Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 40

If we're talking about development on this Moose team, there isn't much to play for other than personal statistics for the rest of this season. The Moose, while mathematically still alive, will miss the Calder Cup Playoffs this season, so it's time to start looking at the development of players outside of the stats page. I'm talking about finding the next leaders, the next character players, the next set of men who aren't afraid to point a finger at the guys and demand some accountability. While it's hard to shift gears midseason when there's still a chance at making the dance, the Moose and its management corps need to look at this "development" word they keep using and figure out exactly what is being developed within that dressing room.

Getting Off The Road

The Moose came into their second game with Bakersfield having gone 0-3-3 since kicking off their cross-continent tour in Charlotte, North Carolina, and there was hope that the Moose could salvage a few points. After getting thumped 6-3 and outplayed thoroughly on January 26, the game on January 29 gave the Moose time to review their game plan before heading back into the Condors' nest. The only problem? It appears they didn't.

The Moose held a 2-1 lead going into the third period before the Condors unleashed a five-goal barrage in the third period to take the second game 6-2. The Moose surrendered four power-play goals in the loss as well, proving that no one in the Jets-Moose affiliation has ever sat down and looked at penalty killing in their illustrious careers. It's hard to defend to a team that can't kill penalties and routinely gets outshot, so I won't. Moose lose again, and fall to 11-24-3-4.

If things can go from bad to worse, the Moose rolled into Ontario, California to battle the Calder Cup champion Ontario Reign before calling it quits in California and returning home. The Moose would play an old friend in Peter Budaj as he manned the blue paint for the Reign, but it doesn't seem to matter to these Moose. Michael Mersch scored twice and Budaj managed all 19 shots he faced as the Moose fell in a 4-0 shutout. The Moose fall to 11-25-3-4 on the season after this 0-5-3 road trip.

Hammered By California

The Moose come into the break having won just two games since 2016 started. While both wins did come against Central Division teams, the Moose are a combined 3-6-2-1 against the Pacific Division. While they are a sterling 2-0 versus San Antonio, things are different against the California clubs. The Moose sport an 0-3-1 record against Ontario and have been outscored 13-2 in four games. They're 1-3-0 against Bakersfield and have been outscored 15-9, and they are 0-0-2 against Stockton while being outscored 5-3.

The Moose play San Jose once and Stockton twice in the remaining games, but do have four games against the Texas Stars and another game against the Rampage. Those eight games can bring respectability back to the Moose's record against the Pacific Division, but California has kicked the hell out of the Moose thus far. It's time for a pride check for these Moose.

All-Star Break

Kudos go out to Moose netminder Eric Comrie who was named the best goaltender and won the CCM Top Goaltender award at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition event on Sunday night. Comrie stopped 17 of 19 shots he faced in the event to backstop the Western Conference to a Skills Competition win. Comrie turned aside nine of ten attempts in the AHL Live Rapid Fire event, all three shots in the U.S. Army Pass and Score, and five of six in the Panasonic Breakaway Relay.

For one of the busiest goalies in the AHL, 19 shots on one evening must have been a relief! Congratulations to Eric Comrie on proving that he deserved to be named an AHL All-Star.

Best Division?

Comrie was also a member of the Central Division team that captured the 2016 Toyota AHL All-Star Challenge in Syracuse, New York. He played less than his goaltending partner Michael Leighton, but Comrie helped the Central Division to a 2-1-0 record in the round-robin portion of the tournament before watching Michael Leighton pitch a 4-0 shutout of the Atlantic Division in the Challenge final.

Congratulations to the Central Division and to Manitoba's Eric Comrie for a successful AHL All-Star Weekend! Let's hope that success breeds some winning in Winnipeg in the second-half of the season!

Heading Back

The Moose come back to Winnipeg to play the AHL-leading Toronto Marlies, but they did find out they'll have some help to do so. Matt Halischuk was returned to the Moose from the Jets on Tuesday after a fairly successful stint with the NHL club. Halischuk was used primarily as a checking forward, but brought good energy to his shifts. The Moose can use his jump in the lineup as they prepare for a major test.

Toronto has absolutely decimated the Moose thus far. In six games, the Moose are 0-5-1 and have been outscored 27-7 including a 9-0 beatdown on December 6. Toronto is, by far, the highest scoring team in the AHL, own the AHL's best record, and are almost assuredly going to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Marlies, as it stands, could probably beat the Winnipeg Jets on most nights, but they'll be here on Thursday and Saturday to renew acquaintances with the Moose. It could be a bloodbath, folks.

As the Moose look upwards at the 29 other teams they're chasing, it's gut-check time in the Moose locker room. It could determine who is available to sweeten deals at the trade deadline.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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