Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 18

The Banter is back this week as the Moose travel through Pennsylvania in the heart of the AHL. Two games against the AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and two games against the Hershey Bears is nothing short of a major test midway through this season, so it will be interesting to see how the Moose fare through the second half of the road trip. Six out of eight points would be great, especially if the Moose can knock off the Bears twice, so hard work and hustle will have to be part of the mix in every game! Make sure you visit 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. Let's trek through Pennsylvania in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Knocking Off The Penguins

The Moose and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins met for the first time at Mohegan Sun Arena since January 31, 2010, and there was definitely some electricity in the air. It may have been the Pittsburgh Steelers logo at center ice due to the Steelers being in the Super Bowl, but the Moose weren't looking past the Penguins in this one. Eddie Lack got the call for Manitoba while AHL All-Star John Curry stood in the blue paint for the Penguins.

Sami Salo, sent to Manitoba on a conditioning assignment after his Achilles' tendon injury, suited up for the first time this season in a professional hockey game. It could be expected that Salo may have been a little rusty, but Salo was an offensive dynamo in this game. Salo scored twice - once on a cannon blast from the point on the powerplay, and once on a gorgeous backhand deke that left Curry looking for his underpants. Salo ended the game as a -1, so he's still a little rusty, but he's not far off from playing in the NHL again. With his shot being as good as it ever has been, he won't be in a Moose jersey for long. Kudos go out to Salo for his effort on this night as he was the difference in this game.

Eddie Lack was sharp in this game as the Penguins peppered the Moose netminder with 42 shots. Lack only gave up a pair of goals on the night, stopping 40 shots on the evening including 18 in the first period! Lack literally was a wall in the Moose zone that kept the Herd alive. If there was a casual observer on this night watching the two goaltenders, Lack would definitely look the part of an all-star goalie more than Curry.

Two goals from Salo and an early first-period marker from Mark Flood gave Manitoba just enough goals to close out a 3-2 win over the AHL-leading Penguins. Again, Lack was a huge factor in this game, and the young Swedish goaltender is looking like the second coming of Cory Schneider with his poise and skill between the pipes. With the win, the Moose improve their record to 27-14-6 on the season!

Rolling Over A Sleeping Bear

The Moose renewed their heated battle with their biggest rivals from the Eastern Conference in the Hershey Bears. The city of Hershey was still buzzing from the AHL All-Star Game, so the 10,000+ fans that came out had the Giant Center rocking. Eddie Lack, fresh off his win over the Penguins, tended the twine for Manitoba as he stared down Todd Ford in the Bears' net.

Nolan Baumgartner had one of his best games of the season despite only recording one assist. Baumgartner was a leader in the defensive zone against one of the league's most potent offences, and ended the night with a +3 rating. The Moose captain showed why he is leading the charge on this team with his poise and steady play in his own zone, and the Moose reaped the benefits on this night.

Jordan Schroeder and Bill Sweatt had decent games as each of the two Moose forwards had a goal and a pair of helpers on the night. The scoring came in extremely handy considering they were a combined -1 on the evening. While the team needs to be a little more efficient in their own zone, Schroeder and Sweatt were responsible for the three of the four goals that Manitoba put up on the night, and that's a pretty solid evening.

The two teams battled to a 4-4 tie through three periods and overtime, so a shootout was needed to determine this one. Lack and Ford were perfect through the first six rounds with neither giving up a goal. However, Kevin Connauton found the back of the net on the seventh shot by the Moose in the breakaway contest. Eddie Lack stoned Dmitri Kugryshev on the Bears' seventh chance, and the Moose skated away with the 5-4 shootout victory! With the win, the Moose improve to 28-14-6 on the campaign.

Sunday Fatigue

The Moose took to the ice on Super Bowl Sunday for their third game in three days as they looked to take a second game off the Hershey Bears. The Bears, stinging from the 5-4 shootout loss the night before, were looking to split the series at the Giant Center while Manitoba shot for their third straight win over Pennsylvania AHL teams. Todd Ford was back between the pipes for Hershey, but Manitoba went with Tyler Weiman as their starter on Sunday.

I'm not sure anyone really deserves kudos in this game as the Moose got hammered in all situations. They allowed two powerplay goals, looked completely lacklustre and uninterested at times, and decided to fold their tents after 40 minutes as they abandoned Tyler Weiman in the third period. Thanks to Weiman, the Moose and Bears were deadlocked at 1-1 after two periods, but the Bears exploded for four third-period goals en route to a big victory.

Needless to say, the Bears laid waste to the Moose on Super Bowl Sunday, picking up a 5-1 win. The Moose get a well-deserved day off on Monday, so let's hope that they can rebound in Tuesday's game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. With the loss, the Moose see their record fall to 28-15-6 on the season.

Tuesday Malaise

After getting slapped around in Hershey on Sunday, the Manitoba Moose looked to pick up their second win in five days against the AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Coming home with six out of eight points against two of the AHL's best teams would be a good showing for the Moose, so there was work to be done on Tuesday evening. Eddie Lack was sent out to tend the twine for Manitoba while Brad Thiessen got the call for the Penguins.

For the second time in two games, the Moose showed up to the party, but forgot to bring the attitude. An early goal by Jordan Schroeder just 3:37 into the first period was all the jump that the Moose seemed to have as they closed out this road trip. Again, the league's best penalty-killing unit surrendered two powerplay goals. Again, the Moose played with little fire and even less heart than the level to which we've become accustomed. And again, the Moose found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger after this night.

Eddie Lack faced 32 shots, stopping 28 of them, but found himself at the mercy of the Penguins' snipers far too often. Needless to say, the Moose were downed by the Penguins 4-1 on Tuesday to conclude their road trip with a whimper. With the loss, the Moose drop to 28-16-6 on the season.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There are a few big games coming up at MTS Centre this weekend and into next week. Friday and Saturday see the San Antonio Rampage roll into town. The Rampage find themselves in fourth-place in the West Division, come into the weekend on a 5-5 record in their last ten games. Brett MacLean is leading the way in Alamo City with 19 goals and 44 points, so you know the Moose have to be aware of this player.

Saturday night is also Mike Keane Night at MTS Centre! Mike Keane, the former Moose captain and native Winnipegger, will see his jersey raised to the rafters for his contributions to hockey both on and off the ice. Get there early, kids, as this game looks to have a big crowd on-hand for the ceremony!

Tuesday night will see the Toronto Marlies roll through town for two games. The Moose and Marlies know each other quite well, so this game will be a renewing of acquaintances as these two fierce rivals battle for points and playoff spots. Manitoba brings a 27-11-5 record against the Marlies into this game, including a 16-5-1 record at MTS Centre against the baby Leafs.

Again, get to MTS Centre early on Saturday for some great Mike Keane moments as the team honours one of the hard-working, most-liked hockey players in hockey history! It should be a great night of memories, and hopefully the Moose can play as hard as Mike Keane did all weekend long!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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