Antler Banter returns to the airwaves after the AHL All-Star break, and we find the Moose out in Pennsylvania this week as they start the second half of the AHL season. They closed out the first half of the season with games against Rochester and Toronto, so we'll take a peek into those games and who stood out for the Moose. And because it's a new week, we have another Manitoba Moose player making a splash in his NHL debut! Don't forget to visit 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. We shut down the first half of the season in this week's Hardcore Hockey!
The Manitoba Moose and Rochester Americans met for the third time this season as the Moose traveled to New York for a road game against the Amerks. Manitoba had won the previous two games in the comfy confines of MTS Centre, so they wanted to take their strong play against Rochester into the Amerks' barn against the AHL North Division's cellar-dwellers. It was an all-Swedish match-up in the nets as Eddie Lack and Jakob Markstrom stood two-hundred feet apart in this game.
It's always a bonus when one of your pluggers gets a goal, and it is especially big when your grinders chips a goal in while killing off a penalty. Kudos go out to Garth Murray on Friday as he netted his second goal of the season while shorthanded! Travis Ramsey's clearing attempt was blocked, but Murray grabbed the loose puck and raced down the ice on a breakaway before sliding the puck behind Markstrom.
While it's hard to be critical of the team's best player over the last month, Sergei Shirokov finished the game at a game-worst -2 on the night. He did have four shots on Markstrom during the evening, but ended the night with nothing to show for it except a couple of goals-against. That kind of night can kill a young player's career in the NHL, so Shirokov will have to take charge on his line for them to be better if he wants another shot with the Vancouver Canucks.
A fairly low-scoring, low-excitement game as eight minor penalties and one double-minor penalty was called over the 60 minutes. Jakob Markstrom was well-rested after the All-Star break, though, and he stopped all five Moose powerplays amongst the 33 saves he made in a 2-1 Amerks victory over the Moose. The Moose drop a game that they have to win if they want to keep pace with Hamilton, and fall to 25-14-6 on the season with the loss.
The Moose didn't have much time to reflect on their loss to Rochester as they saddled up and headed north for a Saturday evening tilt against the Toronto Marlies. Manitoba had dropped the last two games, scoring only one goal against the Hamilton Bulldogs and Rochester Americans in the past two games. The Moose had to get themselves back on track to salvage the first half of this eastern road trip. Jussi Rynnas got the call for the Marlies while Eddie Lack took to the nets for Manitoba.
Ryan Cruthers was all over the scoresheet in this game as Cruthers recorded a "Gordie Howe hat trick"! Cruthers got started early in this game, wrapping up the legendary GHHT just 8:38 into the game. His third goal of the season came at 3:01, he added the assist on Jordan Schroeder's goal at 7:38, and Cruthers finished the GHHT by squaring off with Danny Richmond in a battle of fisticuffs exactly one minute later! That's quite a day at the office for #16!
Josh Aspenlind has been playing some inspired hockey since being recalled from the ECHL. Saturday night saw him pick up a couple of helpers on the first two Moose goals as he continued his solid play! In sixteen games thus far, Aspenlind has yet to record a goal, but his five assists and +1 rating are indicative of his solid play in shutdown and checking roles. With the Moose getting great contributions from the guys not normally relied on to score, they'll go far if this can continue!
Both teams seemed to play this game with a little less tenacity than we usually see from a Manitoba-Toronto game, and that might be expected as it seemed that both teams were looking forward to the AHL All-Star break for a little rest and relaxation. The Moose, however, closed out the first half of the AHL season with a 3-1 win over the Marlies, pushing their record to 26-14-6 on the season!
In case you missed the action, the AHL All-Star Game was played in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Monday, and the AHL Skills Competition went on Sunday afternoon. Sergei Shirokov was chosen as the lone Moose representative in this year's exhibition of talent, and Shirokov came away with his third AHL All-Star Game goal!
In the Skills Competition, Shirokov was first skater of the Western Conference team that won their heat in the Puck Control Relay challenge. He was also part of a scoreless three attempts in the Pass-and-Shoot challenge. And Shirokov put some razzle-dazzle on his
breakaway attempt by flipping the puck in the air before being stopped by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's John Curry in the Breakaway Relay.
Shirokov certainly showed off his talent and skill, and did himself and the Moose proud over this weekend!
It wouldn't be an edition of Antler Banter without seeing another talented Moose player called up to the Canucks and making memories for himself. This time, Cody Hodgson was called up on January 31, and the skilled Moose centerman suited up against the Dallas Stars in his first NHL regular season game. However, Hodgson had to wait one game until late tonight to net his first NHL goal against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Way to go, Cody!
Just as a note, the final score in the Vancouver-Phoenix game was 6-0. What makes this 6-0 score so important to Moose fans is that all six goals were scored by players who got their starts in Manitoba. Hodgson, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Alex Burrows, and two goals by Ryan Kesler paced the Canucks to the win. How many NHL teams have seen all six goals in one game come from players that their AHL affiliate has developed? Not many as far as I can tell. Well done, current Canucks and Moose alumni! This says a lot about the Moose franchise as a whole, and Moose fans should be proud of the work the coaching staff is doing with these young players!
Manitoba has a tough finish to this seven-game road trip. The road through Pennsylvania isn't going to be fun or easy as the Moose have a couple of games against the AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and a couple of games against their Eastern Conference rivals in the Hershey Bears.
The WBS Penguins come into the weekend sitting in first-place overall in the AHL standings. They are a league-best 36-12-0, and sit seven points better than the second-place Manchester Monarchs for AHL supremacy. The Penguins are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games, and lost their last game against Binghamton by a 2-1 score. Leading scorer Dustin Jeffrey is currently playing for the NHL Penguins, so Nick Johnson and Brett Sterling will have to carry the load. The Moose need to keep their eyes on these two as they both have 35 points, as well as keeping tabs on AHL All-Star Eric Tangredi.
The Hershey Bears have recovered since their early season slow start. The Bears trail the Penguins in the East Division by 11 points, sitting in second-place with 61 total points. The Moose and Bears tangled in January, and the Moose won and lost in overtime in that two-game series. The Bears are home turf this time, and they have been playing well, going 7-1-2 since their battles with the Moose. Brian Willsie, Andrew Gordon, Keith Aucoin, and Kyle Greentree have been lighting the lamp regularly for the Bears, so the Moose will need to keep tabs on those four.
Four big games against potential Eastern Conference champions in this year's Calder Cup should show everyone whether the Moose are contenders for the AHL Calder Cup. If they can continue to have all four lines contribute and play well, the Moose should capture six of eight points on this Pennsylvania tour, and that will be good for Moose as they chase down Hamilton for top spot in the AHL North Division. As always, DO IT!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!