Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 9

With the Moose currently on the road through the southern United States, Antler Banter is at the mercy of radio and AHL Live for watching the Manitoba Moose battle through the American Hockey League. While this is fine and dandy most days, the holiday season is making it tough to keep an eye on HBIC's favorite AHL team. Nevertheless, Antler Banter returns with results and thoughts from games against Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, and Texas. If you're looking for more news and info on the Manitoba Moose, 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!

The Sea Was Angry That Day

It's no secret that the Moose face difficult games when playing against their former IHL rivals. The Milwaukee Admirals always seem to have the Herd's number when they meet, and Wednesday night's game in Milwaukee was no different. The Moose, playing the second half of back-to-back games, looked a little flat, and the Admirals took full advantage of that situation.

There is a lot to be said about the Moose blueline this season when it comes to protecting their own zone. The Moose have been fairly solid in defending their ice, but Lee Sweatt was simply atrocious on Wednesday night. The normally-offensive defenceman finished the evening with a -3 rating, and never really found his stride in this game. While it's one thing to be held off the scoresheet, being on the ice for half of your opposition's goals is a terrible night. Lee Sweatt has to be better in his own zone if he wants to log minutes as one of the team's top defencemen.

For the first time this season, the goaltending of Tyler Weiman looked average. Against a team as good as the Admirals are, average won't get the job done. Weiman only stopped 14 of the 19 shots he faced, but the Moose didn't really give him much to work with as several of the Admirals' goals were of the tap-in variety. Weiman was average, but the team as a whole was worse.

There isn't much to be said about this game except that the Admirals, powered by the anger of King Triton, blew the Moose out of the water with a dominating 6-3 victory. The three goals that the Moose got seemed to come through sheer will and determination, but their overall effort was simply not good enough on this night. Maybe it was fatigue from the night before, but the loss drops Manitoba to 11-7-3 on the season.

Striking Oil

For the first time in their history, the Oklahoma City Barons and Manitoba Moose met in the regular season as the Barons dropped into Winnipeg for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday. The baby Oilers have a handful of recognizable names in their lineup, including goaltender Martin Gerber, YouTube sensation Linus Omark, longtime Marlies forward Ben Ondrus, former Moose pivot Brad Moran, Oilers' fill-in Liam Reddox, and former Hershey Bear Alexandre Giroux. The Moose needed to pick up a few points against this solid team, but it wouldn't be easy.

I have to hand it to Lee Sweatt as he bounced back at home with a solid game on Friday night. Sweatt ended the night with a goal and a +2 rating as he netted the second goal for Manitoba early in the second period. Sweatt showed that one bad game isn't going to derail his season, and he certainly responded well in this one.

Goaltending, which gets a lot of mention here on Antler Banter, gets mentioned again as Eddie Lack stood tall for Manitoba. Lack stopped 31 of 33 shots sent his way in regulation time, and then stood on his head in the shootout as he stopped all five Barons shooters that he faced. If the saying "a team only goes as far as its goaltending takes them" is true, Lack is certainly showing with his play that he wants to be the man to carry Manitoba into the playoffs.

I am a little concerned with the play of Victor Oreskovich. For the second straight game, Oreskovich ends the night with a -2 rating and no points. While I'm not saying that he needs to be pinned to the bench or anything, these games of minus ratings aren't going to do him any favors with the Moose brass or the Canucks' scouts. Oreskovich was the only player in the game to finish with a -2 rating, so he must be better in coming games in terms of helping out in his own zone.

The only player to score in the shootout was the difference as Sergei Shirokov's goal past Martin Gerber gave Manitoba the 3-2 shootout victory. There's no doubt that this Barons club is deep and talented, but the Moose picked up the extra point with the win. That shootout victory bumps Manitoba's season record to 12-7-3.

Barons Strike Rich While Moose Run Dry

Rarely do teams with as much talent as the Barons have find themselves mired in a three-game losing streak, but that's what the Barons were experiencing as the Moose and Barons hooked up for the second game of their two-game series at MTS Centre. For the Moose, these second games of two-game sets are getting worse as the Barons struck back on Saturday.

