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Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 13

Antler Banter returns today after having celebrated a great 2010, and we look forward into 2011 as the AHL's Manitoba Moose push forward through their schedule. We'll look back at the year-ending and year-beginning games against the Chicago Wolves as well as the most recent two-game stand against the Abbotsford Heat. Four big games as we embark on this week's Antler Banter! 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 close the "games in-hand" situation in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Predator Or Prey?

The Moose welcomed their old IHL rvials in the Chicago Wolves to MTS Centre for their annual New Year's Eve game on December 30. Just as it has been in the past, another fun-filled night was hosted by the Moose as they battled the Wolves on the ice. Peter Mannino was the goaltender of choice for Chicago while Eddie Lack took to the nets for the Moose.

A defensive tandem gets the first nod on this evening as the pairing of Nolan Baumgartner and Mark Flood were on their games tonight. Baumgartner and Flood both recorded a goal and an assist, ended the night with a +2 rating each, and had a combined six shots from the blueline. Their only fault came on the powerplay late in the game when Chicago scored a goal, but they could hardly be faulted on the penalty kill for that goal. Both men played a very good game, and they really helped Eddie Lack on the night in both zones. Flood, as a bonus, received the second star of the game!

How about that Marco Rosa guy? He was invisible for all of October and November for the most part, but has sprung back to life in the lineup as he recorded another goal and an assist with a +1 rating. Rosa has been playing much better in the offensive zone while still contributing in the defensive zone. Being a veteran player, it is expected that he would lead the team once again, and it appears he's rounding into form, albeit at the turn of the new year, once again.

Eddie Lack looked very sharp, and nearly earned another shutout had it not been for a Mark Matheson goal with three seconds remaining. Lack made a number of spectacular saves on the night, including several with his glove, to deny the Wolves on a number of chances. Lack was definitely deserving of his first star designation in this game.

Close the books on 2010, kids, as the Moose hung another win on the standings with a 4-1 victory over the Wolves. The Moose are making these games in-hand on the rest of the division count, and these points will go a long way down the stretch when every team is battling for an extra point or two. Good on the Moose for a big non-divisional win! With the win, the Moose improve to 18-10-4 on the season!

Wolves Bite Back

The second game of the two-game series went Saturday, and the Moose were looking to open the 2011 calendar year in the same way they ushered out 2010: a win. The Wolves were looking to bounce back after a lacklustre first game in Winnipeg, and they sent former Moose 'tender and current Moose killer Drew McIntyre to the nets. Manitoba responded with Eddie Lack once again, so the stage was set for another battle between these rival teams.

Manitoba's powerplay continues to click after going through a lengthy dry spell. The Moose powerplay converted one of three opportunities tonight, and continues to look dangerous while playing with the extra attacker. Good teams make their opponents pay when they take penalties, and the Moose are starting to make that happen with some regularity.

Sergei Shirokov had another strong game as he notched his tenth goal of the season and finished the night with a +1 rating. The speedy Russian looked dangerous whenever he was around the puck, and he ended the game with a team-high three shots. Shirokov's play is continually improving - a strong sign of the coaching staff's confidence in him.

The Wolves played much better than they did the night before, limiting Manitoba to a season-low 16 shots during the game. The Moose did capitalize on two of those shots, but their lack of pucks on net hurt them in this one as the Chicago Wolves skated to a 3-2 victory. With the loss, the Moose fall to 18-11-4 on the season.

Putting The Heat On The Heat

The Moose visited Abbotsford, British Columbia on Monday as they began a two-game series against the Abbotsford Heat in a divisional match-up. I've made it clear here on Antler Banter that divisional games are of the utmost importance in terms of earning points, so these games against the Heat were of some importance in the standings. Tyler Weiman got the start for the Moose, and the Heat sent Matt Keetley out to guard the twine.

Mario Bliznak had himself a good night as he posted a goal and an assist against the Heat. However, the checking centerman played himself into a +3 rating to lead the team. Bliznak doesn't light the scoresheet on fire often, but his overall play on Monday night was one of his better games this season. Bliznak is always a plucky competitor, but this kind of contribution makes a world of difference for the Moose's overall success.

I've spoken about Marco Rosa's re-awakening above, and he continued his solid play against the Heat as he notched a shorthanded goal on the evening. With a delayed penalty, Weiman went to the bench to even up the offensive skaters on the ice. It wasn't long before Nolan Baumgartner threaded a pass through to Rosa who found some room on the top shelf to put the puck. Shorthanded goals kill teams that are trailing, so kudos to the Moose for essentially driving the nail into the coffin midway through the second period.

Tyler Weiman certainly deserves some credit for his solid play as he stopped all 27 shots he faced in his first game in some time. Head coach Claude Noel elected to ride the hot goalie in Eddie Lack, but Weiman showed that he was ready to step in when Lack needed a break. Weiman earned his first AHL shutout this season with his solid play, making an incredible 17 saves in the third period alone!

The Moose stomped the Heat's fire out as they blanked the home team by a 4-0 score. The Herd grabbed an important two points in the opener of this two-game series, and will look to add another crucial two points tomorrow night. With the win, the Moose improve to 19-11-4 on the season.

Dare I Say "En Fuego"?

The Moose and Heat renewed their division rivalry on Tuesday as the Heat looked to bounce back after being shut out the night before. The Moose looked to continue their winning ways as they aimed to improve their standing in the AHL's North Division. Claude Noel rode the hot goalie again, letting Tyler Weiman start his second straight game. Leland Irving took to the nets for the Heat.

It's easy to give Sergei Shirokov a mention after scoring the overtime winner in this game, but Shirkov's two games in Abbotsford have been his best back-to-back series of the season in my estimation. Shirokov scored the game-winner on the powerplay in overtime, but he put four shots on Irving during the evening and looked dangerous every time he touched the puck yet again. Remember that Hodgson guy? Shirokov has stepped up in a big way to fill the scoring void, and his defensive game is getting better each and every day.

Defenceman Kevin Connauton put a show on for the Vancouver Canucks' scouts in the crowd when he picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, swooped in on Irving, and roofed a backhander that had more than a few people in the crowd applauding. Connauton may not be ready to make the jump to the Canucks yet, but the young Moose defender is showing that he's making strides in the AHL, and that's good for him in the long run. Defensively, Connauton didn't really stand out, but that's also a sign that he's doing his job well in his own zone.

Tyler Weiman had another strong game as the Moose needed an extra 33 seconds on top of the regular 60 minutes to earn a victory. Shirokov's powerplay goal in overtime propelled the Moose to a 2-1 overtime win, giving them four points over the Heat in the two games. With the win, the Moose improve to 20-11-4 on the season, and are the hottest team in the AHL right now at 8-1-1 in their last ten games!

Former Beasts Of The East

The Moose have a pair of games at MTS Centre against the Hershey Bears on Friday and Saturday this week. The Bears are surprisingly in fourth-place in the AHL's East Division, trailing first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by 13 points! However, they sit a mere two points behind the second-place Charlotte Checkers, so the Bears still have the talent to be dangerous.

The Moose need to continue to play as well as they have over the last ten games. Defensively, the Moose have been using a seven-man unit on the blueline with Joel Perrault being hurt in Abbotsford. This unit has worked very well in keeping opponents at bay, and they'll need to bring their A-game against the Bears. Points against non-divisional teams will come in handy down the stretch, so there's only one thing to say: DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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