Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 12

We have a lot to cover on Antler Banter this week as the Moose had three games in the last seven days and there was a little event called the AHL All-Star Game. Two Moose players took part in the mid-season event, and we'll check out how they fared in their All-Star Game appearances. Because of the All-Star Game info, I'm going to hold off on player moves and injury news for today. For all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Lots of Hardcore Hockey, so let's get to it!

Reduced to a Simmer

The Moose spent last Wednesday in Abbotsford for their second game of a two-game set against the Heat. Another sold-out Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre was divided between Heat fans and Canucks fans, so it was close to being a home game for the Moose as the crowd cheered the visitors as much as their home team. Cory Schneider started for the Moose against Abbotsford's Matt Keetley.

Abbotsford's Garth Murray was sent off for interference just 34 seconds into the game, and the Moose powerplay capitalized on their early chance. Evan Oberg found Mathieu Schneider with a pass, and the veteran defenceman ripped home his first goal as a member of the Moose. Manitoba's powerplay goal put them up 1-0 at the 47-second mark of the first period.

Murray was back in the sin bin at 2:15 when he bumped defenceman Travis Ramsey into goaltender Cory Schneider. Tommy Maxwell came to the aid of his goaltender as both Maxwell and Murray dropped the gloves. After a fairly spirited battle, Maxwell was hit with the instigator penalty, meaning his night was over. The Moose, however, killed the man-advantage off, and the teams were back to five-on-five hockey.

Guillaume Desbiens hit the scoresheet at the midway point of the first period. A defensive zone turnover committed by the Heat led to Desbiens going one-on-one with Keetley. Desbiens found the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season, and the Moose had a 2-0 lead at the 10:00 mark.

Both teams settled down after Desbiens' goal, and the Moose carried a 2-0 lead into the intermission despite being outshot 10-7.

The second period didn't feature any goals, but there was some bad blood. Guillaume Desbiens and Ryley Grantham exchanged blows at the 6:35 mark, and both got five minutes for their efforts. However, they were joined by Travis Ramsey and JD Watt just 27 seconds later as those two men dropped their gloves and settled things the old-fashioned way. If there was any doubt that these two teams don't like one another, it was put to rest in this game. However, with no goals scored, the Moose carried the two-goal advantage into the third period.

Just two seconds into the last frame, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Ryley Grantham started the period by chucking knuckles. After those two were done, the game got back to normal, but the parade to the penalty box didn't end. Minors were being handed out by referee Francis Charron as he worked to keep the game under control.

With 27 seconds left in the third period, Guillame Desbiens scored his second of the game and eighth of the season into an empty net, and that sealed the deal. Manitoba earned the shutout victory with a workman-like effort. The 3-0 win was another strong game for Cory Schneider as the goaltender turned away all 35 shots fired his way for his third shutout of the season. With the win, Manitoba improves its record to 23-15-4-1.

Just as a note, Abbotsford forward JD Watt finished the game with 29 minutes in penalties in this game. Is there any wonder as to why the Heat lead the AHL in PIMs this season?

Anchors Away!

Manitoba returned home for a two-game set against the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday and Saturday. Milwaukee has being playing excellent hockey lately, so the Moose were in for a test in this series. Except they forgot to show up. Cory Schneider started in the Moose net on Friday, but didn't finish there. At the opposite end of the ice, Mark Dekanich got the call for the Admirals.

I'm going to run through this quickly because it was ugly. There's no sense in highlighting all nine goals when only one team showed up to play.

The Admirals jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Mark Matheson and Jonathan Blum. Matheson's point shot handcuffed Schneider and found the back of the net at the 12:44 mark. His fourth goal of the season made it 1-0. Defenceman Jonathan Blum made it 2-0 as he pinched in from the point as the Moose defenders were lost in their own zone. Blum tucked his fifth goal of the season in the Moose net at 14:02, and the Admirals were sailing after 20 minutes.

The second period saw the Admirals make the Herd into cannon fodder. Triston Grant turned a Manitoba turnover into his seventh goal of the season just 1:40 into the middle stanza, and the Admirals had a 3-0 lead. Chris Mueller made it a 4-0 game for the Admirals when he beat Schneider for his sixth goal of the season just over two minutes later. At the 3:53 mark of the second period, Cory Schneider's night was over - not that he got much help in preventing that from happening.

