Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 19

Antler Banter returns to its usual Wednesday spot this week, and there are some personnel changes to highlight thanks to the NHL trade deadline occurring just one week before the AHL roster deadline was set. Three games highlighted the schedule from last week as Worcester Sharks and Grand Rapids Griffins were the Moose's opponents. We'll also look forward to this week's games as the Moose start the stretch run to the Calder Cup Playoffs. Don't forget to get all of your Manitoba Moose news and information on the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Here is this week's edition of Hardcore Hockey!

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

After handing the Sharks a 3-1 loss on Tuesday night at MTS Centre, the Moose and Sharks hooked up again for Game Two of the two-game set in Winnipeg on Wednesday. Honestly, the Tuesday night game was one of the best games that I've seen this season by the Moose, so there was hope for another solid 60 minutes on Wednesday. Alex Stalock was back in the water for the Sharks, while Daren Machesney was sent out to the nets for the Moose.

Before the ice was dry, the Moose were on the board. Just 29 seconds into the first period, Matt Pettinger fired a low shot from the left half-boards that Stalock kicked out into the slot area. The problem with Stalock's rebound is that it found the stick of Marty Murray. Murray snapped the puck into the open side of the net, and the Moose were out to the 1-0 lead on Murray's tenth goal of the season.

The rest of the first period was a collection of penalties on both teams, highlighted by a scrap between Worcester's Brett Westgarth and Manitoba's Dusty Collins. The Moose finished the period trailing in shots by an 11-9 margin, but they held the lead on the scoreboard with a 1-0 advantage.

Mario Bliznak took a goaltender interference penalty at the 4:25 mark of the second period, and that sent the Sharks to the man-advantage. 29 seconds after Bliznak sat down in the box, he was released. Steven Zalewski carried the puck down the left wing, and found the trailer, Dwight Helminen, in the slot. Helminen made no mistake as he buried his 11th goal of the season high over Machesney's glove, and the powerplay marker even the game at 1-1 just 5:14 into the middle frame.

Just 2:20 later, the Sharks struck again. Winnipegger Frazer McLaren's initial shot was stopped by Machesney, but defenceman Nathan McIver fell over top of Machesney as the rebound went out to Machesney's left side. With the interference, Machesney didn't have time to recover as McLaren jumped on the rebound. McLaren slid the puck along the ice into the crease, and Matt Jones banged home the loose puck. Jones' fifth goal of the season at 7:34 put the Sharks ahead by a 2-1 score.

To say the Moose didn't play well in the second period would be a huge understatement. The Sharks outshot Manitoba 22-6 in the period to lead 31-17 after two periods! Had it not been for Daren Machesney, the game could have been out-of-hand with the amount of shots that Manitoba saw in that period.

The Sharks added to their lead just 1:30 into the third period. With Logan Couture standing squarely in front of Machesney, TJ Trevelyan fired a puck under Machesney's glove that found the back of the net. Machesney had little chance of making the save with Couture being a perfect screen, and the Sharks had the 3-1 lead on Trevelyan's 18th goal of the season.

4:16 later, a two-on-one developed as Worcester's Ryan Vesce and Trevelyan broke in against Nathan McIver. With McIver giving Vesce the shot, Vesce broke on in the left side and fired a low wrist shot towards the right post and into the back of the net. Machesney should have had that shot from Vesce, but it dented the twine. Vesce's 11th goal of the season put the Sharks up 4-1 at 5:46.

2:12 after that goal, the Sharks had another. Evan Oberg turned the puck over in the right corner after falling, and Dan DaSilva picked up the loose puck. Manitoba's Jeff Waugh and Worcester's John McCarthy were all over the blue paint around Machesney as DaSilva pulled the puck out front to his backhand, and DaSilva buried the backhander past both Waugh and Machesney. Again, another goal that Machesney had little to no chance of saving, and Manitoba's bad game continued. DaSilva's 14th of the season gave the Sharks a 5-1 lead at the 7:58 mark.

