Thursday 31 March 2011

The Curse Of Backstrom

If you're an Edmonton Oilers fan, you've had a pretty rough season. In fact, the last few years haven't been anything to write home about except for the high draft picks. Some of those have panned out, and the elements of a young, exciting team is starting to form. However, if you're an Oilers fan, you probably cringe in seeing the goaltender pictured to the left. That man is Niklas Backstrom, and he's a goaltender for a divisional rival in the Minnesota Wild. The problem is that he has dominated the Oilers in his career, and it didn't change tonight when the Oilers and Wild met.

Backstrom, in my view, is a very good goaltender. Sure, he has a bad game here and there, but he always seems to find a way to keep the Minnesota Wild in games. If the Wild had some offensive firepower, they could be a dominant team with Backstrom protecting the net. Nevertheless, Backstrom has been a thorn in the sides of the Oilers for some time now.

Backstrom is 14-0 in his career at home against the Oilers. I've not heard of such domination against one team since the NHL expanded in 1967, and it seems there's no letting up for Backstrom against the Oilers. With the two teams meeting six times during the regular season, the streak could be as many as 17-0 by the end of the 2011-12 season if this success continues.

"For me I don't really think about it," Backstrom told The Associated Press. "I think I try to approach every team the same way. It doesn't matter who we play against."

Except it apparently does. Oilers' defenceman Tom Gilbert has his own theory on Backstrom's success.

"He stands on his head a lot when he's playing against us, and that's why he's a great goalie," Gilbert told The Associated Press. "He's tough to beat. We gave ourselves a lot of opportunities and back-door plays, and he covers the net as well as anyone in the league."

Backstrom has a 1.15 GAA and four shutouts against the Oilers over those 14 games, so it seems to be a case of home-cooking combined with a mediocre Oilers club. That being said, beating one team 14 straight times in front of your home fans is a pretty good statistic to flaunt. And it seems even better when you consider that Backstrom is 17-1-2 all-time against the Oilers.

The only loss? It came almost one year ago as the Oilers downed the Wild in Edmonton by a 4-1 score. The major difference in the two Edmonton teams is roster changes: Penner, Potulny, and Moreau are all playing for different teams this year, and the new-look Oilers have been decimated by injuries. So maybe there is an asterisk beside that goaltending record, but Backstrom still has to make the saves. And that's something he's doing in spades against the Oilers.

If it's any consolation, the Oilers have one more date against the Wild this season. The Oilers will host Minnesota on April 8, so there is still a chance to put a dent into that record if the Oilers can beat Backstrom. Of course, if Backstrom is given the night off, the Oilers will have to wait until next season, but there's still pride to play for in this season.

More importantly, both teams have players that are fighting for jobs for next season. And that should be the main motivator for every player when they clash on April 8.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 25

It's nothing but divisional battles as the Moose head down the stretch towards the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Herd had a pair of games against the Abbotsford Heat and a pair of games against the Rochester Americans that could go a long way in determining who makes the playoffs and who does not. These divisional games go a long way in setting the table for the playoffs, so let's take a look at how the Moose handled the Heat and the Americans this past week. Make sure you 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. The Moose look to turn up the heat on the Heat and Americans in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Surviving The Firestorm

The Moose welcomed the Abbotsford Heat to MTS Centre on Friday for Folklorama Night as the Moose celebrated the multicultural background of Manitoba and their own team. The Moose have had the Heat's number all season long as they've built a 6-0-2 record thus far against the Heat. The Moose will need that streak to continue as they work towards capturing the North Division crown. Swedish goaltender Eddie Lack got the start for the Moose, and he matched up against American JP Lamoureux in the Abbotsford net.

In what seems to be a common theme on Antler Banter this season, Eddie Lack deserves a ton of credit for his work in this game. Lack was spectacular at times, making a number of ridiculous saves on the night to give his team a chance at winning this game. Lack stopped an amazing 45 of 47 pucks sent his way on Friday, and also added three stops in the skills competition. Stopping 48 of 50 shots on the night is a pretty impressive night at the office.

I'm starting to really warm up to the line of Rick Rypien, Aaron Volpatti, and Garth Murray. These three men are a coach's dream when you're looking for a spark for your squad. They hit, they score, they fight, they forecheck, they backcheck, and they do it all with a smile on their faces. The three men finished the night with a combined one assist, three shots, seven penalty minutes, a +1 rating, and a shootout goal. Coaches love tenacity and fearlessness on the ice, and these three men embody those traits and more.

It was nice to see Marco Rosa back on the ice for this game after being out with an injury, and he scored a gift goal to get back into the groove. However, the Moose really need to get some scoring from more of their scorers if they want to charge into the playoffs. Lack can't be expected to make 45 saves every night, so the Moose have to make a more concerted effort to give him some added support. That being said, the Moose did just enough to get to the extra time, and they buried the Heat in the shootout for the 3-2 win. With the victory, the Moose improve to 39-27-6 on the season!

Lack Is On Fire

The Moose and Heat had Saturday off to think about their efforts on Friday night before meeting up again at MTS Centre on Sunday afternoon. There was a notable absence in the Moose line-up on Sunday, and we'll discuss that at the conclusion of this game. Eddie Lack, after a stellar performance on Friday, got the nod again on Sunday and the Heat gave JP Lamoureux another shot at beating the Moose.

If there has been one defenceman who has really emerged as the offensive leader while Lee Sweatt has been sidelined with an injury, it has to be Mark Flood. Flood has really settled into the role of being the cannon at the point on the powerplay, and he and Kevin Connauton work very well on the blueline on the man-advantage. Flood pounded home another powerplay goal, his tenth of the season, and he ended the game with four shots and a +1 rating. Flood has developed nicely this season, and I'm hoping he gets a ton of opportunities to continue to bomb away at opposing goaltenders in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Kudos go out to Marco Rosa who has started a new streak! Rosa scored in his return from injury on Friday, and he added his second goal back in as many games on Sunday! Rosa picked up a loose puck in the slot early in the third period after an aggressive Moose forecheck, waited for a shot-blocker to slide out of position, and then went shelf on Lamoureux for his ninth goal of the season. It was another solid game for Rosa at both ends of the ice, and he seems to be finding his groove as the Moose close out the season.

I'm sure head coach Claude Noel will have words with his team after a second game in which they surrendered 40+ shots. Eddie Lack came up with 44 saves in this game on 45 shots, and the Moose gave their netminder just enough scoring to eke out a 2-1 win. Personally, I didn't think the Moose played well enough to earn a win in this one, but they were opportunists as they scored a powerplay goal and Rosa buried a turnover deep in Abbotsford's zone. Big credit to Eddie Lack on this weekend, though, as he was outstanding in two games in making 89 saves on 92 shots. With the 2-1 victory, the Moose hit 40 wins on the season as they improve to 40-27-6!

As for the notable absence, there was no Joel Perrault for the Moose on Sunday. Reportedly, it sounds as though Perrault suffered a knee injury on Friday that could keep him out of the lineup through to the end of the season. I'm hoping that Perrault will be back before that, but I'd rather have him healthy for a long playoff run.

Moose Pepper Americans

If the Moose learned anything from the previous two games against the Heat, it was the importance of shooting the puck. Wayne Gretzky once famously said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take", and it was clear that the Moose had no interest in testing Mr. Gretzky's theory on Tuesday night against the Rochester Americans. Eddie Lack was the man between the pipes for the Moose yet again while Marc Cheverie took to the nets for Rochester.

