Welcome back, Moose fans, and I hope your Christmas and holidays seasons are going beyond expectations! Antler Banter is looking back this week at the two games against the red-hot Peoria Rivermen, as well as looking forward at the games to come. We'll also look at where Manitoba finished the 2010 calendar year in the standings. Don't forget to check out the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose news and information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose return from the Christmas break in this week's Hardcore Hockey!
Monday saw the Moose in the friendly confines of MTS Centre as they welcomed the Peoria Rivermen to town. Manitoba still has a number of games in-hand over their North Division opponents, so any and all points are vitally important in making a push up the standings. The Rivermen came in having lost their last game after going 11-0-2 in the previous 13 games. This game had all the makings of a "test" for the Moose.
One player who was up to the test was defenceman Mark Flood. Flood played an outstanding game as he finished the night with a goal, two assists, and a +3 rating. His goal was a powerplay marker, and he wasn't on the ice for either of Peoria's goals on the evening. Flood has been a most pleasant surprise since returning from injury, and it seems he's getting better and more confident with every game he plays. Flood has certainly solidified the Moose blueline, and he deserves the kudos I've given him for his excellent play!
After suffering through an extended goal-scoring drought, Marco Rosa is starting to light the lamp again! Rosa, last year's leading scorer, notched his fourth goal of the season and added a helper for the Moose. While it's not a "streak" that Rosa would celebrate at this point, his two-goal scoring streak might be the spark he needs to get his season back on track. Rosa has too much talent to be held off the scoresheet for this long, so this two-game mini-streak looks good for a struggling player. Well done, Marco Rosa!
A third player who seems to enjoy playing with the Moose again is Guillaume Desbiens. Desbiens had a pair of assists for the Moose on Monday night, and literally plays as though he's made of grit and sandpaper. Desbiens was finishing checks, forechecking hard, and making Rivermen miserable all night with his gritty play and abrasive style. Desbiens and Ryan Reaves scrapped midway through the third period, and Desbiens threw some great shots. While both players wrestled to the ice, the judges give the bout to Desbiens for his haymakers. Desbiens looks hungry and aggressive - exactly what will get him back into the Vancouver Canucks' lineup.
Eddie Lack stopped 28 of 30 shots that he faced, but the Moose victimized Jake Allen four times and added an empty-netter to secure the 5-2 victory over the Rivermen. For a team that was on a long break, it appears head coach Claude Noel had his team ready as the Moose seemed to be clicking all night long. Four straight wins, and the Moose improve their record to 16-10-4 on the season.
Goaltender Eddie Lack drew his fifth straight start in the nets as the Moose battled with the Peoria Rivermen on Tuesday in the second-half of the back-to-back series. Ben Bishop took to the nets for the Rivermen as they hoped he could deliver a win against the Moose. Could the Moose make it five wins in a row?
Sergei Shirokov has a little moxie going as he netted another goal against the Rivermen, and his third goal in three games. The speedy Russian sniper finished the game with five shots, and looked dangerous whenever he was around the puck. Shirokov's development this season has been very positive as he's still an offensive threat, but rarely gets caught out of position in his own zone. If this kind of production and development continue, we could be seeing Shirokov with the Canucks in the near future.
Last season I questioned why Tommy Maxwell was being kept on the roster when his contributions were few and far between. Tuesday's game showed me everything and more about Maxwell. First, Maxwell threw a couple of big hits. Then Maxwell fought Andrew Peluso and looked much stronger than his opponent in the fisticuffs. And to cap it all off, Maxwell scored his second goal of the season... ON THE POWERPLAY! For a guy who watched far too often from the penalty box last season, games like these make Maxwell worth more than his weight in gold as he was physical, he scored, and he certainly played like the house was on fire. Tommy Maxwell's best game of the season came at the right time!
Building on Maxwell's play, the rest of the Herd played very aggressively on Tuesday as well. Joel Perrault, Guillaume Desbiens, and Tommy Maxwell all delivered big hits early in the game to set the tone. Bill Sweatt, Joel Perrault, and Sergei Shirokov buzzed the net all night as those three combined for one goal, three assists, and 16 shots on the night. The defence, led by Lee Sweatt's one goal on the evening, held strong through the majority of the game, but finally let one by with less than six minutes to play. Eddie Lack was outstanding again as he stopped 33 of 34 shots on the night. Overall, one of the best team efforts seen all season, and the second such effort in two nights. Well done, Moose!
Another three-goal victory for the Moose over the Rivermen as the Moose close out the series with a 4-1 victory. The Moose push their streak to 5-0-1, and have won five straight games as they enter the New Year's Eve weekend. With the victory, the Moose improve to 17-10-4 on the season.
So where do we stand? What's the deal with all these extra games? How will it help the Moose? Your answers are below as we look at the standings and the upcoming schedule.
Hamilton Bulldogs - 34GP with a record of 19-10-1-4 for 43 points.
Toronto Marlies - 35GP with a record of 17-13-0-5 for 39 points.
Manitoba Moose - 31GP with a record of 17-10-0-4 for 38 points.
Abbotsford Heat - 34GP with a record of 16-14-1-3 for 36 points.
Grand Rapids Griffins - 35GP with a record of 15-15-1-4 for 35 points.
Lake Erie Monsters - 35GP with a record of 14-14-3-4 for 35 points.
Rochester Americans - 34GP with a record of 15-16-2-1 for 33 points.
There's the story: three or four games in-hand on the rest of the division. January sees the Moose play the Abbotsford Heat four times, so those games can really put some distance between the Herd and Heat if the Manitoba can win at least three of four. The Moose also have three against the Toronto Marlies, and need to win two of three there to keep the pressure on the Marlies. Finally, the Moose have one game against the team they're chasing in the Hamilton Bulldogs, and a win is a "must" there.
The Moose have 14 games before the January 30 All-Star Game break, so the team will most definitely make up those four games by that time. Non-divisional games include a pair against the Hershey Bears, a pair against the Milwaukee Admirals, and a pair against the Chicago Wolves starting this weekend.
The Wolves are 6-2-1-1 in their last 10, including 4-0-1 in their last five games. They currently sit in fourth-place in the West Division, but are only five points out of first-place. The Moose need to play against the Wolves in the same fashion that they did against the Rivermen if they hope to close out 2010 with a win and start 2011 off right.
Following that two-game series, the Moose have Sunday, January 2 off before facing Abbotsford on the road on Monday and Tuesday. The Heat are 4-5-1 in their last ten games, and are currently winless in three games through regulation (0-2-1). Looking at the standings above, a very positive January will start with wins over the Heat, so there is no time like the present for the Moose in terms of their preparation for these upcoming games. It goes without saying, but the Moose need to continue their solid play and just DO IT!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!