Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 44

It will be a brief version of Antler Banter this week as there were only two games on the schedule to review. The Charlotte Checkers dropped in at MTS Centre to play the Moose in a two-game set over the weekend as the two Central Division teams looked to gain points. Manitoba has played better since the return of Connor Hellebuyck as the goaltending situation was solidified with the tandem of Hellebuyck and Comrie, but their two losses to the Iowa Wild were a bit of a setback. The Moose would need to play better on the weekend against the Checkers, so let's get into this week's Antler Banter as four points were on the line in a Central Division matchup!

The Games

Saturday's game against the Checkers was not what anyone expecting except for the Moose. Thomas Raffl and Patrice Cormier staked Manitoba to an early 2-0 lead before Derek Ryan cut the lead in half. However, the next five goals were all scored by the home side. Austen Brassard, Ryan Olsen, JC Lipon, Brassard again, and John Albert scored in a 13:04 span between the second and third periods to put Manitoba up 7-1. Olsen's goal chased Drew MacIntyre, but Daniel Altshuller fared no better. Brendan Woods would add another goal for Charlotte, but it mattered little in a 7-2 victory for the Moose. Eric Comrie stopped 31 shots in the win while Drew MacIntyre was the goalie of record in the loss. With the win, the Moose improve to 17-29-4-5 on the season!

Sunday's game was entirely different as Charlotte head coach Mark Morris had his team ready to play. After a two scoreless periods, special teams would be the difference in the third period. Derek Ryan scored on a power-play to put Charlotte up 1-0 before JC Lipon responded on a Moose power-play 2:24 later. The 1-1 tie would be broken on a second Ryan power-play goal at 14:06, and that goal would turn out to be the winner as the Checkers took the second game by a 2-1 score. Daniel Altshuller took the win with a 27-save performance while Connor Hellebuyck was on the wrong end in this one. With the loss, Manitoba falls to 17-30-4-5 on the campaign.

Trade Deadline

We didn't see any Moose leave the team on Trade Deadline Day, but two veterans were shipped out in the Andrew Ladd trade to Chicago. Gone are Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison as the Moose dealt the two veterans with Andrew Ladd to the Windy City as the Blackhawks prepare to make a run for a Stanley Cup. While Harrison was an important piece as a veteran leader, Fraser hadn't had the type of season he needed to be an impact player on the Moose roster.

While it sucks to see these two players leave the team, the door is now open for two younger players to step up and make a difference. If you want to see development on this Moose team, it's literally happening in front of our eyes.

Back To The Show

Matt Halischuk was recalled by the Jets. The gritty forward has played 13 games with the NHL club already. He's an effective member of the Moose, so we'll see how long he's up in the NHL for this time. It's always good to see a guy go up.

Welcome Back

On Friday, the Moose recalled Jimmy Lodge and Axel Blomqvist from the ECHL's Tulsa Oilers. Lodge has played well in Tulsa, picking up a goal and seven assists in 13 games. The 20 year-old has yet to register a point with the Moose this season, but he should be given a shot with Fraser's spot open on the roster.

Blomqvist has five goals and five assists in 25 games with the Oilers this season, but has yet to register a point for the Moose this season. The 21 year-old is a smooth skater, but needs to round out his game to be an effective AHL player. Again, the opportunity for Blomqvist is there with Fraser moving on, but he needs to show the coaching staff he wants to be in the AHL.

On Saturday, the Moose recalled Brennan Serville and Jiri Fronk from Tulsa. Serville has an assist in 17 games with the Oilers, and the 22 year-old defenceman has looked serviceable at the ECHL level. I've always maintained that it takes defencemen longer to develop, so we'll see how Serville does in this callup. As long as he does the little things right - keeping guys to the outside, clearing the crease, good outlets - he should be fine.

Fronk picked up a goal and two assists in five games with the Oilers. He had six goals and an assist before being sent to Tulsa, and the 22 year-old needs to use his size and speed a little more effectively to add on to those statistics. Fronk looks like he'll be a solid player once he gets everything figured out.

Tuesday saw the Moose recall Ben Walker from Tulsa as well. Walker has seven goals and four assists in 32 ECHL games. He's only appeared in two AHL games this season with the Moose, but the 22 year-old will look to crack the lineup and hold onto a roster spot in this recall. Walker showed glimpses of a better game with St. John's last season, so there's hope that he can put it together soon.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The Moose signed defenceman Jake Baker to a PTO on Saturday. The rearguard had two goals and eight assists in 47 games this season with the ECHL's Quad City Mallards before signing with the Moose. The 24 year-old is a graduate of Northern Michigan University.

He played in both games against the Charlotte Checkers, registering one assist, a +2 rating, and 4 penalty minutes, before the Moose released Baker on Monday from his PTO. The weird part is that Baker didn't look out of place on the Moose blue line by any means, so this signing might have been nothing more than a healthy body for the weekend. Personally, I liked what he brought to the ice and here's hoping the Moose consider him next season.

He's Proven Himself

Connor Hellebuyck got some good news today. The 22 year-old Moose netminder was named to Team North America for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. He's played in 16 games with the Moose this season and put up good stats, but he certainly would have been noticed for his play with the Winnipeg Jets this season. Hellebuyck is 13-11-1 record with two shutouts and a 2.34 GAA at the NHL level, and he's shown that he can be a reliable NHL netminder when called upon. He'll play a big role on Team North America next season, and that will hopefully translate into good things for him in the 2016-17 season!

Off To Texas

The Moose play one game in San Antonio on March 4 against the Rampage. The Moose are 2-0 against the Rampage this season with a pair of wins coming at home on December 16 and 17. Following that game, they'll move to Cedar Park, Texas on March 5 for a night with the Texas Stars. The Moose are 0-1-1 this season against Texas despite looking like they could be 2-0, so the Moose will want to be ready to steal some points from the Stars as they've done to the Moose.

After the quick trip to Texas, the Moose come home to welcome the Iowa Wild back on March 7 and 9. Little needs to be said about this series except the Moose need to take both games from the Wild. Anything less than that is unacceptable. The Moose and Wild are tied with 43 points and are dead-last in the AHL. If anything can be salvaged from this season, not finishing 30th should be the goal. Make it happen, Herd!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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