Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 34

Four games, some festive spirits, and some airing of grievences are on-deck for today's episode of Antler Banter. The Moose played the San Antonio Rampage twice at home before heading out on the road to the American midwest once more where they met the Milwaukee Admirals and the Chicago Wolves. With a winning record against the Admirals this season and in Milwaukee, there was hope for a 3-1 record on this four-game swing as the Moose look to make up ground before the holiday break. Chicago has beaten Manitoba to a pulp in recent games in Chicago, so the Moose needed to bear down and grab their first three-game win streak of the season if they wanted to salvage anything from the first-half of the season.

Game 24 - Vs San Antonio

The Moose and Rampage tangled for the first time this season, and there was potential concern about the Rampage offence as they have a number of weapons. The Moose laid that concern to rest early when Nic Petan's centering pass on the power-play was deflected off the stick of Nikita Zadorov and it got past Calvin Pickard at 4:04 of the first period. The Rampage would tie the game late in the period when Andrew MacWilliam's cross-ice breakout pass was picked off at the Moose blue line by Mikko Rantanen, and he walked in and backhanded a shot to the top corner past Eric Comrie for the 1-1 tie at 19:08. It's pretty clear to see why Finland wants Rantanen in their lineup at the World Junior Championship.

The Moose would take the lead again in the second period when Patrice Cormier's shot hit John Albert, and Albert's whack at the puck went off a Rampage player. The carom came directly to Matt Halischuk in the slot, and he fired home the loose puck high on the blocker side at 2:34 for the 2-1 lead. It would become a 3-1 lead midway through the third period when Matt Fraser's shot from the circle was stopped by Pickard, but the rebound was juggled. Patrice Cormier was standing in front and he batted the puck out of the air and behind Pickard at 9:56 while on the power-play. Two minutes later, the Moose ran the same play and ended up with the same result! Adam Lowry fired the puck from the top of the circle and Pickard kicked out the rebound to where Scott Kosmachuk was standing in front of the net, and Kosmachuk fired it into the back of the net at the 12:00 mark for the 4-1 lead. The Moose would round out the scoring 3:13 later when Julien Melchiori's point shot was tipped in front by Matt Fraser that Pickard couldn't corral, and it was 5-1 for the home side.

Eric Comrie would hold the fort as he made 22 saves on 23 shots for the victory in the 5-1 win over the Rampage. Pickard took the loss after surrendering five Manitoba goals. With the win, the Moose improve to 7-14-1-2 on the season!

Game 25 - Vs San Antonio

The back-to-back two-game set resumed Thursday evening at MTS Centre, and it was game that featured special teams! The first period saw a lone goal scored, and it was San Antonio on the power-play. Colin Smith picked up the puck in the left face-off circle and fed a one-timer cross-ice to the right face-off dot where Rantanen was standing. His high blast got past Eric Comrie, and it was 1-0 for the Rampage for their first lead of the two-game set. The second period saw the Rampage go up by a pair while on the power-play at 9:30 as Borna Rendulic fed Nikita Zadorov at the blue line for the one-timer, and his blast deflected off Jay Harrison in front and beat Comrie for the 2-0 lead.

However, cue the comeback! Brenden Kichton had a chance to tee it up from the high slot while on the power-play, but instead made a slap-pass to Patrice Cormier on the back door who simply redirected the puck past an out-of-position Calvin Pickard to give the Moose some life at 18:39. The Moose would tie the game up in the third period while on the power-play as Kichton and John Albert played catch on the point before Albert stepped into the right face-off circle and blasted home a slapshot high on the glove side that Pickard couldn't snag at 6:49!

It would come down to a next-goal-wins situation, and the home side wanted it. 42 seconds after the Albert power-play goal, Austen Brassard chipped a puck past a Rampage player in the neutral zone where Scott Kosmachuk picked it up inside the Rampage zone. It turned into a mini 2-on-1 when Ryan Olsen jumped into the play, and Kosmachuk found the streaking Olsen with the cross-slot pass. Olsen made no mistake burying it in the yawning cage, and the Moose were up 3-2 after trailing 2-0!