It took almost seven minutes for the Moose to respond, but they did add to their total. Travis Ramsey's slapshot from the right point found a seam through Alex Stalock, and Ramsey's second goal of the season made it a 5-2 Sharks lead.

However, time was the enemy, and there wasn't enough time for the Moose to get any closer. The final total in shots was a ridiculous 43-29 for Worcester - a perfect example of why this game went poorly for the Moose. I can't fault Machesney as he did all he could in stopping 38 shots, but the Moose still take the loss. Their record falls to 31-27-5-1.

Griffins Are Mythical Creatures, After All

It has taken a long time for the Moose to meet up with their former IHL rivals, but the Moose and Griffins battled for the first time this season on Friday night. It's hard to believe that divisional teams haven't faced each other by this point in the season, but such is the case in the AHL. Daniel Larsson got the start for the Griffins against Manitoba's Cory Schneider at Van Andel Arena.

Hard-working teams can't take penalties when they struggle to score, and the Moose displayed perfect examples of this in the first period. Manitoba opened the game with five minor penalties, and the Griffins capitalized.

Newcomer Yan Stastny was sent off for hooking at 3:12, and the Griffins opened the scoring 49 seconds later. Doug Janik fed Jeremy Williams with a pass, and Williams roofed a wrist shot over Schneider on the left side. Just 4:01 in, and Williams had his 22nd goal of the season with the powerplay marker, and the Griffins had a 1-0 lead.

Geoff Waugh earned two minor penalties at 7:18, and the extra unsportmanlike conduct penalty he earned after the hugging match against Justin Abdelkader put the Griffins back on the powerplay. At 8:26, Jeremy Williams struck again after Patrick Rissmiller made a gorgeous cross-ice pass to the sniper. Williams had no trouble finding the back of the net as Schneider couldn't get across, and Grand Rapids had a 2-0 lead on Williams' 23rd goal and second powerplay marker on the night.

The second period looked much like how the first ended: tighter checking and more disciplined play. However, the stalemate in the second would be broken at the 18:18 mark. Manitoba's Lawrence Nycholat fired a shot from the point that found its way through a maze of players in front of Larsson, and the puck found the twine past Larsson's glove. Nycholat's third goal of the season cut the Griffins' lead to 2-1.

However, just 45 seconds later, the Griffins restored the two-goal lead. Logan Pyatt was in the right place at the right time as Schneider made the stop on Justin Abdelkader, but couldn't hold on to the rebound. Pyatt poked the puck across the line for his ninth goal of the season, and the Griffins led 3-1 with just 56.1 seconds left in the second period.

In what seems like a recurring theme this season, the Moose trailed 25-15 in shots by the second intermission. Honestly, Schneider and Machesney have seen more vulcanized rubber this year than Goodyear and Bridgestone combined. If there's any wonder why this team continues to struggle to put together strings of wins, it might have something to do with being outshot in every game. And, in most cases, by large margins.

The third period seemed to be fairly uneventful outside of a Guillaume Desbiens-Jamie Tardif scrap. Desbiens picked up the victory in the bout of fisticuffs, but the Moose couldn't manage any other offence against the Griffins. With Schneider on the bench for the extra attacker, Patrick Rissmiller scored his 17th goal into the empty net, and the Griffins secured the 4-1 win.

Full credit to the Griffins for playing a very balanced and thorough game in earning the win. With the loss, the Moose drop to 31-28-5-1, and really need to pick up two points against the Griffins in Saturday's game.

Slaying The Beast

Saturday night saw the Moose and Griffins battle again at Van Andel Arena. The Moose need to get back on-track against a lower-ranked team, and start winning games they are supposed to win. A sellout of 10,834 fans were on-hand for the game as Daniel Larsson and Cory Schneider took to the nets for the second night in a row.

Both teams limited chances early on as each team seemed a little more defensive than the night before. However, the Moose got on the board just past the halfway point of the first period. Sergei Shirokov ripped a shot past Larsson from the right circle at the 10:55 mark for his 20th goal of the season, and the Moose were out in front by a 1-0 score.