He's been off the ice for a long, long time due to injury, but it only took 2:42 for Jason Jaffray to score his first goal for the Manitoba Moose! Jaffray provided a big boost for the Moose, and he got a great ovation from the crowd after scoring his first goal for the Herd since June 12, 2009! The Moose sniper, on loan from the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, looked very comfortable out on the ice, and it didn't seem like he was fatigued during any shift. If this is a sign of things to come from Jaffray, the Moose are set with a bonafide sniper on the roster. More importantly, it just feels right to have Jaffray back in antlers.

The Moose got a big game out of Billy Sweatt. Sweatt was responsible for the tying goal, and then showed off some great hand-eye coordination as he batted the puck out of mid-air into the Rochester net with a mere 33 seconds remaining in the game! The big thing about Sweatt's game on this night is that he went to areas on the ice where he can be most dangerous, and that's what the Moose need from their scoring threats. Despite finishing the game as a -1, Sweatt threw seven shots on Cheverie and looked dangerous all night!

The Moose got goals from a couple of players they need to score in a big way, and Lack closed out another one-goal victory as the Moose took this Tuesday night tilt with a 3-2 victory. The Moose threw an amazing 46 shots on Cheverie, but only found the back of the net three times, so there might be some alarm there. We'll get to see if the Moose can improve on that shooting percentage on Wednesday. With the win, the Moose move to 41-27-6 on the campaign!

It's All North From Here

The Moose have nothing but North Division opponents for the rest of the season, so the Moose hold their playoff lives in their hands. The Moose will get two more dates with the Rochester Americans, three games against the always-tough Hamilton Bulldogs, and a single game against the Toronto Marlies that will be broadcast on CBC.

If the Moose hope to capture first-place in the North Division, they'll have to beat both Rochester and Toronto. Winning two of three against Hamilton should close out the season and give Manitoba another banner to hang from the rafters at MTS Centre. However, both Toronto and Hamilton are playing for playoff spots, and Rochester is looking to play the role of spoiler. There will be no easy points as the Moose close out this season.

Bear down, get it done, and just win! DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Sickening Display

There are a number of people who consider Slap Shot as the greatest hockey to ever hit the screen. I would probably be amongst those who think this, and it's hard to fathom that the story was based on real-life events. However, what was seen in the championship game of the AT&T Metroplex High School Hockey League in Texas was nothing short of deplorable. It seems to be a theme on this blog in recent weeks to only highlight the negative, but, in my defence, it also seems like the only thing that I can report on are acts of violence that would make Genghis Khan look like a kind, gentle soul.

While the boys from the Johnstown Chiefs, led by Reggie Dunlop, certainly made names for themselves as rough-and-tumble minor-league players, playing high school hockey is a far different animal than playing in some minor-pro hockey circuit. There were people in the stands and in Johnstown that found the Chiefs' actions on the ice quite offensive, so it's not like the Chiefs were without their detractors.

If we jump forward in time to the state of Texas, we find that Sunday afternoon's state championship game between Keller High School and Arlington Martin High School was beyond the scope of Slap Shot's slapstick antics.

I want to warn everyone before we take a look at this video: the images seen are disturbing and horrifying. I cannot begin to tell you how this video left me in disbelief, but it is unnerving. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The first angle doesn't seem so bad...

... until you see that angle.

From the reports that I've read today, it appeared that Keller High School, in the white uniforms, were up 9-3 on Arlington Martin High School. An elbow thrown by an Arlington Martin player that he was going to be penalized for developed into the fracas along the boards where, from the second video, an Arlington Martin player named Jeff SoRelle came out of the penalty box and hit a Keller player from behind with a rather vicious hit.

And then things went from bad to worse. A Keller player came flying in and nearly decapitated SoRelle with an elbow/shoulder that laid out SoRelle on the ice. The hit from behind that SoRelle threw was horrific, but the hit that SoRelle took was meant to injure him. There is no place - NO PLACE - in hockey for something like that for any reason whatsoever.

I can't even begin to tell you how angry and sickened I am from watching these videos. There had better be some swift and brutal action taken by the Texas Amateur Hockey Association towards these players, these teams, and anyone else who thinks that actions like those seen in the video are acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

I demanded a lifetime ban for Jesse Enns a few weeks ago. I may have been too swift and brutal in my justice for him, but these players should suffer the same fate as my decision towards Enns. There is no place in hockey for crap like this, and it's time that someone becomes an example of how one's actions can affect one's future. Case closed.

For me, it's just disappointing to have such a great story about Texas yesterday in comparison with the garbage seen here today.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 28 March 2011

TBC: The Lone Star Skate

It's been a long while since we've seen Teebz's Book Club in these parts, but we're back with a new book that I've managed to read through between having my nose stuck in many textbooks. As you may recall, I spent some time in Texas in this September past, and I profiled a number of cities as I passed through them as my travels took me through them. While it was very interesting to read the hockey stories from Houston (Part One and Part Two) and San Antonio as well as a story about two elite defencemen from Texas, I really didn't profile a lot of the people who have made hockey a popular sport in Texas. Thankfully, this has now been remedied through my reading of Lone Star Skate, written by Glenn Hart and Rusty Burson, and published by Bridgeway Books. In this excellent book, some of the most influential men in Texas hockey history have had their stories told, and there are some amazing details that hockey fans may not know about these men and their experiences!

From the authors' biographies on the website,

"Glenn Hart owns the CHL's Laredo Bucks and was the 2006 recipient of the league's Rick Kozuback Award. In 1995, Hart purchased an IHL franchise for Houston, winning the championship in the franchise's fourth season. In 1999, Hart's hockey passion took him to Laredo, where he worked with city leaders to develop the Laredo Entertainment Center, home of the Bucks. Hart is the president and cofounder of Laredo Engery, and is a graduate of Texas A&M University."

"Rusty Burson, a graduate of Sam Houston State, began his career as a newspaper reporter in Galveston. He later became and editor for numerous publications in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Burson is currently the associate editor of 12th Man Magazine and vice president of the 12th Man Foundation. Burson has written and published seven books."
After a fabulous forewrod written by former NHL player and general manager Bob Gainey, the book breaks into examining the men who put hockey on the map in Texas. There are ten people and/or families that are examined between the covers of this book, and Lone Star Skate does an excellent job of highlighting how each of these stories have become synonymous with hockey in Texas.

The first story to be told should be one that is fairly well-known by most hockey fans. The WHA's Houston Aeros were the first big professional hockey team to move into Texas, and they became larger than life when they signed the Howes: Gordie, Mark, and Marty. There are some excellent stories of the three men's hockey endeavours as they each grew up, and the authors include some information on Colleen Howe, the architect behind getting the three Howes on the same sheet of ice. There is a lot of information on the Howe family in these pages, but it sounds like Houston will always have a special place in their hearts as much as the Howes had a special place in Texas' heart.

While the next man's name will probably get you punched out in a sports bar in Minneapolis-St. Paul, there is a great story about how the Minnesota North Stars almost became the Anaheim Stars in the section that features Norm Green. Again, Norm Green is a hated man in Minnesota for his decision to move the North Stars south, but he had a lasting legacy on the game that included ownership of the Calgary Flames and the growth of youth hockey in Dallas. You have to read the story of how the Minnesota North Stars almost became the Anaheim Stars, though. That's a story that probably hasn't been told many times.

More great players are featured as the authors profile Terry Ruskowski, and Mike Modano, Brett Hull in three separate sections. There are sections on executives like Jim Lites, Rick Kozuback, John Torchetti, and Glenn Hart. And there is a second Texas-based family that is profiled as the Dineens make an appearance. The fact that both Gord and Kevin Dineen made the NHL as players and father Bill Dineen coached in the NHL says a lot about this family, but their impact - along with the other men listed above - is unparalleled when it comes to hockey in Texas.

