Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 36

The Moose were in action four times between New Year's Eve and today against two Central Divison foes in the Iowa Wild and the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Wild have been struggling, so there was hope the Moose could come away with two wins while the Griffins have been on fire over the last month-and-a-half in working to climb the standings. Two wins seems unlikely against Grand Rapids, but any points will help as we kick off 2016! If the Moose are going to make a run at a playoff spot, they need to make up ground by earning as many points as possible. Even "charity points" are better than outright losses at this point. Let's take a look at how the Moose finished 2015 and started 2016 in today's Antler Banter!

Closing Out 2015

The Moose welcomes the Iowa Wild to MTS Centre on New Year's Eve, and this game was entertaining. Jeremy Smith started in the blue paint for the Wild while Eric Comrie took his spot between the pipes for the Moose. Dylan Labbe got the party started for the Wild when he stole the puck from Brenden Kichton and his second shot beat Comrie at 16:21 of the first period. It would be the only goal of the opening frame, but we had more coming!

5:30 into the second period with the Moose on a two-man advantage, Nic Petan was given way too much space and room at the side of the net. He found a pinching Josh Morrissey, and the blue liner's wrist shot was wired past a screen Smith for his second of the season to tie the game at 1-1! The power-play continued, and Nic Petan made the Wild pay once more. Petan was again given too much space and too much time along the half-boards, and his feed into the slot was redirected by Chase De Leo past Smith for his eighth goal of the season and the 2-1 lead! The Moose weren't done yet, though, as Brassard fed Olsen in front, but Smith made a good save. The rebound, however, came to Kosmachuk at the top of the circles, and he fed Austen Brassard at the right face-off dot for the one-timer which beat Smith for Brassard's sixth of the season and the 3-1 lead at 7:24. The Moose tallied three times in less than two minutes to grab control of this game!

Iowa wasn't about to let this game get away from them. Jordan Schroeder, on a one-on-two, let a wrist shot fly from just inside the left face-off circle in the Moose zone that beat Comrie on the blocker side to pull Iowa within a goal at 10:13. Iowa would then use a power-play to even the score. Grayson Downing turned a Christoph Bertschy feed into a goal at 14:31 with the man-advantage, and the game was knotted up at 3-3.

Back came the Moose, though, as Scott Kosmachuk broke into the Iowa zone on the left side, cut into the face-off dot, and unleashed a vicious wrist shot that Smith couldn't stop. Kosmachuk's fifth of the season came at 16:23, and the Moose were back on top by a 4-3 score. Both sides would go into the third period looking for more and there were some excellent chances at both ends of the ice. However, neither goalie gave another inch in this game, and the Moose would carry the 4-3 score through the final horn for the victory! Comrie was outstanding in making 41 saves on 44 shots for the win while Smith made 29 stops on 33 shots in the loss. With the win, the Moose improve to 9-16-1-2 on the season!

Starting A New Calendar

The first game of the 2016 calendar year at MTS Centre would be played between the Iowa Wild and host Manitoba Moose. Being that it was the first day of a new year, there was a first early on in this game as well! Eric Comrie was in net for the Moose for the second-straight day while Leland Irving got the call for the Wild.

That "first" happened early. Darren Kramer picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, sent it across to Kelly Zajac who fed a gorgeous return pass across the slot to Kramer, and Kramer found the back of the net for his first goal as a member of the Moose at 5:45! That would also mark the first point in Moose colours for Zajac as well, and the Moose were out in front 1-0. Kramer would waste much time between his first and second goals with the Moose. Brenden Kichton's shot was blocked in the slot by a feuding Kramer and Zach Palmquist. Kramer backhanded the loose puck at the net where Irving misplayed it with his left pad as it somehow squeezed between Irving and the post! Kramer's second of the game and season came at 14:31, and the Moose were out in front 2-0! Kurtis Gabriel, though, would get one back for the Wild when his shot from the slot went off Andrew MacWilliam and found its way over the shoulder of Eric Comrie at 17:47 to make it a 2-1 game.

Manitoba would go up by a pair of goals at 8:46 of the second period when John Albert's shot from the point was redirected by Patrice Cormier in front of the net, and the puck ended up behind Leland Irving for Cormier's fifth goal of the season. With Chase De Leo in the box late in the second period, the Wild would pull within one again. Brett Sutter fed a pinching Tyler Graovac in the slot, and his shot went top-shelf on Comrie for the power-play marker at 19:02 to make it a 3-2 game with one period to play.

The third period saw the Wild pull even as a rebound led to a goal. From behind the net, Zack Mitchell fed Grayson Downing at the top of the crease, but Comrie kicked the puck out with his right pad. The only problem? Former Moose defenceman Maxime Fortunus was standing on the doorstep, and he fired the puck home before Cormie had any chance at 8:21. Both Irving and Comrie would stand tall through the rest of the period, so it was extra time for these two teams tied at 3-3!

The overtime period solved nothing, so it was off to the shootout to find a winner. Both Zack Mitchell and Tyler Graovac would beat Comrie while Scott Kosmachuk and Nic Petan were turned aside by Irving meaning that the Wild would leave Winnipeg with the 4-3 shootout victory! Irving made 25 stops on 28 shots for the win while Comrie stopped 36 of 39 in regulation, but went oh-fer in the shootout. With the shootout loss, Manitoba drops to 9-16-1-3 on the season.

I Remember You

It was Connor Hellebuyck bobblehead afternoon on January 3 as the Moose welcomed their former IHL rivals in the Grand Rapids Griffins to MTS Centre. Grand Rapids had been playing some excellent hockey in recent weeks, so this would be a tough test for the Moose. Jared Coreau would get the call for the Griffins and Eric Comrie would take to the blue paint for the Moose at the opposite end of the ice.