With Rejean Beauchemin occupying the blue paint for Manitoba, there was hope that the Moose might respond. But they didn't. Wacey Rabbit scored his seventh goal of the season off a goal-mouth scramble just 40 seconds after the goaltending change, and the Admirals led 5-0.

In what can only be called a "kamikaze move", Guillaume Desbiens tried to spark his lifeless team by challenging Admirals' captain Nolan Yonkman. The problem? Desbiens is 6'2" and 205 lbs. Yonkman stands in at 6'6" and 253 lbs. While the feisty Desbiens held tough early on in the fight, Yonkman eventually used his size to score the win. But Desbiens' effort seemed to wake the sleeping Moose as they started to show some life after the battle.

Milwaukee's Oren Eisenman was whistled for hooking at 13:24, and the Moose sent out their powerplay unit. After moving the puck fairly well, Mathieu Schneider scored his second goal of the season on the powerplay when he ripped a shot past Dekanich from the high slot. With 4:47 to play in the second period, the Moose trailed 5-1.

1:35 later, it appeared that the Moose were starting to get their legs. Walsky won a puck battle along the boards, sending the puck back to Travis Ramsey at the point. Ramsey's wrist shot was deflected by Matt Pettinger in front of Dekanich, and it found its way through the goaltender. Pettinger's eighth goal of the season at 16:47 pulled the Moose to a 5-2 deficit with 20 minutes to play.

Any comeback was crushed by Winnipegger Colin Wilson. Wilson scored his fifth of the season from the edge of the blue paint up under the crossbar after he took a pass from behind the net. Just 3:51 into the third period, and the Admirals led 6-2. Hugh Jessiman put the icing on the cake as he tapped in a gift from Wacey Rabbit. With Jessiman behind Pettinger, his ninth of the season looked effortless, and the Admirals led 7-2 with just over five minutes to play.

The horn sounded at the end of sixty minutes, and the Admirals had bombed the Moose 7-2. I know that moose are mammals, but this group of Moose literally laid an egg. With the loss, the Moose drop to 23-16-4-1.

Déja Vu All Over Again

After watching the Moose get dismantled by the Admirals on Friday, there was hope that the Herd would respond with a better effort on Saturday. Cory Schneider got the start after being yanked a night earlier, and he squared off against Winnipeg's own Chet Pickard in the Milwaukee net. The Moose honoured the Trail Smoke Eaters by wearing Smoke Eaters-inspired jerseys tonight. The Smoke Eaters won Canada two World Ice Hockey Championships in 1939 and 1961.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Milwaukee's Scott Ford got to stretch their arms early as they dropped the gloves and removed their buckets. Both men got a few quality shots in, but neither one gained a serious advantage. With Labrie earning a draw, it appeared that Manitoba was ready to improve on their previous night's performance.

Manitoba had its chances early on as Shirokov's breakaway shot went wide and Mathieu Schneider had a few solid blasts turned aside. Chet Pickard looks like he could be Nashville's goalie of the future with his steady play and poise. However, the Admirals were the first on the scoreboard again. Colin Wilson banged a rebound past Schneider of a Mike Santorelli shot at 17:18 of the first period for his sixth goal of the season. Wilson's marker gave Milwaukee the 1-0 lead.

44 seconds later, and the Admirals struck again. Robert Dietrich hammered a shot from the top of the right face-off circle, and the screened Schneider had no chance. Deitrich's third goal of the season gave the Admirals a 2-0 lead at 18:02, and they carried that lead into the intermission.

The Admirals came out flying to start the second period, and they were rewarded again for their efforts. Peter Olvecky's centering pass caught the skate of Taylor Ellington and deflected past Schneider. Olvecky's 11th goal of the season at 5:10 put the Admirals up 3-0.

The Moose began to chip away at the 13:50 mark. Marco Rosa corralled a puck and fired a rising wrist shot from just inside the face-off circle that got past Pickard's glove. Rosa's 11th goal of the season brought the Moose to within two goals at 3-1.

Any momentum being built by the Moose was swept away when the Admirals scored again before the end of the second period. Peter Olvecky's weak shot from beside the net got underneath Cory Schneider, and Chris Mueller shoveled home the puck from inside the crease. Mueller's seventh goal of the season put the Admirals up by a 4-1 score after 40 minutes.

