replace both his energy and his scoring. Someone has to step up and prove they want the opportunity.

Thirdly, the physical play must continue. While I'm not suggesting to become the Broad Street Bullies, the Moose have to wear down the opposition while demoralizing them on the scoreboard. Not only will the physical play haunt the Moose's opposition, but the intimidation factor of a crushing hit may cause some opposing players to not play their games. Again, the Moose need to score, but they also need to continue to throw the body at all costs. Letting Maxwell, Ramsey, and Volpatti do what they do best is entirely the way to getting scorers like Hodgson, Schroeder, Rosa, Shirokov, and Perrault appearing regularly on the scoresheet.

Bring On The Dogs

The Moose and Hamilton Bulldogs tangle tonight and on Friday, so get down to the box office and get your tickets! Hamilton has always played well in Winnipeg, and the Moose certainly need a challenge to see if they are contenders or pretenders thus far. While the Moose and Bulldogs battled to a six-game Bulldogs series win in the Calder Cup Playoffs last season, both teams look considerably different, so this should be a great North Division matchup!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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