What makes this book so great is that there are a ton of anecdotes from each of the men profiled that you may not have heard or know about without reading this book. For example, we all know that Rangers fans chant "Potvin sucks" whenever the Rangers and Islanders play, but does anyone know why this happens? Or how it got started? If you're interested, the answer is further down.

What Mr. Hart and Mr. Burson do so well in this book is give the full story on each man in regards to how they made their respective impacts in the Lone Star State. Each individual has had a significant impact on the sport of hockey in Texas, and the authors have focused on how hockey in Texas has been shaped by each individual. The Howes made hockey popular in Houston; Norm Green and Jim Lites brought the NHL to Dallas and a Stanley Cup parade to Texas; Hart has made the IHL's Houston Aeros and CHL's Laredo Bucks major successes on the ice. Each man's story is different from every other man's story, but they all have contributed to the success of ice hockey in Texas.

Lone Star Skate is a phenomenal look at the most important men in Texas' hockey history. Through the 180 pages, Mr. Hart and Mr. Benson have outlined why each of the men and families were vital to the success of hockey in Dallas yesterday, and what that success has turned into today. In updating each of the subject's stories to current times, it's very interesting to see where people like Terry Ruskowski have landed after a storied hockey career. It is clear that Lone Star Skate is a fantastic book in its writing and research, and it clearly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

If you're interested in picking up a copy of Lone Star Skate, the book can be purchased through the website for $10 cheaper than the posted price! What a great deal for a book that should be on every hockey lover's bookshelf!

As for the "Potvin sucks" chant, it was started in 1979 when the Rangers' Ulf Nilsson broke his ankle while being checked by Islanders' legend Denis Potvin. With the Islanders just beginning their dynasty, there was some serious animosity between fans of the Rangers and the upstart New York Islanders. After Nilsson broke his ankle, Rangers fans would rain the "Potvin sucks" chant down on the Islanders' captain in order to try to get the blueliner off his game. And that's how that tradition came to be!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 27 March 2011

Watching Playoff Hopes Die

This was a sight I was hoping to see a lot of during the upcoming NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. I had hopes of picking Anze Kopitar later in the playoff pool draft as a "sleeper" pick, but my draft board will now need a new "sleeper" as Kopitar won't be participating in this year's postseason. And while my personal playoff draft picks won't matter much in the grand scheme of things, I have to feel for the Los Angeles Kings who, barring some miracle, might have the fight of their lives just to make it out of the opening round of this year's dance. Losing Kopitar is one of the biggest downers for the Kings in recent memory, especially heading into the postseason.

If you haven't seen the video and are a little weak in the stomach when it comes to seeing slightly gruesome stuff, I suggest not playing the video. If you think you can handle it, here's Kopitar's season-ending injury from yesterday's game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Now, that doesn't look all that bad (for those of you who didn't wince), but I can assure you that when your skate gets caught in the ice like Kopitar's did, the ice doesn't give way nearly as quickly as the human body does.

In Kopitar's case, he'll be out with what is being called a "broken ankle". I have no doubt that it is broken, but the severity may warrant some surgery for Kopitar as well. If surgery is required, he's looking at being off skates all summer long most likely.

I really thought that Los Angeles could have been a darkhorse through the playoffs this year. If Jonathan Quick got hot and the Kings found some scoring from multiple lines, they may have knocked off a few of the powerhouses in the West. After all, anything can happen in the playoffs. In saying that, they still could shock the world and roll through the Western Conference.

However, losing Kopitar removes one of the brightest young stars from the game and the Kings' roster. The chances of pulling off an upset without him just got a whole lot harder, especially when potentially being matched up against Phoenix, Detroit, San Jose, or even Vancouver.

I wish Anze Kopitar all the best in his recovery, and hope that his ankle heals stronger than before. It's just a shame that we won't get to see his heroics in the playoffs this year.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 26 March 2011

What Is "Doughnut" In French?

62 years is a long time when viewing a team's history, and there are only a few teams in the NHL that can boast that many years of service as an NHL team. Of course, when you're looking at more than fifty years of service for any franchise, there's bound to be some history made along the way. As you may be aware, not all history that is made is of the celebrated variety, so when bad things happen, your franchise has to persevere. The 1949-50 Montreal Canadiens have now been equaled by the 2010-11 Montreal Canadiens in one uncelebrated piece of history. And it has nothing to do with your local Tim Hortons restaurant, although the Canadiens have been served with items in three straight games for which Tim Hortons is famous.

In October of 1949, the Montreal Canadiens played three games spanning from October 23 to October 29. Those three games were at Boston and at home against Toronto and Detroit. Montreal's record in those three games was 0-2-1 with the tie coming against Boston on October 23. The key to these three games is that Montreal scored no goals over these three games with shutouts going to Boston's Jack Gelineau, Toronto's Turk Broda, and Detroit's Harry Lumley.

Roll the calendar forward to 2011, and the Montreal Canadiens are currently undergoing the same scoring drought that affected the team 62 years prior. From March 22 until this evening, the Canadiens have yet to dent the twine in three straight games. This time, their opponents included the Buffalo Sabres, the Washington Capitals, and the New York Rangers. Buffalo's Ryan Miller, Boston's Tim Thomas, and Washington's Braden Holtby padded their shutout statistics with the wins this time, but it left a lot of people asking what was happening with the Canadiens.

It's not like Montreal is suffering through a lack of shots on net like we saw with Edmonton on Thursday. No, Montreal fired 31 shots at Miller, 24 shots at Thomas, and 18 shots at Holtby in those three shutout losses. As the losses pile up, Montreal's concern over a playoff spot has to be growing with each game that they are blanked.

However, we need to put things in perspective. Sure, Montreal has been shut out three times over their last three games. Sure, they currently sit tied with the New York Rangers for sixth-place in the Eastern Conference. There's enough to worry about if you think that they're done scoring for the season, but I'm pretty sure that the Canadiens will break the goose egg before they fill out an egg carton. All teams go through stretches where pucks seem like they are avoiding the net altogether, and the Canadiens are no different in that they've reached a low point for scoring at this point in the season.

For all the chatter about the shutout streak, it's just a bit of tough luck for the Canadiens right now. It's not like they are the 1928-29 Chicago Blackhawks who were shut out 20 times in one season in posting a record of 7-29-8. Their record was 0-18-2 in those games, so it wasn't a very good season for the boys from the Windy City as they finished dead-last in the NHL.

The Canadiens will host Atlanta on Tuesday, so there's a good chance that the shutout streak will come to an end as the Habs battle a non-playoff team. There's still a reason to play the game, though, and anything can happen. If I'm a betting man, I'd say the streak comes to an end on Tuesday evening.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 25 March 2011

Theo Fleury Affects Your Pool

I happened to be tipped off to this story as I was sitting quietly at school doing homework. I don't normally scan the Internet for radio stations to listen to when I'm learning, but this piece of information was just too much for me to ignore. Like the image to the left, Theoren Fleury is looking to trip someone up by prognosticating on the radio through The Fan 960 in Calgary. Normally, you don't get players - current or former - making predictions about any team's chances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the predictions could come back to bite them in the rear, but Theo Fleury is reviving the Calgary-Vancouver rivalry with his radio interview today.

I thought about pilfering the audio on their website, but then I found that The Fan 960 actually has a copy of the interview posted to their site. My advice? Click on that link and listen to the range of topics that Fleury and the hosts discuss. Topics include Milli Vanilli, Rick Astley, cursing on-air during hockey broadcasts, and Fleury revealing that he thinks that the Vancouver Canucks will not advance past the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let me repeat that: Theoren Fleury thinks that the Vancouver Canucks will lose to the eighth-seed of the Western Conference in the opening round of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Now, Fleury gives some very good reasons as to why the Canucks may lose in the first round. After all, there haven't been very many President's Trophy winners that have captured the most important trophy in hockey, so he has a point.

