We're back with another edition of Antler Banter as we follow the AHL's Manitoba Moose through the season in their efforts to win the Calder Cup. The Moose had a fairly quiet week as they played host to the Rockford IceHogs at MTS Centre for two games. Both games were an opportunity to add some points to their overall standing as the Moose carried a 2-0 record against the IceHogs this year, so there definitely was something on the line as these two teams clashed. As always, if you're looking for news or information 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. Let's check out this past week's Hardcore Hockey!
Thursday night's game against Rockford had a definite defensive flavor to it as both goaltenders put on a clinic in stopping the puck. Eddie Lack was outstanding in the Manitoba net while former NHL goaltender Hannu Toivonen took his third shot at beating Manitoba this season for Rockford. Honestly, if the officials working on the scoresheets needed a quiet night, this was it.
Eddie Lack played an outstanding game in the net, surrendering just one goal early in the first period. From there, he was perfect for the rest of the night, stopping 29 of 30 shots on the evening. While Jonas Gustavsson got a lot of press for signing in Toronto, I'm thinking that the Canucks got the better young, Swedish goaltender when they signed Lack. He has been a bright spot since stepping on the ice for the Moose, and I'm guessing it may not be long before he gets a shot with Canucks after a little more seasoning in the AHL.
The Moose powerplay was fairly quiet as the IceHogs only provided two powerplay opportunities on the evening, but in a low-scoring game, the powerplay has to produce. The Moose were held scoreless with the man-advantage, so I'll keep beating this drum: the powerplay MUST be better. The Moose are 26th overall on the powerplay this season through 17 games with a 12.6% conversion rate as they've scored only 12 goals on 96 powerplays total. Simply put: not good enough for an elite team.
The story on the night was Hannu Toivonen's 29-save performance as he stymied the Moose at every opportunity. The former Boston Bruin, St. Louis Blue, and Chicago Blackhawk looked much better than he did in his previous two attempts against the Moose as he backstopped his team to a 1-0 shutout victory over the Moose. With the loss, the Moose fall to 9-6-1 on the season, and see their winning streak stopped at four games.
The Moose needed a strong "rebound game" after being shutout on home ice, and Friday night's tilt was a very good look at a dangerous Moose team. The Manitoba fans came out on Friday for the team as the largest crowd since the 2009 Calder Cup Finals showed up, and the Moose had 14,134 fans behind them from start to finish. Kudos to the Moose fans for their efforts on this night, and it's great to see the "extra attacker" back in the seats at MTS Centre!
It's nice to see Jordan Schroeder breaking out of his slump as he scored a couple of goals on the evening. His powerplay marker broke the Moose shutout-streak at 107:39 as he scored in the third period. With Rockford defenceman Ivan Vishnevskiy in the penalty box for hooking, Schroeder loaded up the cannon and hammered a slapshot past Hannu Toivonen for his second goal of the season, knocking the monkey off his back. He then added his third goal of the season just 5:58 later as he poked home a puck during a goalmouth scramble. On behalf of all Moose fans, it's good to have you back, Jordan! Now just keep it up!
Tyler Weiman had himself another solid night, stopping 22 of 23 shots on the evening. The only puck that got away from him was Jeremy Morin's wrist shot that went over his right shoulder with 55 seconds to play. However, this Moose goaltending tandem is proving to be a major strength with both Weiman and Lack playing as well as they have. Weiman improves his personal record to 5-2-1 while narrowly missing out on his first blanking of the season.
The Moose gave their biggest crowd of the season something to go home happy about as they defeated the Rockford IceHogs on Friday night by a 3-1 score. While it looked like Toivonen might record back-to-back shutouts as he held the Moose in check over five periods, the Moose finally broke through as they scored three times on 41 shots! With the win, the Moose improve to 10-6-1 on the season.
Through 17 games, we're seeing some pretty clear trends emerge with this Moose team. Despite having played the fewest games at this point of the season, the Moose have some pretty encouraging numbers.