Anthony Mantha showed why he was one of the most feared goal scorers in the OHL early in this one. Mantha took a pass and stepped across the blue line into the high slot where he unleashed a wicked wrist shot that beat Comrie at 6:03 to put the Griffins up 1-0. The Griffins would double their lead on an awful turnover by the Moose. Julien Melchiori made a short pass to Chase De Leo in front of the Moose net where he was immediately poke-checked by Martin Frk, and the puck found itself on Tyler Bertuzzi's stick. Bertuzzi's shot was stopped by Comrie, but Mark Zengerle was right there to pot the rebound at 17:42 for the 2-0 lead.

There was no scoring through the second period, so we'll jump to third period where Grand Rapids added another goal. Former Winnipeg Jet Eric Tangradi dangled into the Moose zone among three defenders before feeding a wide-open Martin Frk at the side of the net who simply slid the puck past a sprawling Comrie. Frk's tenth of the season at 13:56 put Grand Rapids up 3-0. The Moose would find themselves on the man-advantage late in this one, and they would strike. Brenden Kichton's pass to Scott Kosmachuk at the top of the left face-off circle was one-timed by the big winger, and Coreau couldn't handle it as it found the back of the net! Kosmachuk's power-play goal was his seventh of the season at 17:25, and it was a 3-1 game. However, Zengerle would add an empty-netter to seal the deal with 1:32 to play, and the Griffins would skate to the 4-1 win.

Coreau was definitely the story in this one as he made a number of excellent saves, and he stopped 25 shots on this afternoon. Comrie was less successful in stopping 33 of 36 shots in the loss. With the setback, Manitoba falls to 9-17-1-3 on the season.

Feels Like An IHL Game Day

There was a day in between the two games, but the Griffins and Moose met yesterday for another tilt. Jared Coreau and Eric Comrie were the two goalies called upon again, so the only question was whether the result would be different.

The only goal of the first period came late, and it came compliments of the power-play. Josh Morrissey fed JC Lipon at the left face-off dot, and he spotted Chase De Leo parked on the backdoor. A quick pass and redirection gave De Leo his ninth of the season, and the power-play goal at 19:32 put the Moose up 1-0 before the intermission.

The power-play would also come back to bite the Moose in the rear as the Griffins went to the man-advantage later in the second period. Mark Zengerle found Martin Frk in the slot, and his one-timer was stopped by Comrie. Eric Tangradi, though, had excellent position as the puck found his stick off the save, and he buried the rebound at 15:53 to even the game at 1-1.

Midway through the third period, the Moose would regain the lead. Matt Halischuk reversed a puck down to the corner where John Albert picked it up, and he was allowed to skate out of the corner towards the net. With a defender approaching, Albert dished the puck into the slot to Patrice Cormier, and Cormier chipped the puck past Coreau for his sixth of the season and a 2-1 Manitoba lead! It would be a lead that the Moose wouldn't relinquish as the final horn sounded on a 2-1 victory! Comrie made 37 stops for the win while Coreau took the loss in stopping 24 of 26 shots. With the win, the Moose improve to 10-17-1-3!

That's It! Back To Winnipeg!

The Moose added a couple of players back to their lineup over the last week. Aaron Harstad, who was playing with the ECHL's Tulsa Oilers, was recalled by the Moose on January 1. The 23 year-old defenceman has two goals and four assists in eight games with the Oilers. The Moose also got some help from the Winnipeg Jets as Matt Halischuk was returned to the Moose on January 3. In seven games, Halischuk had no points, but he was an effective member of the fourth line.

The Moose get back a couple of players who can help their defensive game as the new year starts!

Zero Changes

Both Jay Harrison and Thomas Raffl are still week-to-week. Both Raffl and Harrison are skating, though. That's a good sign that the injuries aren't long-term. The Moose could use these two veterans back in the lineup.

Go West, Young Men

The Moose will host the Toronto Marlies this weekend and the Lake Erie Monsters next week. The Marlies are a pretty good team. Like "first-overall in the AHL" good. They are seven points better than Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, so there's a good chance that the Moose are in tough this weekend.

TJ Brennan comes into the game with 34 points to lead the Marlies in scoring. His 14 goals and 20 assists are matched only by injured teammate William Nylander, and both of those numbers lead the team as well. The Marlies just aren't a two-player team, though. Josh Leivo has 30 points and the newly-acquired Jeremy Morin has 25 points. The Marlies have six players in double-digits for goals. As a comparison, the Moose have eight players in double-digits for points. Yeah, they can score.

With all the injuries for the Leafs' netminders, we've seen a bit of a carousel of goalies come through Toronto. However, it seems they may have solidified their netminding in a big way by signing Ray Emery. Emery didn't get a lot of playing time with the Ontario Reign when he was in California, but he should see more in Toronto. Antoine Bibeau will be in town as well, so the Marlies should have some excellent goaltending with which the Moose will have to deal. This isn't going to be fun for the Herd.

Following the Marlies into town are the Lake Erie Monsters. The Monsters sit in fifth-place in the Central Division while the Moose sit in seventh-place. The difference, though, is that 17 points separate the two teams. Ouch.

The Monsters are led in scoring by TJ Tynan who has 21 assists and 24 points. Daniel Zaar has nine goals, Ryan Craig has eight goals, and Michael Chaput has seven goals. hey spread the scoring around nicely on this Monsters team. The Monsters won't have Joonas Korpisalo or Anton Forsberg with the squad as the Blue Jackets are having their own goaltending injury woes, so Brad Thiessen and Mark Owuya will be the goaltenders who travel to Manitoba. Thiessen is a capable AHL goaltender who has played with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Norfolk Admirals, and Abbotsford Heat since 2009, and he's had good numbers. The Moose will have to be ready for these new-look Monsters when they arrive on January 11.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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