Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 16

We're back for another week of Antler Banter, and we have a full schedule of stuff to report. Thanks to a morning game, we also get a Wednesday game update on a Wednesday! The Moose finished off their set against the Marlies, and we have a couple of games against the Abbotsford Heat to look at before the Moose take their show to Hamilton on the start of a seven-game road trip that sees them travel to Ontario, New York, and Pennsylvania. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Moose as they work their way into February! Head over to the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose news and information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. It's an all-Canadian week in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

No Grief With The Baby Leafs

The Marlies and Moose finished their two-game set from last week on Wednesday night, and there was certainly some animosity between these two teams. The Marlies dropped a 4-2 decision on Tuesday, and desperately needed to beta Manitoba to keep pace. Manitoba, for their efforts, would put some distance between themselves and the Marlies, so the two points are big for both teams. Tyler Weiman got the call for the Moose while the Marlies sent James Reimer back to the paint.

Bill Sweatt showed that he's willing to step in in the absence of a number of Moose scoring threats. Sweatt potted a couple of goals on the night, and finished with a +2 rating and a game-high six shots on net. Sweatt showed great jump on a shorthanded two-on-one with Marco Rosa, and his toe-drag around the sprawled Marlies defender opened up James Reimer just enough for the puck to get through the goaltender. Sweatt also showed some elusiveness as he escaped coverage to chip home a rebound off Kevin Connauton's point shot. Keith Aulie was nowhere to be found as Sweatt burst past him and netted his second of the night. An excellent showing on this night by the younger Sweatt brother!

The top-rated penalty killing unit in the AHL had themselves another strong showing in keeping the Marlies at bay with the man-advantage. Manitoba went four-for-four in killing off man-advantages, and have not allowed a powerplay goal in the last 16 man-advantage situations. January 7 was the last day the Moose gave up a powerplay goal, and the Hershey Bears recorded two that day. Well done to the Moose PK units for their stingy play!

The Moose won by three goals on Tuesday night, and they pulled off the same trick on Wednesday night as they downed the Marlies by a 5-2 score. Tyler Weiman was solid in the net all night, and really gave the Moose a boost of confidence with his great play. With the win, the Moose improve to 24-12-5 on the season!

Where There's Smoke...

The Moose and Abbotsford Heat got themselves reacquainted at MTS Centre this past week as the Heat visited the Moose on a three-night, two-game stay. It's the first visit to Winnipeg for the Heat as all four games between these two teams have happened in Abbotsford thus far. Manitoba has won three of four games this season against the Heat, and look to improve on that record. The Moose sent Eddie Lack to the crease while the Heat responded with Leland Irving in this Thursday night tilt.

It's good to see Jordan Schroeder back on the ice for the Moose, and Schroeder wasted no time in re-introducing himself to the Moose faithful. Schroeder scored the game's opening goal on the powerplay with his only shot on net during the evening, and looked at home on the man-advantage. He seemed to be a little out of sync after missing 16 games and that's to be expected, but scoring a goal after that kind of layoff certainly bodes well for the young Moose forward.

I'll come out and say this right now: Eddie Lack played well, but could have been better. In the first period, he gave Chris Cunning a freebie. Cunning's shot from the neutral zone was gloved by Lack easily, but Lack misplayed the puck as he attempted to sweep it behind the net for his defencemen, and the puck slid slowly across the goal line for Cunning's eighth goal of the season. Penalty shots also hurt Lack as he was beaten once in regulation time on a nice move by Chris Cunning, and then twice in the shootout. Had Lack not donated the first-period goal to the Heat, the Moose would be two points better than Abbotsford on this night.

This tightly-contested match came down to the shootout as the Moose and Heat found themselves deadlocked at 2-2 after 60 minutes and an extra frame of overtime. Kevin Clark found the net behind Leland Irving, but Greg Nemisz and Jon Rheault beat Lack in the breakaway contest to lead the Heat to the 3-2 shootout victory. With the shootout loss, the Moose fall to 24-12-6 on the season.

See-Bee-Seeing Wins And Bobbleheads

The Moose had special guests at MTS Centre on Sunday as the Moose hosted the AHL on CBC on Sunday! The Moose also gave away Nolan Baumgartner bobbleheads to the first 5000 fans through the doors, so there was definitely a charge in the air as the Moose and Heat resumed battled. The Moose wanted a win on national TV and needed the two points to keep pace with Hamilton, and the Heat wanted to capture four points. The stakes were high, so you knew this was going to be a great game! Leland Irivng was back in the nets for Abbotsford, but the Moose opted to go with Tyler Weiman in the rematch.

It was a big day for Garth Murray as the tough-as-nails Moose forward was an assist away from the "Gordie Howe hat trick" in the first period! Murray scored his first goal of the season on national TV, and put the Moose up 1-0 just 4:46 into the game. Murray took a great pass from Bill Sweatt as he gained a step on the Abbotsford blueliners, and his backhander got through Irving as he drove the net. Later in the period, Murray destroyed Matt Keith with a textbook open-ice hit, and then scrapped with Stefan Meyer as Meyer tried to defend his teammate's honour. I'm calling the scrap a draw simply due to the fact that Meyer tied up Murray and wouldn't let him throw haymakers. This is the kind of swagger Murray needs to bring every night!