- When the Moose outshoot their opponents, they are 4-1-0 on the season, but they drop to .500 when outshot with a 5-5-1 record.
- Manitoba is 19th overall in the AHL with an average of 28.88 shots-per-game. Defensively, the Moose are 6th overall in only allowing 27.59 shots-per-game.
- Manitoba jumps out to games well with a 176-127 margin in shots (+49), but fall off dramatically in the second period as they fall to a 151-183 margin (-32). Overall, the Moose have outshot their opponents this season with a 491-469 margin (+22).
- The Moose rank 9th overall in goals-per-game with 3.12, and are 6th overall defensively in only allowing 2.59 goals-per-game.
- Despite having taken the most shots in the first period, Manitoba has only scored 14 first-period goals versus 11 scored against. With the second period being their worst in terms of the difference in shots, Manitoba makes those shots count as they have 17 goals-for in the second period versus 13 goals-against. The third period sees Manitoba with 20 goals-for compared to 19 goals-against. They have scored 53 times this season while only allowing 44 goals-against.
- The Moose are an impressive 5-0-1 when leading after two periods, but drop to 3-4-0 when tied after two periods. They are .500 when training after two periods with a 2-2-0 record, so a loss isn't a guarantee if the Moose enter the final twenty minutes trailing in the game.
- Thus far, the Moose are 5-3-1 in one-goal games, 2-3-0 in two-goal games, but a perfect 3-0-0 in three-goal or more games.
- The Moose have neither scored a shorthanded marker this season nor have they given up a shorthanded goal.
- The Moose have scored six powerplay goals both on the road and at home.
The Moose lost two players to call-ups this week as centerman Joel Perrault and winger Jeff Tambellini are in Vancouver with the Canucks. Losing these two players certainly creates some large holes in the Moose line-up, so the Canucks tried to fix them.
They did return centerman Mario Bliznak, and he had two assists against the IceHogs on Friday for a great return to the Moose line-up. Bliznak knows his role and knows the Moose system, so getting Bliznak back patches one hole.
The hole on the wing, however, will not be filled as easily.
First, the Moose released Jason Pitton from his professional tryout (PTO) contract. He played one game against the IceHogs, and had just two penalty minutes in his short Moose career. The Canucks, however, waived Peter Schaefer with the intention of sending him to the Moose to regain his effectiveness, but the scrappy winger decided he wasn't interested in reporting. Schaefer's wife, Julie, is expecting their second child any day now and he's still being paid a $600,000 buyout from the Bruins so he has options, but it appears he'll become an unrestricted free agent once he clears waivers.
I'm going on record here: as a Moose fan, we want someone who wants to play here for the Moose rather than having some player half-ass it here because he's unhappy being demoted. It happens. It happened to Wade Redden, it happened to Sheldon Souray, and it happened to Martin Gerber. All are going about their business like professionals. I appreciate Schaefer not reporting if he's not going to give it all he has, and the Moose are better off for it.
The Moose hit the road for a pair of games in Abbotsford against the Heat this weekend. The Heat sit three points ahead of the Moose in the North Division standings, but the Moose still have four games-in-hand on the Heat. Winning these two games will be important in terms of the Moose finishing the season in good standing. As always, divisional games are must-wins, so the Moose need to go out and pin a couple of losses on the Heat.
The Moose then head back to the American Midwest as they visit the Chicago Wolves on Tuesday and the Milwaukee Admirals on Wednesday. Chicago is having an uncharacteristic poor season right now, sitting seventh in the West Division at 9-11-1-0. Milwaukee is sixth in the West Division at 9-6-1-3, so these two former IHL rivals of the Moose are struggling early in the season. Nothing should be taken for granted with these two as they are both former Calder Cup Champions, and both can be dangerous on any given night.
The main focus right now should be the games in Abbotsford on Friday and Saturday. Four points for the Moose would be a huge help for the Herd as it could possibly vault them into second-place in the North Division, but, at the very least, will put them one point ahead of the Heat. You know what to do, so DO IT!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!