I'm not overly impressed with Alex Bolduc's play since being sent by Vancouver to Manitoba for a little conditioning after he recovered from an injury. For the second game, Bolduc ended the night with a -1 rating - hardly what you'd expect from the gritty forward who has spent the season with the Canucks. Four shots, no points, and -2 in two games. Not good enough for a regular NHL player.

Cody Hodgson led Manitoba in shots on Saturday night, but he found his name at the bottom of the list when it came to plus/minus. Hodgson was a -2 on the evening. While Hodgson has been a bright spot offensively for the Moose over the last month, there's still a defensive responsibility to uphold. Win in the defensive zone, and you'll win in the offensive zone as well.

There isn't much to report from this game that was positive for the Moose. Eddie Lack stopped 30 of 34 shots, but Martin Gerber bounced back with a solid 37-save performance to blank the Moose by a 4-0 score. Linus Omark looked inspired on Saturday for the Barons as he chipped in with a goal and two assists. With the loss, the Moose drop to 12-8-3 on the season.

Outshined By Stars

The Moose and Texas Stars tangled for the first time this season in Cedar Park, Texas, and it was a reunion of sorts as the Stars boast former Moose players Greg Rallo, Raymond Sawada, and Maxime Fortunus on their roster. After laying a goose egg against the Barons in their last game, Tuesday night's game was a chance for the Moose to get back to their winning ways.

The one line that ended the night on a positive note was that of Aaron Volpatti, Sergei Shirokov, and Mario Bliznak. Shirokov and Volpatti both recorded an assist on Evan Oberg's fourth goal of the year, so the line was good for a couple of points as well. This line seemed to have some serious jump all night, and I'm especially impressed with Shirokov's play this season as he has been shifted around into different roles under head coach Clause Noel. These three men deserve kudos for a strong game on Tuesday.

Tyler Weiman had another average outing, allowing four goals on 22 shots in the game. I don't expect him to be perfect every night nor do I expect an evening of highlight reel saves, but allowing four goals on any night is a difficult hole for a team to be in. Weiman has to return to the form that he showed earlier in the season if the Moose want to boast the best tandem in the AHL. Weiman and Lack have the potential to carry this team far if they play up to their abilities.

Overall, the Moose had a solid effort, but the Stars scored five times on the Moose to win the game by a 5-2 score. The Moose outshot the Stars 28-23 on the night, but goals are becoming rare for this squad when they were once plentiful. With the loss to the Stars, the Moose fall to 12-9-3 on the season.

Lots Of Movement

The Moose have seen their lineup altered several times over the last week thanks to the Vancouver Canucks. As always, injuries are a part of the game, and it's great that the Canucks have a deep farm system, but pulling good players out of Manitoba's lineup is hurting the AHL team.

That said, losing scorers like Jeff Tambellini, Joel Perrault, and Jonas Andersson will take the bite out of any threat that the Moose pose. Perrault returned, but the other two are still with the Canucks. Ryan Parent has been a nice addition for the Moose blueline, but he certainly isn't known for his offensive flair.

The Moose have to find a way to overcome the losses of these scoring forwards. I, for one, would put the line of Sergei Shirokov, Cody Hodgson, and Bill Sweatt back together. Those three had some solid chemistry earlier in the year, and the Moose could use that kind of scoring once again. Aside from that, the Moose need players like Marco Rosa, Joel Perrault, Mario Bliznak, and Victor Oreskovich to start driving to the net a little more often.

Upcoming Games

Friday has the Herd in Oklahoma City for the third meeting in less than a week between the Barons and the Moose. Saturday night sees the Moose head south to San Antonio to battle the Rampage. And for the second straight week, Manitoba will play the Texas Stars in Cedar Park, Texas on Tuesday night.

The Moose need to come away with at least four points to keep pace with the rest of the North Division. As it stands, the Moose are in fifth-place in the North Division, but have at least two games in-hand on the teams above and below them in the standings so wins at this point are money in the bank. The Moose are four points behind second-place Toronto with two games in-hand, and four points behind third-place Abbotsford with three games in-hand. Essentially, wins in all three games should leapfrog them ahead of at least three teams by the time the schedules even themselves out.

The Moose need to bear down, work hard, and play some solid fundamental hockey. Four points at minimum should be the demand on this mini-Southern US road trip, and six points would be a huge help. DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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