Neither team dented the twine before the horn sounded, giving Manitoba the 1-0 lead as the intermission began. Grand Rapids had a modest 9-8 lead on the shot clock, but the Moose seemed to be matching their opponents shot for shot for the first time in a long time.

But then the second period started. Cory Schneider, proving that he is Manitoba's MVP this season, stopped all 15 shots that he faced in the second period. Grand Rapids' Daniel Larsson, on the other hand, stopped all five shots he faced. After two periods, Grand Rapids had the 24-13 lead on the shot clock, but still trailed 1-0 due to Schneider's incredible goaltending.

However, the 25th shot of the game for Grand Rapids found its way past Schneider. Justin Abdelkader streaked down the left wing and found a hole with his wrist shot between Schneider's pad and the left post. Abdelkader's seventh goal of the season came just 20 seconds into the third frame.

The Moose didn't fold after Abdelkader's goal. The stingy defensive play by both teams continued despite Grand Rapids' growing shot total. Larsson and Schneider stood tall, and neither team could solve the tie in 60 minutes. Off to overtime!

Both teams had chances, but it was Manitoba's third shot of the extra period that ended the game. Logan Pyatt had the puck take a bad bounce in front of him in the high slot, and the puck found its way behind the Griffins' defender. Mario Bliznak picked up the loose puck, and he stuffed it through Larsson's five-hole for the game-winning goal. Bliznak's seventh goal of the season gave Manitoba the 2-1 overtime victory, and a great celebration for Bliznak as he scored on his birthday!

Despite Manitoba's win, they were badly outshot again. Grand Rapids ended the game with a 43-26 lead in shots. However, I'm not looking in the mouths of any horses. A win is a win is a win. With the victory, Manitoba improves to 32-28-5-1.

Controlling Your Own Destiny

It's safe to say that Manitoba would like to avoid a first-round series with division-leading Hamilton, so it's time for Manitoba to buckle down and start grinding out some wins. As it stands, Manitoba is fourth-place in the North Division. They trail third-place Abbotsford by four points and second-place Rochester by six points. The good news is that the Moose have a game in-hand on the Heat, but the Americans have a game in-hand on Manitoba.

With two more games against last-place Grand Rapids, two against the Heat, two against the Marlies, and four against the Hamilton Bulldogs before the end of the season, the divisional games become paramount in terms of their importance. Each one of those games essentially can be a four-point swing, so winning the divisional games is the only option for the Moose at this point.

If they want to avoid Hamilton in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the Moose need to beat teams within their own division. It's that simple.

Taking Attendance Is Mandatory

After the NHL trade deadline and the AHL roster freeze deadlines passed, the roster of the Manitoba Moose looks significantly different. I'll run down these moves on a per-player basis.
  • Mathieu Schneider - traded by Vancouver to Phoenix. It was a well-known fact that Schneider's stay with the Moose would be temporary. And it was.
  • Nick Boynton - traded by Anaheim to Chicago. Boynton adds depth for Chicago's playoff run in the NHL, but he'll be back in Manitoba this week. Boynton was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs by the Blackhawks.
  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie - traded by Vancouver to St. Louis. Labrie was a rugged competitor who performed fairly well before the trade in a checking role. However, his choppy skating style may have limited his development, and it appears that Vancouver wanted a change.
  • Marty Murray - loaned by Manitoba to Milwaukee. Murray was disappointed about leaving his home province, but he'll be a good veteran presence on a young Milwaukee team.
  • Brad Lukowich - re-assigned by Vancouver. Lukowich, who had been playing with the Texas Stars for most of the season in order to be closer to his family, was scheduled to be in Manitoba for this weekend's games against the IceHogs. However, the veteran defenceman opted for shoulder surgery to cure a wonky shoulder, and will not play again this season.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - recalled by Vancouver. Baumgartner is back up with the big club, but the impending return of Kevin Bieksa should mean that Baumgartner will return soon.
  • Peter Olvecky - loaned by Milwaukee to Manitoba. Olvecky, a Slovakian, is a big body who isn't afraid to get dirty in the corners. He has a great shot, and will most likely play on a line with former teammate Marco Rosa and Matt Pettinger this weekend against the IceHogs.
  • Yan Stastny - traded by St. Louis to Vancouver. Stastny is a decent scoring forward who should help the Moose with his speed and hands. He was a scoring threat in Peoria, and has NHL experience. Stastny will be relied on to generate offence in Manitoba.
  • Andy Brandt - signed to PTO. Brandt, a 22 year-old forward, had been playing with the ECHL's Victoria Salmon Kings before the Moose came calling. Brandt had a few good shifts in his debut against the Griffins, and is looking to continue his strong play as he works to earn a spot with the Moose.
Coming Up Next