But the fact that he calls Roberto Luongo's reputation into question is one of those things that a lot of hockey fans may agree with when looking at Luongo's body of work. Outside of the semi-final of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, has Luongo ever put a team on his shoulders during a high-pressure, big game and come out on the winning side of the ledger?

You can point to the 2010 Winter Olympics as the sign that Luongo has arrived, but there are a lot of people who think that Canada won the gold medal in spite of Luongo. Luongo has twice faltered against the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs, and the Blackhawks seem to have the Canucks' number this season as well. If the Blackhawks manage to secure the eighth seed in the Western Conference, do you think that there won't be some doubt lingering in the minds of Vancouver fans?

Where the Canucks may have an advantage this season is that Cory Schneider has been lights-out when he has taken over in relief for Luongo. Luongo hasn't had to play as many games as he has in the past, so he may be fresher and better once the "second season" starts. And if he does have a bad game, Schneider is definitely a better alternative than what Vancouver has had in the past.

I think Fleury made for some excellent Calgary radio, but I'm betting that a lot of people will stick with the Canucks as the postseason begins. The Canucks have grit, toughness, skill, scoring, and one of the best goaltending tandems in the league. I'm not saying that upsets won't happen, but Fleury's comments seem to be very good radio fodder for a Calgary radio station.

I'm quite sure that had he said what he did on Vancouver radio that Fleury would be a marked man by many Canucks fans. But you have to admit that it was a pretty entertaining interview from Fleury. And who doesn't like the pot being stirred a little?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Oilers Singing The Blues

I'm not sure how Tom Renney feels after tonight's game, but I'm pretty sure that I would be livid if my team came out and absolutely rolled over against another team that is nowhere close to making the playoffs. It's one thing to get soundly trounced by a division- or conference-leading team when you're at the bottom of the NHL standings, but the Oilers seemingly mailed it in long before they took the ice against the Blues in St. Louis tonight. The stunning lack of offence from the Oilers doesn't really have an explanation, but I'm going to say that Renney will be demanding a lot more from his team in their next game.

To give you an idea of how bad this game was for Edmonton, consider these facts:

  • Edmonton tied a season-low with 12 shots in the game.
  • Edmonton was shut out by St. Louis and Jaroslav Halak.
  • Edmonton didn't record a shot in 28:34 between the second and third periods.
  • Edmonton didn't register a shot in the third period until only 1:08 remained.
  • The game was a scoreless draw until 18:28 of the second period.
The Oilers weren't a very talkative group after this performance, but a few players offered thoughts.

"It's frustrating, obviously," Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said to The Associated Press. "We've got some guys out that help us with offence but collectively as a group, we should be able to put the puck in the net. I think it comes down to getting the puck to the net first off and getting second opportunities."

Not to be entirely sarcastic, but getting shots and rebounds probably will result in a few goals, Mr. Eberle. The issue isn't rebounds. It was the twelve shots that your team fired at Halak over sixty minutes!

I'll cut the Oilers some slack as they are missing a lot of firepower right now, but not a lot of slack. Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, and Ryan Whitney are all sitting out with injuries, but there should be more than enough players who can put the puck on net. Whether it goes in or not is a different question, but finding shots on net should not be a problem for a professional hockey team.

"It seems like we threw a lot of pucks at their net, I don't know what the end totals for shots blocked, but it seemed like they were in the way of everything," Ryan Jones told Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun. "Nothing was getting on net... but 12 shots is a little bit inexcusable. We have to find a way to get rubber and guys to the net."

I'd say Mr. Jones is bang-on in his assessment: find a way to get pucks to the net. It seems like such a simple concept, but some teams really do pull out all the stops in preventing their opposition from firing pucks at the goaltender. The Blues, barely hanging onto a .500 record, are not one of those teams normally, meaning the Oilers have to be better.

While the Oilers appear to be the consensus pick for the first overall selection in this year's NHL Entry Draft, there are still games to be played. Pride should come into play for the Oilers. And hopefully it will be sooner than later so we don't see any additional games like we saw tonight.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 24

It was a very quiet week for Antler Banter as there were only two games to report on thanks to my seeing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins live on Wednesday last week. This week sees the Texas Stars roll through town as the Moose continue to play through the busiest month of their season. The Moose were hunting down the Lake Erie Monsters in the North Division while trying to fend off the Hamilton Bulldogs, Toronto Marlies, and Grand Rapids Griffins. Don't forget to 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. The Moose try to rise above the Stars in this week's edition of Hardcore Hockey!

Marching All Over Texas

The Moose honoured the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces on Friday night with their annual Military Tribute Game. The Herd took to the ice in some very stylish camouflage uniforms to help honour the bravest men and women on the planet, and then took the battle to the visiting Texas Stars. Veteran Tyler Weiman got the start for the Moose on this night while Texas would need both of their masked men in this one. Tyler Beskorowany started, but Richard Bachman was called upon to finish the game.

For the first time in a very, very long time, the Moose got contributions from both sides of the special teams coin. The powerplay, which had been taking a beating from me in recent weeks, notched Manitoba's first goal of the game when Cody Hodgson potted his 16th goal. Later in the first period, Guillaume Desbiens found himself in alone on Beskorowany, and he made no mistake in firing the biscuit home. Desbiens' 11th goal of the season came shorthanded, and was Manitoba's ninth goal this season while playing with a man down. Even though the Moose surrendered a powerplay goal late to the Stars, the special teams made a huge difference in this game as the powerplay went 1-for-3 and the penalty killers knocked off 3-of-4 powerplay situations.

The most dangerous skater for the Moose was Sergei Shirokov on this night, and he made good on one of his shots. Shirokov's goal of the season at 13:05 of the season was his 20th marker on this campaign, but, more importantly, it stood up as the game-winning goal! Congratulations on Shirokov for hitting the 20-goal mark! Shirokov finished the night with one goal, two penalty minutes a +1 rating, and an incredible seven shots on net! It was a very productive night at the office for Sergei Shirokov.

As stated above, Shirkov's goal stood as the winner in this game as the Moose jumped out to leads of 3-1 and 4-2 before eventually take the game by a 4-3 score. Tyler Weiman was very good in the blue paint, and the Moose turned in a very solid effort in this one. With the victory, the Moose improve to 38-26-6 on the season!

Shooting Stars Too Much For Moose

The Sunday afternoon affair between these two teams looked to be a good one as the Moose tried to extend their winning streak while the Stars needed the split to keep pace in the West Division. Batman was on-hand for the kids, and it appeared that the Moose could have used the Dark Knight's help on this afternoon. Eddie Lack got the call for the Moose while the Stars went with Richard Bachman in the hopes of salvaging the split.

Cody Hodgson and Bill Sweatt came out of this game relatively unscathed. Both men fired five shots apiece on Bachman, accounting for nearly one-third of Manitoba's total offence. They both picked up an assist on Joel Perrault's goal in the third period, ending the night each with one helper, an even rating, and five shots. In a relatively sloppy and uninspired game by the Herd as a team, these two men played well enough not to hurt the squad.

On the flip side of the coin, the pairing of Nolan Baumgartner and Mark Flood is normally a very reliable tandem on the ice, but they were victimized twice as a pairing in the game by the Stars, and once while both men played with a different defensive partner. While both men were on the ice for Joel Perrault's goal, the fact that they saw four of the five goals go past Eddie Lack doesn't bode well for these two "stoppers". Despite being off for this game, these two men need to be better.

