Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Antler Banter : Volume 4

Antler Banter finds its way back on Wednesday, and we have a lot to talk about today. Four games were played in the last week with another one on-tap tonight as the Moose play seven games away from MTS Centre. Road trips are always tough when playing teams from the Great Lakes region, so we'll look back at how the Moose fared against the Lake Erie Monsters twice, the Grand Rapids Griffins, and the Hamilton Bulldogs. If you're looking for any Manitoba Moose news or 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. Let's check out this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Scaring The Monsters

Manitoba arrived in Cleveland on Friday to battle the Lake Erie Monsters, and needed to start the roadtrip off right with a win. Being a division rival, the Moose had to start on the right track in terms of defeating the Monsters if they want to have a shot at one of the top seeds in the North Division come Calder Cup time.

The Moose faced former NHL netminder in Jason Bacashihua in this game, and they came out buzzing. Bacashihua, however, was equal to the task in the first frame as he stopped all eight Manitoba shots. Former Monster netminder and current Moose goaltender Tyler Weiman matched Bacashihua save for save as he stopped all seven shots he faced.

Give credit where credit is due, and that will go to head coach Claude Noel tonight. Noel matched Sergei Shirokov, Cody Hodgson, and Bill Sweatt on a line, and that new trio counted for two goals and five points on the evening. This Moose team still appears to be a work-in-progress for the new coach, but Noel is finding combinations that work. Getting Hodgson on the scoresheet often with his talent is certainly what the Moose need.

He didn't hit the scoresheet, but defenceman Travis Ramsey deserves some spotlight. Ramsey is a workhorse in his own zone and never shies away from physical play. He blocks shots, he rubs men out along the boards, and he opens up shooting lanes for his goaltenders by moving opposing forwards out of the way. Ramsey won't win any scoring titles, but defenders like him are what every coach and team loves. Yet he never demands any credit for his work, so I'll give him some here as the big defenceman is truly looking like a force in his own zone.

Some great work by the Moose to rally behind Tyler Weiman's solid effort in between the pipes. Down 3-1 in the second period, Manitoba rallied by scoring five straight goals over the last 30 minutes of the game to give the Moose the 6-3 win. With the victory, the Moose improve to 5-2-0 on the season and start this roadtrip off with a big win.

Griffins Prove No Fluke

Manitoba were set straight on the second weekend of the season by the Griffins as they rolled into MTS Centre and rolled out with two wins. The Moose looked to salvage the season series with the Griffins by winning two games at Van Andel Arena - a place that has not been so kind to the Moose in their history. Thomas McCollum got the start in net for Grand Rapids while Eddie Lack suited up for the Moose.

It would a great thing to say that the Moose improved upon their play from a night before, but that would be entirely inaccurate. They were still aggressive, but the Griffins did what all good teams do: score on the powerplay. The Moose gave the AHL's second-best powerplay unit far too many chances, and they paid for it twice. In both cases, it was the defensive pairing of Lee Sweatt and Nolan Baumgartner that were victimized, so it might be time to look at moving one of those men off that unit. Sweatt is an offensive defenceman, so I'd start with him. Great offensive player, but I'm not sure his skills are best for a penalty-killing unit.

Travis Ramsey must also have the book thrown at him in this one. If Ramsey is going to be considered one of the elite defensive defencemen in the league, he needs to stay out of the penalty box. Both powerplay goals were scored with him having a front-row seat in the penalty box, and it is imperative that Ramsey be on the ice as the team's best defensive player. A hooking penalty and a holding penalty are lazy penalties to take, and Ramsey was guilty of both of them.

The Moose held a 2-1 lead, but the Griffins capitalized on a powerplay to tie the game, and then went ahead with 8:53 to play in the game. Once they were ahead, they played shutdown hockey much like they did in Winnipeg. An empty-net goal by Jamie Tardif sealed the Moose's fate as they drop their third game in a row to Grand Rapids by a 4-2 score. With the loss, the Moose fall to 5-3-0 on the season.

