Antler Banter returns with the Manitoba Moose stuck in a three-game losing skid as they battle through their seven-game road trip. The Moose had dates against the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Grand Rapids Griffins, and the Rockford IceHogs to close out the games away from Winnipeg, and they needed to turn their fortunes around. And they especially needed to beat Grand Rapids at least once this season, or the Griffins would record the season-series sweep against the Moose. If you're looking the 411 on the Manitoba Moose, 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. Onward for more Hardcore Hockey!
The Moose came into their fourth game against the Hamilton Bulldogs on Wednesday night owning a 2-1-0 record against the Hamilton squad. Divisional match-ups are always important games, and grabbing points off a division rival is vitally important for a playoff spot. The Moose had already earned four points, but the Bulldogs - on the strength of two shootout losses and one win - also had four points on their 1-0-2 record. The Moose had to buckle down for this one, and they sent Tyler Weiman to the nets while Hamilton opted for Robert Mayer in their goal.
Jeff Tambellini suited up for his first game, and he wore #10 for the Moose. Tambellini didn't light up the scoresheet like a bonafide NHL star, but he did finish with one assist on a beautiful setup on the powerplay for Nolan Baumgartner's first goal of the season. Where Tambellini really made things happen was in the shots department as he led the team by a clear margin with seven shots-on-goal. It will only be a matter of time before he begins to bulge the twine, but the rest of the Moose should look to be as opportune as Tambellini.
Bill Sweatt had a big game playing alongside Cody Hodgson. While Hodgson set up Sweatt's first period goal, Sweatt's second period goal was a work of art. Sweatt picked up the puck at his own blueline, and streaked down the left wing and blew by a Hamilton defender. While trying to feed the puck across on the two-on-one, the play was broken up, but Sweatt picked up the loose puck and fired it high past Mayer. This kind of effort is exactly what the Moose need to bring to the ice each and every shift, and Sweatt deserves some credit for his two-goal, one-assist performance.
Despite the great play of a few Moose players, they need to find a way to stop the Bulldogs' Aaron Palushaj and Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty killed the Moose on Tuesday night, and these two men accounted for two goals and three assists on Wednesday night. The Moose pushed the Bulldogs to another breakaway challenge in this game, but the Bulldogs outscored the Moose 3-1 in the shootout for a 5-4 shootout victory. With the shootout loss, the Moose fall to 5-5-1 on the season.
The Grand Rapids Griffins and Manitoba Moose met at Van Andel Arena for the fourth and final time on Friday night, and the Griffins were looking for the sweep over their former IHL rivals. Having already won three of four games, the Moose needed to end their four-game slide as well as their three-game losing streak against the Griffins. The Moose hung their hopes on goaltender Eddie Lack while the Griffins sent Thomas McCollum out to secure the sweep.
They say there is some adjustment time needed when players make the step to a higher level of play, and this is no exception in the case of Cody Hodgson. Hodgson has looked very comfortable with wingers Sergei Shirokov and Bill Sweatt over the last six games, and Friday night might have been his best game yet. Hodgson has two goals, including a first-period powerplay marker, and an assist on Shirokov's fourth goal of the season, finished as a +2, and fired three shots on McCollum. That, readers, is a solid AHL game from an up-and-coming star. Major kudos go out to Cody Hodgson for his best game as a professional to date.
Speaking of Shirokov, he also had a pair of goals in the game and looked extremely sharp and confident on this night. In his first great chance, Shirokov nearly scored a highlight-reel goal as he fired a shot on net from the slot from between his skates. The shot just missed on McCollum's glove side, but Shirokov would be heard from again. On his first goal of the evening, he stripped a defender of the puck as the Griffins' rearguard retreated to his zone, geared up as he showed his amazing speed, and slipped the puck underneath a sprawling McCollum. His second goal came courtesy of linemate Cody Hodgson as Hodgson circled the net and slid a cross-crease pass to Shirokov for the easy tap-in. High marks for Shirokov on this night, but this effort has to be more consistent if he wants to skate with the Canucks as a regular.
Lack didn't have his best night as a professional as he allowed five goals, but the Moose put together a great offensive effort to bail out their goaltender for the first time this season. Six goals, including four by Hodgson and Shirokov, led to a 6-5 Manitoba win as they prevent the Griffins from sweeping the series. With the win, Manitoba improves to 6-5-1 on the season.
The Moose held a 1-0 series lead over the Rockford IceHogs as their only meeting came in Rockford this year, and the Moose prevailed in a 5-2 victory. Goaltenders Eddie Lack and Hannu Toivonen were the goaltenders of record in that game, and the same two goaltenders would battle it out on Saturday night in this tilt.
The first two periods were uneventful as Lack and Toivonen went save-for-save on opposite ends of the ice. Lack was outstanding in the second period as he stood on his head, stopping all sixteen shots Rockford fired his way. Goaltending this strong hasn't been seen from a tandem in Winnipeg for a while, and Lack and Weiman are turning out to be the jewel of this Moose club. Getting a rookie goaltender like Lack to play this well early in the season bodes extremely well down the stretch for the Moose. He even picked up an assist on the first goal scored by the Moose! Talk about helping your own cause!
While Cody Hodgson's sixth goal of the season is a reason to be excited, it was Jeff Tambellini who went off in this game. Hodgson tied the game 1-1 at 15:20, and then it was all Tambellini. He scored his first goal as a member of the Manitoba Moose at 16:15 of the third period, and then added another just 32 seconds later! A turnover in the neutral zone found Nolan Baumgartner's stick, and he wired a pass to Tambellini. Tambellini broke in on Toivonen and rifled a wrist shot high to the corner for his second of the night and season! The Moose clearly can use Tambellini's firepower, and the win came courtesy of his stick tonight!
The Moose are looking much better having both Hodgson and Tambellini clicking on their respective lines, and the goaltending of Weiman and Lack is proving to be vitally important. With the 3-1 victory over the IceHogs, the Moose push their record against Rockford to 2-0, and improve to 7-5-1 on the season.
The Moose have a few explosive players that are starting to come around in terms of their scoring. Sergei Shirokov has four goals on the season while linemate Cody Hodgson has six goals. Each have nine points on the season to lead the Moose, and Bill Sweatt, the left winger on that line has eight points.
However, getting a great scoring threat like Tambellini makes the Moose that much more dangerous. His three points in three games are evidence that he is a threat every time he steps onto the ice.
Tambellini loses a linemate, though, as the Vancouver Canucks recalled centerman Mario Bliznak from the Moose. Bliznak only had a goal and three assists on the season, but he was an effective checking centerman, and seemed to be settling nicely into the role.
The Moose will have to find some more chemistry as their lineup shifts again with the call-up of Bliznak. My only recommendation is to leave that Shirokov-Hodgson-Sweatt line as it is!
Big homestand coming up this weekend as the Moose welcome the Rochester Americans to MTS Centre. Rochester sits two points up on the Moose, but the Moose have two games in-hand, so these two home games can go a long way in helping the Moose stay ahead of their divisional opponents. Rochester comes into the game with a 5-4-1 record in their last ten games, and the Moose want to improve upon their two-game winning streak. These should be two entertaining games, and four points for the Moose would be a great way to enjoy the weekend! DO IT!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!