If there was one word to describe the Sunday afternoon game from the Moose's perspective, it would be "ugly". The Moose seemed to sleepwalk through most of the game, and it was the former Moose players who now toil for the Stars that had a big afternoon. Greg Rallo had three goals for the Stars, Maxime Fortunas had a pair of helpers, and Ray Sawada had an assist in helping the Stars down the Moose by a 5-1 count. With the loss, the Moose fall to 38-27-6 on the campaign.

Divisional Foes Up Next

The Moose tackle two divisional foes that are fighting for their playoff lives. The Abbotsford Heat are up first this weekend as they invade MTS Centre for a pair of games. Abbotsford needs points, and has to start winning if they want to a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. They currently sit on the outside looking in, so wins over the Moose - especially since they are divisional games - are of vital importance.

The Moose can put the Heat into dire straits with a pair of wins this weekend. It would be really nice to see the Herd end the hopes of a rival team with a couple of wins, so there's some importance here. Not to mention that the points will help the Moose track down the Lake Erie Monsters who sit above them in the standings.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Moose will host the Rochester Americans. Rochester is all but done, although they still mathematically could make the dance. Rochester will need A LOT of help along the way, but it starts with wins against the Moose, so they'll have something to play for in these two games. Especially if they've accepted their fate as "spoiler".

The Moose, however, definitely need the points. Lake Erie has games against Rochester, Toronto, and the Rockford IceHogs by Wednesday, so the Moose could be anywhere from tied with to eight points behind the Monsters by then. Beating up on the weaker teams ensures that the Moose keep pace with the team that's just slightly ahead of them.

Divisional games mean four-point swings. There's only one thing to do: DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Closet Fodder

We're a week away from beginning the month of April, and there's already chatter of new uniforms for another team in the NHL next season. We've already seen the new Tampa Bay Lightning threads that will take to the ice next season, so let's just make these uniform announcements a monthly thing. Anyway, as you can see from the logo to the left, the Los Angeles Kings are getting in on the act when it comes to new uniforms, and you don't have to worry about these jerseys making a comeback. Instead, the Kings have decided to update their look by changing things around. That's probably good for fans of the Los Angeles Kings because they won't have to restock their wardrobes with the latest and greatest from the Kings. Regardless, let's check out these changes.

According to Rich Hammond of the LA Kings Insider, the changes won't involve a new design, but we will see some significant changes. From my experience, Mr. Hammond is a very reputable reporter when it comes to the Kings, so I see no reason to question his findings.

Hammond reports that the current home uniform will now shift to the alternate role. Immediately, I was disappointed in that the Kings went with a black alternate, but it is their current home threads, so I guess I'm ok with this shift only because they didn't design a brand-new black alternate jersey. Had they done that, I might have had a minor aneurysm.

With the loss of the home uniform, there would need to some sort of match made with the current road uniform, right? Wrong. The white uniform is now being mothballed until a future date. Honestly, I much prefer the white road uniform to the black uniform, but it would present the same problem that the Dallas Stars have in that they could only wear it on the road or for games at home against divisional opponents. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but the Kings should have kept this one as their alternate.

With the alternate being bumped out by the home jersey, the Kings decided to swap the two uniforms. The Kings will go back to black-and-grey/silver at home for the 2011-12 season. While this colour scheme worked in the past for the Kings in a very good way, trying to bring back that sentiment with "updated" uniforms just seems like the Kings are grasping at memories. Why not just go back to neon yellow as uniforms? I get that John Q. Ticket-buyers in Los Angeles with the disposable income are now largely those fans who grew up through the glory of the 1990s, but I don't need anyone's hands in my pocket for my merchandise dollars. And that's what this move feels like to me.

The road uniforms will now be an opposite contrast of the former alternate jerseys as the Kings match their "new" home uniforms with a white version on the road. Not much to be excited about here as the Kings continue to scratch away at the old glory days when a Stanley Cup was a possibility.

So what of those incredible retro uniforms that the Kings played in a few times this season of which I was a huge fan? Mothballed as well. These great uniforms will find their way into Staples Center's attic as the Kings do away them for another season. Or longer. Why does it seem like Los Angeles is afraid of colour on their uniforms? It's not like Rogie Vachon looked terrible. I love this look!

Why have we not seen these beauties that Derek Forbort wore at the NHL Entry Draft last year? Why couldn't the purple jerseys be worn at home, the current white road jerseys been worn on the road, and the yellow jerseys be worn as the alternates? Anyone? Someone? Ugh.

All I know is that the Kings have many options throughout their history to pick a great combination of colour and style, and they've opted to go with two black uniforms and a white-and-black uniform. The gang colours are not cool, and the Los Angeles Kings have no relationship with the Oakland Raiders. Leave the black alternate as the alternate, and bring back some colour!

Your thoughts, readers? Are you a fan of the Kings' new uniform set for the 2011-12 season?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 21 March 2011

Cooke-d His Own Goose

I'm sure you've seen this on countless highlight reels by today, but Matt Cooke threw an absolutely heinous elbow on New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh ysterday afternoon. If you have seen the highlights, you know that Cooke's "what did I do" routine, pictured to the left, isn't going to fly this time, especially after the comments made by both Mario Lemieux and Ray Shero. I'm not sure what the NHL has planned for Cooke, but there needs to be a line drawn. And I'm pretty sure that Cooke will feel the heat for his latest ill-advised play on the ice.

If you haven't seen the video yet, here it is.

Vicious. Dirty. Cheap. Disgusting. Barbaric. Harsh. Atrocious. All of these words are suitable adjectives in describing Cooke's blatant elbow to Ryan McDonagh's head. Thankfully, McDonagh wasn't seriously injured on this play, but the risk of injury was certainly there and Cooke could have scrambled McDonagh's brain.

Really, there's only one thing to say about this ordeal: book him, Campbell.

If Colin Campbell doesn't give him more than the remainder of the season, he's a coward. If the Penguins don't match the NHL's level of punishment, neither Mario Lemieux nor Ray Shero should be taking a hard-line stance on head shots. If these three men don't throw the book at Cooke for this incident, then there is something seriously wrong with the NHL.

It's not about the result of the crime. It's all about the crime. Punish Matt Cooke accordingly. And show some backbone this time.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 20 March 2011

Not Hockey, But Sort Of

I test drove an iPad today for a little fun, and I have to say that these things are pretty impressive. I spent some time looking up hockey stuff, so there was some HBIC-related content that I checked out, and this mini-post is being written on it.

If I wasn't a poor college student, I may be forced to pick one of these up. I'm not selling Apple products or iPads in general, but these tablets are pretty cool. And they are far more portable than a laptop in terms of "on-the-go" computing.

I know that the Apple iPad2, RIM PlayBook, Samsung Galaxy, and Motorola Xoom are competing for the market in tablet sales right now, so there will have to be some homework done on my part if I ever have the means to purchase one of these devices. But from my perspective, these things would be awesome at a live hockey event for blogging and keeping up with sports scores.

Does anyone have one of these five tablets? How do you like them? Pros? Cons? I've read the reports online about them, but I want an actual user's perspective without all the industry jargon. In other words, I want real feedback. What say you, readers: have you ever used one of these in real-time at a sporting event? How did it work for you?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Nail In The Coffin?

With their loss to the Washington Capitals tonight, it might be a case of "too little, too late" for the New Jersey Devils on this season. I'm not taking anything away from what the Devils have done over the second half of this season in making an inspired run towards the playoffs that seemed impossible at the start of December. With injuries and a horrendous start to the season hanging around the Devils' necks like a noose, they found a way to make everyone a little nervous when "NJD" showed up on the calendar. I have to think that two men were highly responsible for this turn-around, although the total team game played by the Devils over the last three months has been a remarkable 180-degree change from how they were playing earlier this season.