Comrie would stand tall in the final 12 minutes to seal the win for the Moose as they get by the Rampage by a 3-2 score! Comrie made 30 of 32 saves on the night for the win while Pickard dropped his second game in his hometown. With the win, the Moose improve to 8-14-1-2 on the second and have their first back-to-back wins this season!

Game 26 - At Milwaukee

There's a story about Thomas Raffl I'll share below that TSN1290's Darrin Bauming reported that had me shaking my head that was discovered in Milwaukee. We'll get to that in a second, but this is going to be a quick recap because there were a ton of goals scored in this game. Ready?

Milwaukee's Max Gortz opened the scoring just 1:01 into the game. Manitoba's Chase De Leo added his fifth of the season at the 4:00 mark, and Ryan Olsen added his fourth goal 1:20 after De Leo's goal to put Manitoba up 2-1 through the first period.

Gortz added his second of the game on the power-play at 3:51 of the second period. Milwaukee's Felix Girard scored shorthanded at 7:15, Manitoba's Austen Brassard got that one back on the same power-play at 7:48, and Jimmy Ogilny put the Admirals up 4-3 at 10:55 with his second goal of the season.

Chase De Leo added his second of the game at 7:57 of the third period to make it 4-4. Kristian Nakyva made it 5-4 for the Admirals at 10:32 before De Leo finished off the hat trick at 15:49 to tie the game up once more. Milwaukee's Pontus Ã…berg woudl score with 33 seconds to play, and the Admirals would ice the game three seconds after that when Zac Larraza hit the empty net with his shot to give the Admirals the 7-5 win. Juuse Saros stopped 22 of 27 shots he faced for the win while Eric Comrie made 24 saves on 30 shots in the loss. With the setback, Manitoba falls to 8-15-1-2 on the season.

Game 26 - At Chicago

I'm not sure why Manitoba continues to visit the Wolves. Maybe it's the shopping or the sights, but Chicago has not been nice to the Moose. Monday would be no different.

Pat Cannone started things off for the Wolves when he tipped a Peter Harrold shot out of midair past Eric Comrie at 19:09 for the 1-0 Wolves lead. Just 12 seconds later, it was a 2-0 game when Cody Brown made a rather unselfish play in lifting the stick of Brenden Kichton to eliminate him from the play. That move allowed Zach O'Brien to pick up the dumped-in puck and go cross-crease to Ivan Barbashev who had no problem in putting in the open net with Comrie out of position. It would 2-0 for Chicago going into the intermission.

Manitoba would cut the deficit in half in the second period. Just as a power-play expired, Ryan Olsen picked up a loose puck along the half-boards and fired a shot at Pheonix Copley. Austen Brassard got a stick on it, and the puck found its way past Copley to make it 2-1 at 3:44. The Wolves would restore the two-goal lead later in the period as a power-play expired. After a couple of shots were blocked, Jeremy Welsh picked up the loose puck and wired a wrist shot on net. Eriah Hayes blocked out anything Comrie could see with an excellent screen, and Welsh's shot found the twine at 15:33 for the 3-1 lead.

A turnover at the Moose blue line late in the game with the net empty led to the fourth Chicago goal as Ty Rattie scored into the undefended cage. The Moose would fall 4-1 in Chicago. Copley stopped 23 of 24 shots in the win while Comrie made 25 saves on 28 shots he faced in the loss. Manitoba falls to 8-16-1-2 as they head into the holiday break.

The Infirmary

Jay Harrison did not play in Milwaukee after suffering an upper body injury against the Rampage. He is listed as week-to-week. JC Lipon is also listed as week-to-week after suffering an upper body injury as well.

I mentioned that there was a Thomas Raffl story, and it actually landed him on the injury list. The word out of Moose camp is that he's going to be out long-term. According to TSN1290's Darrin Bauming, Raffl was hit in the face with a slapshot during practice on Friday. He went to the bench where training staff wanted to examine him. Raffl reportedly told the training staff he was fine and that he still have 20-30 minutes of practice to complete. The training staff agreed to let him go back out on the condition he check back in with the trainers after practice.

