The two-time defending champions rolled through MTS Centre this past week as Antler Banter looks at the two-game set between the Hershey Bears and the Manitoba Moose! There was some controversy stirred up by a local reporter with regards to jerseys the Bears wore earlier this season, but there was really only one thing for the Moose to focus on: four points in the standings. We'll also have a look at a special event that the Moose held on Sunday! Make sure you 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 get three games against bear species in this week's Hardcore Hockey!
The Hershey Bears saw a few key departures occur in their lineup over the off-season, but they are still a very talented team. They showed off some of that talent on Friday night as they jumped out to a very early lead, putting Manitoba in a hole just 2:09 in. Could the Moose and Eddie Lack rally over the Bears and ex-NHL goaltender Dany Sabourin?
I thought Nolan Baumgartner had a strong game on Friday night. The Moose captain recorded an assist on Mark Flood's third period goal, and he ended the night with a +2 rating. I'm not sure why this happens with Baumgartner, but he seems to pick up his game considerably around the AHL All-Star Game break each year. Maybe Baumgartner needs to start playing hockey in July to be ready for October? I kid, of course, but the captain is looking much better since being paired with Mark Flood, and is making a difference once again on the scoreboard at both ends of the ice.
Sergei Shirokov continues his hot streak as of late as he scored a first period goal to extend his point streak to nine games. Shirokov's play has also earned him a place on the Western Conference roster at this year's AHL All-Star Game in Hershey, Pennsylvania, so congratulations go out to Shirokov on his selection for his second All-Star Game in his professional career!
The Herd's penalty killing units took a bit of a hit on Friday as the Bears scored a couple of powerplay goals in this game, including the game-winner with the man-advantage. While the Moose worked hard while playing a man down, you can't give good teams opportunities to score goals. Powerplay success certainly determines where you can end up in the standings, and tonight was no exception as the Moose penalty kill missed out on propelling the squad into first place in the North Division.
While all the blame can't be laid at the feet of the penalty killing units, the final two goals by the Bears were scored on the powerplay, including the game-winner as the Bears took the opening game of the two-game set by a 4-3 score. The Moose have two options if they want to correct this: stop taking penalties against good teams, or get back to shut-down mode on the PK. I'm sure the latter will be explored in depth by the Moose coaching staff, but the loss on Friday drops the club to 20-12-4 on the season.
The Moose and Bears met again on Saturday night as the homestand continues for the Herd. After losing the night before, Manitoba looked to rebound with a better performance, especially on special teams, as they tried to salvage the series with Hershey. This game saw goaltender changes on both sides as the Bears sent Braden Holtby to the blue paint while the Moose dispatched Tyler Weiman to their net.
Manitoba's powerplay showed up in a big way on Saturday. After going oh-fer-six on Friday night, Manitoba spent over a period playing with the man-advantage as the Bears were caught breaking the rules 12 times in this game! Manitoba responded with a 25% success rate as they scored three times on the powerplay in this game. I've been preaching all season about how important powerplay situations are and how good teams capitalize on them. The Moose got three goals with the man-advantage, and it was clearly the big factor on this night.
Nolan Baumgartner continued his impressive play on Saturday, putting together back-to-back impressive performances. Baumgartner was on the ice for all four Manitoba goals on Saturday, recording two assists and a +1 rating. Baumgartner, who logs a considerable amount of minutes for the Moose, looked strong with the puck, and really communicates well with linemate Mark Flood. Keeping these two men together should provide the Moose with great results as they continue to develop good chemistry on the blueline.
Sergei Shirokov had himself a "yin and yang" game on Saturday. The good part was that he scored his team-leading 15th goal of the season, extending his point streak to ten games. The bad part was that he ended the game as a -2 after having played some excellent defensive hockey over the last few weeks. While Shirokov isn't entirely responsible for the goals-against, it's a team effort in keeping the pucks out the net, and Shirokov's line was victimized twice in this game. While I like the offensive contributions, Shirokov still has to be responsible when he doesn't have the puck on his stick as well.