The first man that had an immediate and clear impact on the team was Jacques Lemaire. Lemaire took over for head coach John MacLean on December 23, 2010 after MacLean had led the team to a dreadful 9-22-2 start. There was no joy in Mudville as Ilya Kovalchuk had begun to show some disdain for the way things were going by not showing up to team meetings or arriving late.

Enter Lemaire who immediately went to work in building the Devils up from the blueline out. With Martin Brodeur needing a little time off to have some war wounds heal, Lemaire began to give Johan Hedberg a little more support by having the defencemen recommit to the defensive zone.

No longer were the Devils concerned with that long, risky breakout pass that could change a game. Instead, the wingers were being asked to play a little deeper to help out the defencemen - something the Devils hadn't seen this season. Lemaire asked the wingers to jump back into the play and accept passes near the center ice area, allowing the shorter passes to be much more successful. Suddenly, the added movement and passes caused openings in their opposition's defensive schemes. This gave the Devils a chance to create some odd-man rushes as well as allowing some of the stars, such as Kovalchuk, the room to create with their immense skill.

Coaching, as it seems, played a very large part in the Devils' successes in the second half of the season. But that's not the whole story because the most famous Devils goaltender of all-time missed a significant chunk of time due to injury. As you may be aware, if you're a backup goaltender for the Devils, you normally have the best seat in the house to watch the game.

Enter Johan Hedberg. Hedberg has had varying success throughout his NHL career after getting his big break with the Pittsburgh Penguins after tearing through the IHL with the Manitoba Moose. Since then, "Moose" has played with the Canucks, Stars, Thrashers, and Devils, occasionally serving as a starter, but finding himself on the bench most often. Where Hedberg shines, though, is his ability to play at a high standard without getting a lot of starts.

The only season in which Hedberg has posted a sub-.500 record was 2007-08 with the Thrashers when he was 14-15-3. That's right: one game under .500. Every season since he got his break with the Penguins, he has posted a winning record. That's a pretty big achievement, especially when you consider that he's been a backup for most of his career and when you consider he spent parts of four seasons with the Thrashers.

Hedberg has gotten help from Lemaire's defence-first system and the commitment to the system that the Devils have shown in buying in to this defence-first mindset. But there's no question that he still has to make the saves, and he has done that. In 31 games this season with the Devils, Hedberg has a 2.34 GAA and three shutouts - pretty good totals for a "backup" goaltender on any NHL team.

Unfortunately for Devils fans, tonight's loss to Washington really turns the heat up on the Devils as they fall further from the playoffs with every game that passes with a loss. For all that Lemaire and Hedberg have done to turn this team's fortunes around, it appears they can't erase the deficit they built in the first few months of the season.

I've heard people say "it's not how start, but how you finish", but, in the Devils' case, it is certainly all about how they started this season. And it appears it has everything to do with how they'll finish - on the outside, looking in.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 18 March 2011

Rushing Back Is Bad News

There was some amazing news out of Montreal today as it was reported that Max Pacioretty might be able to return for the playoffs. I call this news "amazing" because I am bewildered that Pacioretty is even considering a return to the NHL this season after the devastating hit he took from Zdeno Chara and the subsequent injuries that were diagnosed as a result of that hit. The fact that there are doctors and personnel from the Canadiens that feel that Pacioretty can return after suffering a severe concussion and a non-displaced fracture of the fourth cervical vertebra in his neck is very encouraging for his career, but he may want to work himself back into the line-up a little slower than what they are saying.

I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on TV, but I do know what a "non-displaced fracture" is, and it's fairly safe when talking about a wrist or arm. Essentially, the bones are cracked, but the pieces remain aligned with the rest of the bone. When it comes to the spinal column, I'm pretty sure that should be taken a little more seriously.

I get that Pacioretty is an important cog in Montreal's line-up. The 22 year-old has been a solid contributor this season, and looks to be a regular in Montreal's game plan for the foreseeable future. What I find strange is that for how important he is to the Canadiens as a player, no one seems to be talking him out of coming back too early.

"It's encouraging because at one time there was a question of whether he could come back and play, so this is good news," head coach Jacques Martin stated. "And it's encouraging to see that he will be able to start his training in a short time and should be able to play in the playoffs."


Look, I want the kid to continue to play. He's an exciting player who has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career, but we're talking about his health and welfare here. If anything, the severe concussion and fractured vertebra should promote talk about increased prudence in allowing Pacioretty to return to the ice. Protecting Pacioretty from further injury - especially in the playoffs where everyone finishes their checks - should be something that the Canadiens are encouraging, not ignoring.

If we've seen an increase in recovery times for major injuries, we have seen it best exemplified this season in the treatment of Sidney Crosby. Crosby has been sidelined with a concussion since January 6, and the Penguins have been anything but rushed to have the game's best player return. In fact, it appears that the Penguins have almost encouraged Crosby to rest in order to get his head right instead of rushing him back into the line-up. While there's no doubt that Crosby is a box office draw for opposing teams, the fact that the Penguins are allowing Crosby to heal will be better for the player and the game in the long run.

In the case of Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens may be putting the youngster at risk by having him return so quickly from his injuries. Concussions don't always show the same tell-tale symptoms, making them hard to diagnose at first. In this Globe & Mail article, written by Sean Gordon and Anne McIlroy, the concern about Crosby was that he didn't show symptoms initially.

The short answer is that he displayed none of the classic symptoms of concussion, which would have caused officials to pull him from the game. If trainers or doctors see one or more of those symptoms, they'll typically withdraw the player and ask him questions to determine whether he’s okay.

Mr. Crosby had a sore neck, but experts say that alone is not usually a sign of a concussion. Concussions are not visible injuries and athletes are notoriously loath to admit to weakness or be pulled out of games.

The danger is that when the NHL’s most famous player was hit a few days later, making his return to the game uncertain, his risk of more damage would have been increased if he had already suffered a concussion on Jan. 1, according to neuroscientists.
And therein lies the risk.

While it is certainly encouraging to hear that Pacioretty is able to return a few short weeks after suffering a horrific injury, there still needs to be some common sense used by all parties to ensure that he is ready to return to the game physically as he is mentally. While the mind may tell him that he's ready, the physical injuries may not yet have fully healed. This is where Pacioretty runs the risk of being injured again. And this time, it could be worse than his original injury.

This temptation to return to the ice as soon as possible has to end, especially after a major injury is suffered. Gambling with a person's health and well-being can only last for so long before the house wins. And in this case, when the house wins, everyone loses.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Canada Announces Brass

Hockey Canada made an nouncement today as the governing body for all things Canadian hockey showed off their picks for the management team for this year's World Hockey Championships taking place from April 29 to May 15 in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia. Picture to the left are two of the three men that Hockey Canada has selected to oversee their entry in the World Championships. Dave Nonis of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks, and former player Rob Blake of the NHL's hockey operations department will piece together the squad from those NHL teams who will have early tee times.

Normally, there is no need for me to report on the management team named for a major tournament because they rarely have any impact on how the games are played and the outcomes in those games. This case is a little different, though, so I want to discuss a little about the selection of these three men.

Dave Nonis is well-versed in the teachings of Brian Burke, the man who put together the US Olympic team that won the Olympic silver medal last year. Nonis has been the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, and has served in executive roles with both the Anaheim Ducks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In each of these cases, Nonis has found himself with a team that needs some toughness and grit, and has gone about adding grit to the already-present skill on his squad.

Bob Murray is the GM of the Anaheim Ducks, and played for 15 seasons as a defenceman with the Chicago Blackhawks. Murray was a rugged, hard-nosed defenceman who always brought his lunch pail to the rink. As a GM, Murray has continuously replenished the Ducks with solid talent that can play a physical game. Murray hasn't shied away from having his team play a physical game in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and all of his players can take on a physical role if needed.