Monsters' Revenge

Halloween afternoon saw the Moose return to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland where they met the Halloween-appropriate Lake Erie Monsters in the matinée. The rematch featured the same two goals as seen on Friday night as Lake Erie started Jason Bacashihua while the Moose responded with Tyler Weiman. After dropping the game against the Griffins the night before, the Moose were looking for redemption.

For a team like the Moose that has an abundance of firepower sitting on the bench, it's nearly unbelievable to think that they could be shutout. Jason Bacashihua did his job in stopping all 19 shots fired his way, and the Moose left Cleveland with a doughnut on their record. What makes this more disappointing is that Manitoba's leading shooter was defenceman Lee Sweatt. I get that Sweatt is an offensive defenceman, but he outshot every other player on the Moose roster by a large margin. Simply put: not good enough.

Tyler Weiman deserves some credit for his effort. Weiman allowed only one goal on a cross-crease pass, and made several key saves to keep the Moose in the game early. His breakaway stop on Greg Mauldin early in the second period was his best of the day, and Weiman provided the Moose with solid goaltending once again.

If you can't score, you're not going to win, and the Moose proved that true. Lake Erie's Joel Chouinard scored the game-winner midway through the third period, and Julien Talbot iced the game with an empty-net goal late. Lake Erie takes the Halloween game by a 2-0 score, and pushes the Moose's record to 5-4-0 on the season.

Bitten By The Dogs

The Moose and Bulldogs had another battle on Tuesday night as the Moose visited Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Manitoba had won the first two meetings at MTS Centre by 4-3 shootout scores, and were looking to push the season series to a 3-0 margin. Eddie Lack got the call for Manitoba while former Moose goaltender and current Bulldog Curtis Sanford took to the nets for Hamilton.

Goaltending might be the best part of the Moose roster this season as both Lack and Weiman are making fans forget about Cory Schneider. Lack made 26 saves on 28 shots, and looked very comfortable in turning away the Bulldogs on numerous chances. Lack was perfect through the second period when he was peppered by 12 Hamilton shots, including a great save on Ryan White's breakaway chance. Again, the Moose get quality goaltending, but can't give their 'tenders anything more.

Noel's combination of Shirokov and Hodgson looks like it might be clicking. Shirokov set up Hodgson for his third goal of the season, and the two youngsters are the only line that seems to be scoring over the last four games. Hodgson has enough creative talent to make great passes to Shirokov, and Shirokov really came into his own last year as a great offensive player. Bill Sweatt, the left winger on that line, had a team-high five shots, so it appears that the Moose may have found a solid second line. Now they just need the other three lines to get on the same page.

Another great goaltending performance by Eddie Lack goes all for naught as the Moose drop a 3-1 decision to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Hamilton's Max Pacioretty had a goal and an assist in the win, and the Bulldogs simply outworked and outskated the Moose. With the loss, the Moose fall to 5-5-0 on the season.

Adding More Talent

If a change to the lineup is what the Moose need, they received it on Tuesday. The Vancouver Canucks assigned winger Jeff Tambellini to the Moose, and he should be available for the rematch against the Bulldogs on Wednesday.

The 26 year-old had two goals and one assist with the Canucks in the six games he played with the NHL club this season, and he was an adept scorer for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers two seasons ago before making the leap to the NHL with the New York Islanders. In 169 AHL games thus far in his career, Tambellini has amassed 96 goals, 98 assists, and 112 PIMs. He recorded a career-high 38 goals and 38 assists in 57 games with Bridgeport in 2007-08, so Tambellini is a proven scorer at the AHL level.

With the scoring woes the Moose have experienced on this roadtrip, he will be a welcomed addition on the ice and in the dressing room.

Looking Ahead

As stated above, the Moose have another game with the Bulldogs this evening, and then move onto finish the season series with the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday. Saturday night will see the Moose in Rockford to visit the IceHogs to finish up this seven-game, nine-day trip away from the confines of MTS Centre.

The Moose sit a .500 - far below expectations thus far - but they can salvage this roadtrip with three wins in their next three games. Put your noses to the grindstones, gentlemen, and start playing some smart hockey! DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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