It would be easy for me to give Marco Rosa some credit for his game-winning, powerplay goal in overtime, but I was more impressed with Rosa's work in finding open spaces on the ice all night long. Rosa led the Moose with seven shots - a game-high total - and finally was rewarded for his hard work with the powerplay goal in overtime. Rosa has looked like a completely different skater since rediscovering his confidence and goal-scoring, and he's returning to his consistent ways of last year as well. Well done, Marco Rosa, and keep up the hard work and effort!
The Moose led 3-1 midway through the second period before the Bears battled back to send the game to an extra period. Sean Collins' blatent trip in overtime sent the Moose to the powerplay, and they made the Bears pay. The 4-3 overtime victory gave the Moose two important points as they keep pace with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and they improve to 21-12-4 on the season.
For the third straight day, the Moose met up with a team of bears as the Moose visited Kirkfield-Westwood Community Centre in Winnipeg's west end for an outdoor practice! The KW Kodiaks earned the right to host the Moose's outdoor practice in 2011 by winning second prize in last season's Manitoba Moose Community Jersey Contest! I highly encourage you to check out the Manitoba Moose Community Jersey Contest for your local community club. Your team and community club might be hosting the next outdoor practice!
Needless to say, the event gave the Moose a chanced to practice in front of their fans, and that upbeat 30-minute practice was followed by a shinny game that featured the Moose and 11 year-old Kodiaks team joining forces! Overall, the day was a lot of fun for both the Moose players and the KW Kodiaks players and parents!
"All the guys, even the kids, there were a lot of smiles today," Winnipegger and Moose forward Kevin Clark said to Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press. "It's not much time out of your day and it gives you a warm heart to see these kids and what it means to them."
Huge kudos go out to the Moose for continuing this tradition for the third consecutive year. I can tell you that the fans love it, the kids love it, and it sounds as though the players do too.
The Moose will face a team that seemingly has their number over the years as the Milwaukee Admirals roll into town for games on Thursday and Saturday against the Moose at MTS Centre. In their only meeting of the season thus far, Milwaukee beat up on the Moose by a 6-3 score on December 1. The Moose, however, have been playing much better, and look to take the series lead with this two-game set.
Milwaukee comes into the series with a 7-3-0 record in their last ten games, and sit second in the AHL West Division. They trail first-place Peoria by a single point, but have played more games. These points will be important for Milwaukee to keep pace with the Rivermen, so the Admirals will play with a purpose.
Following that series, the Toronto Marlies visit MTS Centre on Tuesday, January 18 and Wednesday, January 19. Divisional match-ups are important, especially when the team visiting is trailing you in the standings. The Moose and Marlies have yet to play one another this season - another of the AHL's scheduling quirks - so we'll get our first looks at this division rival next week.
The Marlies sit one point back of Manitoba today, but have played four more games than the Moose at this point. They haven't fared very well in their recent games, going 4-3-3 in their last ten contests. The Marlies desperately need the wins with Manitoba having a potential eight points still to determine through those four games in-hand, so the Moose need to be ready to play in each of the next four games.
Some breaking news came the way of the wire tonight as Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that Jonas Andersson has left the Moose and is looking for employment in the KHL. Andersson, who played with Dynamo Minsk last season, is reportedly going to sign with Ak Bars Kazan in the near future after walking away from the Canucks and Moose.
In 20 games with the Moose this season, Andersson had five goals and six assists, but has suffered two concussions this season to keep him from everyday duty. The Swedish winger is listed as "day-to-day" with his injury at the moment, but it appears his North American season is done. He played three games with the Vancouver Canucks, but recorded no points with the NHL club.
Personally, I liked the addition of Andersson to the Moose roster as he brought speed and skill to the lineup, but his injuries have limited his abilities this season. While it's tough to see a player of Andersson's ability ride off into the sunset with no one there to replace him, it might be better for both him and the Moose as the Moose can now fill his veteran roster spot with a more resilient player. I wish Andersson well, and hope he does well in Russia or where ever he lands after clearing waivers!
Four games coming up over the next week with important points waiting to be earned. The Moose can put some space between them and the Marlies, and continue to try to overtake the Bulldogs ahead of them. DO IT!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!