Rob Blake is no stranger to the international game of hockey, and has certainly served his country well in the past. He donned the red-and-white of Canada a total of nine times over his illustrious career, including the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics where Canada won the gold medal. Blake always played the game with a physical edge, using his large frame to routinely separate players from the puck, and had a cannon from the point.

There will be some very good players at Canada's disposal for this year's World Championships, so it will be interesting to see who agrees to wear the maple leaf for Canada. Some of the more talented players include Rick Nash, John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, and Jason Spezza, but there are also a number of players who can fill the physical role that the three men on the management team seem to endorse. These players include Adam Foote, Chris Phillips, Barret Jackman, and Evander Kane.

Canada should have a good blend of young and veteran players, as well as having equal parts talent and grit. In fact, I'm pretty sure Canada will have a lot of grit at this tournament if the management team follows its NHL blueprints. While Nonis, Murray, and Blake have a ton of experience at the NHL level, there remains to be seen of these three can translate that success into international success.

Hockey Canada is hoping they'll have no problem at all!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 23

Antler Banter is back with five games to review this week as the Moose finished up their road trip and returned home to play the AHL's best. The Moose had a pair of games against the Houston Aeros and a single game against the San Antonio Rampage as they closed out their West Division swing before returning to the comfy confines of MTS Centre where they would play the AHL-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Undoubtedly, this was a week of tests, so let's get to the action. Before we do, stop by 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. The Moose tear through Texas and try to sink the Penguins in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Flying High Against The Aeros

Closing out the road trip witha few wins would be key for the Moose to maintain their lofty position atop the AHL North Division. Standing in their way was the Houston Aeros, a team that the Moose have a long history with back to their IHL days. The Moose held a 2-0 record against the Aeros after two wins against the Houston squad way back in December, so there was hope that the Moose could continue their winning ways against the Aeros. Manitoba called upon Eddie Lack to defend their net while Houston sent Matt Hackett to face the Herd.

This one was a low-scoring affair, but I want to point out that the Moose are notorious for starting fairly slow in games. This game was entirely different as the Moose hit the ground running as they fired 18 shots on Matt Hackett in the first frame. The best part of those 18 shots? Mario Bliznak's tenth goal of the season at 14:46 of the first period. If the Moose can put up half of their shot total in the first period every game, they'll put a lot of teams in big holes before the first intermission.

Eddie Lack was outstanding again in this game, and is really making a name for himself in the AHL. A powerplay goal midway through the third period ended his shutout bid, but the Moose netminder stopped 32 of 33 shots that he faced over 65 minutes. He then stopped three of four shots in the shootout. If Lack is alright with playing behind Luongo and Schneider in the pecking order, Manitoba will have a bright goaltending future for a long, long time.

It took the breakaway contest to decide this one, but Jordan Schroeder and Joel Perrault gave the Moose a 2-1 win in the skills competition and a 2-1 victory in the game. Again, Lack was outstanding in the victory, and it really speaks volumes as to how good this young man is at his job. With the victory, the Moose improve to 36-23-6 on the season!

Stampeding The Rampage

The Moose and Rampage met up in San Antonio for the fourth time this season. The Moose owned a 1-1-1 record in those three games, so they were looking to close out their season series with the Rampage in style with a win. Eddie Lack got the call for the Moose once again, and he squared off against San Antonio's Matt Climie. Climie, though, wouldn't last long as he was pulled after two goals on four shots, giving way to Joe Fallon to battle the Herd.

Bill Sweatt had himself a good night as he potted a couple of goals for the Moose. In recording his 16th and 17th goals of the season, Sweatt finished the game with three shots, two penalty minutes, and a +2 rating - a solid evening for any player. Sweatt has been a consistent performer all season long, and he certainly has been a bright spot for the Moose this season.

If there was one negative on the night, it was the Moose powerplay once again. The Herd had seven opportunities with the man-advantage, but converted on exactly zero of them. I cannot stress this enough: the powerplay must be better as the Moose approach the playoffs. A short series can come down to powerplay opportunities, and taking advantages of these opportunities is paramount, especially in the playoffs. To make matters worse, the powerplay units gave up another shorthanded goal. This must change in a hurry. And before the playoffs arrive.

While I seem to call out the powerplay often, even-strength scoring wasn't a problem on this night as six different Moose players tallied goals, and the Moose skated to the 7-2 victory. After standing in the spotlight a number of times on his own, it was nice to see Eddie Lack getting a pile of goals to work with in a game. With the victory, the Moose move to 37-23-6 on the campaign!

Win One, Lose One

The Moose played their third game in three nights once again on Sunday as they traveled back down the highway to Houston to face the Aeros once more. This was the eleventh straight road game that the Moose played over the last three weeks, so there might have been some looking past this game as the Moose looked to get back to MTS Centre. Tyler Weiman got the call for the Moose in this game while Matt Hackett took another shot at beating the Moose.

Maybe less is more for the Moose powerplay? The Herd's man-advantage lines only had three opportunities to play as a unit in this game, but they made it count as Mario Bliznak scored a first-period powerplay goal just nine seconds into the man-advantage. The powerplay also refused to give up a goal on this evening, so there was even more to be happy about. Perhaps the coaching staff had a discussion with the powerplay units about playing better?

After having a big night against San Antonio, Bill Sweatt turned in a pretty poor performance against the Aeros. No points, no shots recorded, and a -4 rating makes for a polar opposite night at the office for Sweatt. While two of those minuses came while the Moose had no one defending the net, Sweatt still needs to show up on the scoresheet in some way - a shot, a goal or an assist, a positive rating. None of these were produced, and that's not what is expected of Sweatt.

While it looked like the Moose might take another low-scoring game off the Aeros after leading 1-0 through two periods, the house of cards came crashing down in the third period. Houston scored four times in eight minutes to make it a 4-2 game. Manitoba scored with just over five minutes to go to make it 4-3, but two empty-net goals salted the game away for Houston. Houston's shot total was 13-15-17 through the three periods for 45 shots total, so there was a significant difference in aggressiveness between these two teams on Sunday. The 6-3 loss at the hands of the Aeros moves Manitoba's record to 37-24-6.

Moose Snowed Over By Penguins

I was very excited to catch this game as I really thought this game would be an excellent litmus test as to how the Moose may fare against the Eastern Conference's best if they were to make the Calder Cup Final once again. The Penguins entered the game with an AHL-best 46-18-1 record, so there some electricity in the air as the Moose and Penguins squared off. Eddie Lack was back between the pipes for the Moose while the Penguins opted to go with John Curry in this first of two games on Tuesday night.

The Moose penalty killing units were at their best on Tuesday as they held the Penguins off the board while on the powerplay. The Penguins had five opportunities, and all five were successfully killed off by the Moose. Again, the penalty killing units are showing the mettle needed in the playoffs, and are clearly one of the best teams while playing with four players on the ice. Another solid night at the office for the Moose PK units!

The Moose blueline really deserves some credit for keeping the Moose in this game for as long as they did. The Penguins outshot the Moose by a large margin in each period, but the efforts by Eddie Lack and the Moose defenders played a large part in keeping the Penguins at bay. This has to make the coaching staff happy as the blueline weathered the storm as best they could.

Unfortunately, weathering the storm didn't end with happiness. The Penguins put on a clinic in how to play defence, keeping the Moose snipers on the outside for most of the night while clearing rebounds with authority. The Moose only managed 23 shots on Curry and the majority of those were not of the dangerous variety. In the end, the Penguins took the first game off the Moose by a 2-0 score. The Moose fall to 37-25-6 after being shutout.