After practice, the trainers went searching for Raffl who had already changed and went home. No harm, no foul, they thought. The next night, the Moose are in Milwaukee where Raffl is in the lineup and playing. He takes a hit and twists awkwardly, causing him to go back to the dressing room. While he's being examined by the trainers for this new upper-body injury, the trainers take a look at his face.

Thomas Raffl is now out with a broken jaw. Thomas Raffl went home, flew to Milwaukee with the team, and played part of the game against the Admirals with a broken jaw. I'm not saying Raffl is the toughest player on the Moose, but wow. Unfortunately, he won't be seeing the ice for some time now. Whether that has to do with the jaw or the upper-body injury wasn't clear, but Raffl won't be playing for a while.

New Faces, New Places

The Winnipeg Jets needed some holes filled, so they recalled Joel Armia and Matt Halischuk on Friday. Both should see time with the big club, and they were inserted into the lineup with the Jets as you're probably aware.

The Moose announced on Friday that they had assigned forward Axel Blomqvist to the ECHL's Tulsa Oilers. Blomqvist has played ten games with the Moose, amassing two penalty minutes. The 20 year-old Swede will get some additional playing time with the Oilers where he can see more ice-time. This is a good move for the youngster.

The Moose, needing to fill some roster holes, also announced on Friday that they had signed Darren Kramer to a contract after the forward had been on a professional tryout contract. Kramer has seen action in 13 games with the Moose thus far, picking up one assist and 31 PIMs. He's not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary, and he brings some edge to the Moose. I like this signing to help the Moose.

Airing Of Grievances

Manitoba's power-play picked up some steam this past week, and they're no longer at the bottom of the power-play percentage list. Manitoba has improved to 28th overall - still not great - at 11.4%. They've converted 13 of 114 chances with the man-advantage, and that's simply terrible. Like the NHL Jets, the AHL future Jets are a tire fire when it comes to playing with the extra man. This has to improve in the new year.

On the flip side, there were a pile of power-play goals scored against the Moose as well, and the Moose currently sit 24th overall at 81.4%. Again, this is not even close to being good enough. The Moose have surrendered 21 goals on 113 penalty killing opportunities. However, the flip side is that the Albany Devils, who lead in penalty killing percentage, are only at 89.5%. The difference? They've allowed just half the goals the Moose have while a man short - 12 goals on 114 shorthanded opportunities.

Up Next

The Moose will return on New Year's Eve as they host the Iowa Wild that afternoon. They'll also play the Wild on New Year's Day. The Wild are one of the few teams trailing the Moose in the standings, so the Moose need to take advantage. The Wild enter the game with a 5-22-2-3 record and sit four points back of the Moose.

Zack Mitchell is a player the Moose may want to keep an eye on. He leads the team in goals with ten, and is second in team-scoring with 15 points. Michael Keranen and Christoph Bertschy lead the team with 16 points, so there's some balanced scoring through the lineup. Moose fans will recognize Jordan Schroeder's name as the former Canuck now is a member of the Minnesota Wild franchise, and he should be in the lineup next weekend. Longtime Moose defenceman Maxime Fortunus will be in town with the Wild as well, and the veteran defenceman should get some cheers from the home crowd.

Leland Irving has handled the majority of work thus far, and comes into the weekend with a 4-12-3 record, a 2.68 GAA, a .916 save percentage, and one shutout. Jeremy Smith has played his fair share as well, and he'll look to improve on a 1-10-2 record, a 3.35 GAA, and a .905 save percentage. In both cases, neither netminder's stats should scare the Moose, but these two are capable of stealing games, so the Moose will need to be ready.

The Moose should come out of the holiday season with ten wins if they play as well as they did when they met up with San Antonio when Iowa comes to town. Until then, happy holidays, folks, and we'll see what the Moose bring to the rink after Christmas!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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