The second period belonged to Mario Bliznak as the shifty centerman picked up a couple of helpers by being aware of where his teammates were. First, he found Mark Flood on the blueline from the corner, and Flood blasted the puck home on the powerplay for his fifth of the season. Just 1:16 later, Bliznak's wrap-around attempt was less wrap-around and more pass. Irving slid across to block the wrap-around, but the puck went cross-ice to a wide-open Shawn Weller, and Weller had his eighth of the season. Bliznak's solid second period put the Moose up 3-2 with one period to play.

The third period was all about Desbiens. Guillaume Desbiens hasn't found the scoresheet often since being returned to the Moose by the Vancouver Canucks, but sometimes all you need to do is knock the gorilla off your back to get your confidence going. Desbiens started the period with a bit of luck as his cross-crease pass pinballed its way off a couple of Abbotsford players and past Irving. Desbiens wasn't done there, though, as the gritty forward closed out the game with an empty-netter for his third goal of the season. Desbiens played hard in this game, and he was finally rewarded with a bit of luck.

The two teams battled back and forth on Sunday afternoon, and the Moose had earned themselves a 5-3 victory after the dust settled. The CBC has to be happy with this game as both teams put on a good show. Thankfully, the hometown fans get to go home happy with their Nolan Baumgartner bobbleheads as the Moose improve to 25-12-6 on the season with the win!

Not A Morning Team

The Moose visited the Hamilton Bulldogs today for a very rare morning game as the Bulldogs hosted their first-ever "School Day" where youngsters from Hamilton could attend an AHL game! The 10:30am start is a bit of a shock to the system for players used to playing in the afternoon or night, so you do what you have to do. Tyler Weiman, having won his last six starts, got the nod for Manitoba while the Bulldogs sent former Moose netminder Curtis Sanford to the nets.

One player showed up for this game ready to play as Winnipeg-born Dustin Boyd put the screws to his former team. Boyd scored once in the second period and twice in the third period to record the hat trick as he now has 14 goals on the season. Having spent time with the Flames, Predators, and Canadiens, Boyd knows how to prepare for games, and he certainly looked good on this morning.

The penalty kill, which gave up two goals to the Abbotsford Heat on Sunday, responded by closing the door on Hamilton's powerplay. The Moose went four-for-four in killing off penalties, and the detail this unit is showing in doing the little things right has certainly been paying off. Well done to head coach Claude Noel and the coaching staff for improving this area of the Herd's repertoire this season!

Tyler Weiman was solid in only allowing two goals, but Curtis Sanford was better as the Bulldogs shutdown the Moose in front of their biggest crowd of the season. 10270 fans came out to see the Bulldogs shutout the Moose by a 3-0 score as Dustin Boyd recorded all three goals in the victory. Sergei Shirokov's point streak also came to an end in this game, and the Moose fall to 25-13-6 on the season with the loss.

One Up, One Down

I'm glad I posted this article late on Wednesday because we got to see another Moose player achieve a first in the NHL. After seeing Sergei Shirokov score his first NHL goal last week, Lee Sweatt made his debut with the Vancouver Canucks tonight, and he followed in Shirokov's footsteps.
#57 scores his first NHL goal, and it was the game-winner no less! Congratulations go out to Lee Sweatt for making the most of his call-up! Keep it up!

Time Waits For No Team

The Moose have a busy weekend as they play Friday in Rochester against the Americans, and then travel to Toronto on Saturday for a game against the Marlies. Two divisional games to finish off the week before the AHL All-Star Game should make for interesting times depending on the outcomes of these games.

Rochester is currently sitting in last-place in the North Division with a 19-23-5 record for 43 points. They come into the game 3-6-1 in their last ten games. Michal Repik leads the team in scoring by a large margin with 7 goals and 31 assists. Winger Michael Duco leads the teams in goals with 13 while both Scott Timmins and Kenndal McArdle have ten goals apiece. Neither Jakob Markstrom nor Tyler Plante are having particularly strong seasons thus far, but both have the talent to beat any team on any given night.

After having seen Toronto last week, the Moose are quite aware of what Toronto brings to the table. Toronto is now in fourth-place in the North Division, five points behind the Moose. They are 5-4-1 in their last ten games with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Moose. Toronto will be hungry in their barn, so the Moose will have to come out ready to play in this one.

The Moose will say goodbye to Sergei Shirokov after the Toronto game as Shirokov will make his way to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the 2011 AHL All-Star Game. Shirokov is the only Moose representative on the team this year, and this will be his second AHL All-Star Game appearance. I wish Shirokov all the best in this game, and I'll be watching the speedy Russian show off his skills on Sunday and Monday!

Two big games against divisional rivals, so you know those four points are important. After the lacklustre loss to the Bulldogs, the Moose need to bear down and DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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