7:14 into the third period, the Herd got one back. Marco Rosa's backhander was deflected by Sergei Shirokov in front of the net, and the puck found its way through Pickard's pads and just over the goal line. Shirokov's 14th of the season pulled the Moose closer at 4-2.

Just 11 seconds later, the Admirals showed why they are one of the better clubs in the AHL. Colin Wilson stripped Evan Oberg of the puck behind the Moose net on the ensuing dump-in. Skating towards the right corner, Wilson found Chris Mueller wide-open at the edge of the crease, and Mueller roofed it past Schneider. Mueller's second of the game and eighth of the season restored the three-goal margin as Milwaukee led 5-2 with just over twelve-and-a-half minutes to play.

The Admirals iced the game at 17:23. With everyone watching Cal O'Reilly skate from west-to-east across the blueline, Mike Santorelli got in behind the Moose defenders. O'Reilly threaded a perfect tape-to-tape pass to Santorelli, and he broke in on Schneider. As Schneider followed Santorelli across the crease, the five-hole opened up, and Santorelli made no mistake. Santorelli's 12th goal of the season gave Milwaukee the 6-2 win.

With the loss, the Moose drop to 23-17-4-1 on the season, and find themselves in third place in the North Division as they enter the AHL All-Star Break.

Clearing the Air

I'm not going to lie when I say that these two games sound worse than what they actually were. The Admirals play a very good up-tempo, puck possession game that the Moose don't match-up well against. While there weren't any players who had exceptionally bad games on either night, the Moose simply don't have an answer for Milwaukee's style of play. This is something that the coaching staff will have to address going forward, however, as Milwaukee exposed all sorts of problems in the Moose systems.

Thankfully, however, the Moose will only see the Admirals again this season if both clubs advance to the Western Conference Final. Which could be entirely possible.

All-Star Skills Competition

The best skaters and goalies assembled for some fun as the 2010 Ducks Unlimited AHL All-Star Skills Competition was held Monday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.
  • Fastest Skater - Bobby Sanguinetti. The Hartford Wolf Pack defenceman set a new AHL record by completing the lap of the rink in 13.677 seconds.
  • Hardest Shot - Blair Jones. The Norfolk Admirals' forward unleashed a blast of 100.7 mph to win the event. Jones is only the fourth player to break the 100 mph mark at this event.
  • Most Accurate Shot - Jon Matsumoto. The Adirondack Phantoms' centerman hit four of five targets to win this event.
  • Top Goaltender - Cedrick Desjardins. The Hamilton Bulldogs' netminder stopped 16 of 19 shots he faced in the Skills Competition to earn the title.
Canada defeated PlanetUSA in the Skills Competition by an 18-12 score to stop a three-year losing streak at the hands of the PlanetUSA All-Stars.

All-Stars On Display

The 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic was played Tuesday night, and both Sergei Shirokov and Nolan Baumgartner made an impact in the game. Shirokov suited up for PlanetUSA while Baumgartner was the captain for Team Canada.

Shirokov netted two goals in his All-Star Game debut, and nearly had the best setup of the night when he played the puck into his own feet before kicking it across the crease while on a two-on-one. Unfortunately for Shirokov, the puck not only eluded Canadian goaltender Jonathan Bernier, but also his PlanetUSA teammate who got caught watching Shirokov's magic.

Nolan Baumgartner scored a goal and added an assist in his play for the Canadian squad. Baumgartner really looked good playing in the wide-open format of the All-Star Game, and finished with a surprising +3 in the plus/minus department.

In the end, a shootout was needed after Canada stormed back in the third period to tie the game at 9-9. Shirokov was unsuccessful in his shootout attempt as the third PlanetUSA shooter. Canadian PK Subban of the Hamilton Bulldogs scored the shootout winner to give Canada the 10-9 All-Star Game win.

Back To Business

The Moose head out on the road to Hershey, Pennsylvania for a couple of nights with the Bears. The Bears are the best team in the AHL with a 32-9-0-2 record, so this will be another weekend of tests for the Moose. Not much needs to be said about the Bears: they're good, and they know how to win.

I'm looking forward to this weekend's action! It should be another good set of games!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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