The Moose have a weekend set against the Rockford IceHogs on Friday and Saturday. Rockford currently sits in second-place in the West Division with a 38-24-3-3 record for 82 points, so the Moose will need to play well in both games to have a chance at earning some points.

Bracken Kearns leads the team with 47 points, two better than Mark Cullen. Kyle Greentree leads the team in goal-scoring with 22 goals on the season. Jack Skille is the next highest goal-scorer with 20 markers. The IceHogs upgraded their goaltending at the NHL trade deadline when they acquired Hannu Toivonen. Along with Corey Crawford, the IceHogs boast a fairly good tandem in the nets. With both goaltenders have fairly unimpressive records, Crawford's 2.79 GAA and Toivonen's 2.72 GAA indicate that Rockford's goaltending has been steady all season long. The Moose will need to score more often than they have in their recent games if they hope to down the IceHogs.

Antler Branches

There have been a few interesting notes from the Herd that need to be brought to light.
  • Sergei Shirokov will miss the Friday game of the Rockford series after he was suspended by the AHL after kneeing Ole-Kristian Tollefsen of Grand Rapids. The AHL announced the suspension today.
  • Head coach Scott Arniel confirmed today that he has asked the Anaheim Ducks about Luca Sbisa. Sbisa is currently playing for the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks. When the season ends for Portland, Arniel is hoping that Anaheim will assign the big defenceman to Manitoba for the Moose's playoff run. Getting a player like Sbisa would be huge for the Moose. Sbisa, as you may know, suited up for Switzerland at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and he would bring a big shot to Manitoba's blueline. Stick tap to Joshua for catching my error on Sbisa's WHL team!
  • Both Dan Sexton and Nolan Baumgartner were placed on "paper waivers" today by the Ducks and Canucks, respectively. This allows Manitoba to include the two players on their 22-man roster for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Both men will be vital in Manitoba's quest for the Calder Cup this season.
  • Cody Hodgson, who played for the Moose in last season's Calder Cup Playoffs, suffered a hairline fracture when he blocked a shot last week for the Brampton Battalion. It is expected that Hodgson will be out until the OHL Playoffs start, but the Moose have expressed an interest in bringing Hodgson back when Brampton's season comes to an end. Honestly, his offensive abilities will be more than welcomed in the Moose dressing room.
  • Saturday night's game against the Rockford IceHogs will be a special night. The Manitoba Moose are honouring the three divisions of the Canadian military on Military Salute night. The Moose will wear these beautiful uniforms in honour of the men and women who bravely put their lives on the line for all Canadians. This should be a great evening of hockey for the bravest men and women in the world!
There's your Moose update for this week. With all the changes that happened last week, there's hope that everything will settle for the Moose, especially with their roster. As it stands, 50 players have worn the Moose uniform this season, and the opening night roster hasn't been together since opening night.

Rockford invades MTS Centre this weekend, so get your tickets and get downtown to cheer on the Moose as they begin the stretch run to the Calder Cup Playoffs!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Joshua Schroeder said...

Sbisa was actually traded to Portland in January, so he's going to be suiting up in the WHL playoffs.

I Am Hockey said...

Mathieu Schneider... nooooh!!!