Pummeled By Penguins

I don't normally post Wednesday night games on the current Antler Banter Wednesday, but I had the chance to see the Penguins and Moose battle for the second straight night, and I couldn't pass up that opportunity. After watching the Penguins control most of the game the night before, I was interested in seeing how the Moose would react after being shutout against the AHL's best. Eddie Lack and John Curry squared off for the second straight night, but Brad Thiessen would finish the game for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

It's good to see Joel Perrault back on the scoresheet. Perrault used a powerplay to notch his first goal in 13 games, and the crafty centerman had his fourth goal of the season off a gorgeous drop pass from Cody Hodgson. Seeing these two connect on the powerplay reminded me of their great play in December when they were together on the man-advantage. Here's hoping that the chemistry returns between these two, especially for the powerplay's sake.

The Moose certainly can run with the Penguins. There's no doubt that they held the Penguins in check for 50 minutes on Wednesday, but a couple of bad plays gave the Penguins all they needed to capitalize in this game. A turnover in their own zone led to the first goal. A deflection off a Moose player led to the second goal. A loose puck in the slot led to the third Penguins goal. An undisciplined hit by Ryan Parent put the Moose down one body, and the Penguins capitalized again. In less than five minutes, the Penguins put four pucks into the Moose net. That's not the kind of third-period play you want to see from your team.

Perrault's goal looked like it might hold water, but those four goals sunk the Moose very quickly. Eddie Lack stopped 39 of 43 shots, but he can't be expected to take care of the entire Moose zone. It looked like the Moose may have solved the Penguins through the fifty minutes they led, but the Penguins showed patience, resiliency, and a killer instinct. As for the goaltending change, I'm not sure why Thiessen came in after the opening period, but he kept the Moose off the scoresheet in stopping all 17 shots he faced as the Penguins downed the Moose by a 4-1 score. With the loss, the Moose drop to 37-26-6 on the season.

Bringing Texas To Manitoba

The Moose have a bit of a reprieve this week as they only have two games as they enter the weekend. The Texas Stars roll into town as the visitors, and are looking to catch their red-hot state rivals in the Houston Aeros in the West Division. There are a number of former Manitoba Moose players currently on the Stars' roster, so it might feel like a reunion for the players. Well, at least until the puck drops.

The Moose are battling two charging teams below them. The Lake Erie Monsters and Grand Rapids Griffins have overtaken the Hamilton Bulldogs, and now sit in second and third in the North Division, respectively. The Moose need to put up four points against Texas to hold onto their first-place standing. Otherwise, they might be looking up at one of these teams by the time the weekend is over.

The Moose and Stars split the games in Texas, so there is a need for the Moose to step on the gas when they face the Stars this weekend. After stumbling against the Penguins, the Moose have to start racking up the wins to help them hold onto to first place. DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 15 March 2011

The Annual TML Death Watch

It's that magical time of year again, readers. Teams are gearing up for the playoffs, non-playoff teams are getting their scouts out to junior games and NCAA games for some last-minute studying of players, and players are gearing up for the stretch drive where they'll play the role of hero or spoiler in the drama we call "hockey". One team that has been a regular contributor on the spolier side has been the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last year, the Maple Leafs "death watch" began sometime after the puck dropped in the opening game, but the Leafs went on a big run this year to make things interesting. Let's take a look at their remaining schedule to see how the season will play out.


  • at Carolina: should be a good test for the Leafs. They need to keep chasing down teams in front of them.
  • at Florida: the home team has won each game in the three games these two have played. If the trend continues, the Leafs will be on the wrong end of this one. They need these points.
  • vs. Boston: the Leafs beat the Bruins on February 15, so they'll need another big game. Beating teams above them in the standings = good!
  • at Minnesota: if Minnesota doesn't lull them to sleep, this is a game that Toronto must win. Minnesota is in the same boat as Toronto, so this game might be a dogfight.
  • at Colorado: Toronto has to win this game. Colorado is battling for a lottery pick, so these are two points that could prove large in the long run.
  • at Detroit: Detroit is a well-oiled machine. Unless they develop a rash of injuries, this one looks like a loss for the Leafs.
  • vs. Sabres: Buffalo has proven plucky over the last few weeks. Toronto is 2-3 against them at this point, but the last two games were won by Toronto. This is another team the Leafs are chasing, so these two points are huge in the standings.
  • at Boston: Four points in one month from the same team in your division? Huge. Is it possible? Yes. And the Leafs need it.
  • at Ottawa: Another divisional game, but this time against a foe at the bottom of the standings. Giving away any points to the Senators could prove fatal.
  • vs. Washington: Tough game for the Leafs against a team that will be hungry down the stretch leading into the playoffs. I'm not confident in Toronto's chances against the Capitals.
  • at New Jersey: This game features the two teams that seem to have the best chance to make a run at that eight-seed. One of these teams will play the role of spoiler in this game. The question is: which one?
  • vs. Montreal: This might be a pivotal game for the Leafs if they are within a point or two of the eighth and final playoff spot. Toronto holds a 3-2 series lead thus far this season.
Toronto plays eight of their remaining twelve games on the road. That's a tough schedule, and not the best of times for a team that is below .500 on the road. They'll need to dig deep to pull this miracle off. I'd say they need 20 points to gain entry as the eighth-seeded team. That's ten wins, kids. The odds don't look good.

According to Sports Club Stats, a fabulous website that determines the chances of any team making the playoffs, the Leafs have a 3% chance of making the playoffs at this point. As far as Sports Club Stats can determine, the Leafs are destined to finish the season as the tenth-best team in the Eastern Conference. Again, the odds don't look good.

The key is that there is a 3% chance for them to make it. That means there's a chance, and that's all a team needs. Whether or not the Leafs make it will entirely depend on how they play over their remaining games, but there's a still a chance.

And that's good enough for most Leaf fans this late in the season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 14 March 2011

French Connection Memories

It's always a tough day when the hockey world loses a legend, but it's even harder when that legend is one of the nicest men to ever walk the planet. Rick Martin, a Buffalo Sabres legend, passed away yesterday at the age of 59 from what was determined to be Hypertensive Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease, which is related to high blood pressure and clogged arteries. Martin had suffered a heart attack while driving which forced him to be in a single-car accident. The former member of "The French Connection" was loved in the Buffalo area, and always seemed to have a smile on his face. The Sabres great will always be remembered as a team-first guy who loved his extended Sabres family as much as he did his immediate family, will always stand out as a fantastic hockey player.

"On behalf of the Sabre family and all his former teammates, friends, as being a guy that I've been in the community with now for 30 years, we lost a heck of a guy today," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said on Sunday. "He was a teammate, he was somebody I worked with as part of the coaching staff, somebody I played golf with. He was a great person. I think anybody that crossed his path would say the same. It's tough when you lose anybody, and we lost a real good person today. It's a tough one to take."

Channel 4 WIBV in Buffalo put together a really nice video about Rick Martin. I think this says a quite about how great Mr. Martin was as a person, teammate, and Buffalo Sabre.

I never had the opportunity to watch Rick Martin play before he retired, but there are lots of clips online that show Martin's abilities very well. The fifth pick of the 1971 NHL Entry Draft showed soft hands and great skill in a lot of his goals on The French Connection line when teamed with legends Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, and there are some great clips of him in action. To the video!

Rick "Rico" Martin pots his first of two against the Soviet Wings in 1976.

And his second goal against the Soviet Wings.

Rick Martin vs. Phil Esposito on April 13, 1978 in the playoffs.

Marin still holds the team record of hat tricks as Sabre with 21, and he's still in top-ten for points scored as a Sabre with 695. His number proudly hangs from the rafters at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, and he has been immortalized as a Sabres legend by thousands of adoring fans.

Rest in peace, Mr. Martin. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. All my best go out to the Martin family during this difficult time.

Until next time, raise your sticks high for this legend!