Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 21

The Manitoba Moose came into this week on a bit of a stumble as February has been tough on the Herd. Player movement between the Moose and the Vancouver Canucks has left their blueline tattered, but the squad perseveres. Injuries have knocked out key players, but the team continues forward. This week, the Moose have some tough divisional games against Rochester and Toronto, and they'll need to be better than what they showed in last week's games. Don't forget to 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. The Moose take to the road in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Lack-Ing Nothing

Wednesday night had the Moose in Rochester to play the Americans. Manitoba has racked up a 2-1 record against the Amerks thus far into the season, but they desperately need some wins against teams lower than them in the standings. The Moose opted to go with Eddie Lack in the nets this evening while the Americans responded with Tyler Plante.

There comes a time in every season when you can narrow the campaign down to one game where you really see a team's MVP emerge. Tonight may be that game as Eddie Lack turned in a performance not seen in these parts since Cory Schneider took the Moose to the Calder Cup Final. The Moose netminder stopped all 28 shots he faced tonight, including five in overtime. The only puck that got by Lack was on Michal Repik's shootout goal in the skills competition, but he held off enough shooters for the Moose to pick up the victory! Lack's fourth shutout of the season took a little longer than normal, but he was more than impressive in this victory.

Rarely will you find me praising the opposition in this article, but kudos to Rochester's Tyler Plante for playing his tail off as well. The Amerks' netminder stopped 33 shots, including 23 over the first two periods, in helping his team get to the shootout. Thanks to the work of Plante in matching Lack on every save, this game became a classic goaltender duel as both Lack and Plante put on a goaltending clinic!

The Moose got goals in the shootout from Sergei Shirokov and Garth Murray to end up one goal better than the Americans for the 1-0 shootout win! Great chances were thwarted by the two goaltenders all night, giving this game a playoff feel to it. The Moose, thankfully, came out on top, and see their record improve to 31-20-6 on the season.

Moose See Stars... and Stripes

After watching the game on Wednesday, Friday's game had all the makings of a classic rubber match as the Moose and Americans squared off again. The only thing that one could hope for is more scoring than what we saw on Wednesday. The same two goaltenders got the call is this one as Tyler Plante and Eddie Lack took their positions 200-feet apart.

Defenceman Mark Flood came to play tonight as he contributed in a big way. Flood scored his eighth goal of the season, added a helper, had four shots on net, and finished the game as a +3. Those are normally stats found beside a forward's name, so good on Flood for leading the offence from the blueline.

The Moose penalty kill was the difference in this one as they were victimized three times on the night. Travis Ramsey and Ryan Parent were on the ice for all three goals while Stefan Schneider witnessed two goals scored on Lack from where he was on the ice. Normally, the PK units are one of the highlights as they routinely do yeoman's work, but Rochester ate them up tonight. That can't happen. Not if you're an elite team.

Three goals from the Moose tonight weren't enough as Rochester equaled that on the powerplay alone. The effort that Lack gave on Wednesday night shouldn't be expected every night as the man is human, and it was apparent that the Moose were looking for another bail-out from their goaltender. Rochester took full advantage of that, and downed the Moose by a 5-3 score. With the loss, the Moose fall to 31-21-6 on the campaign.

Another Helping Of Marlies

I'll be honest: I'm really getting sick of writing about the Marlies. I'll have to send a thank-you card to the AHL scheduling team because the Moose made their way to Toronto for a pair of games on Saturday and Sunday from the Ricoh Centre. There was some buzz in this game as a "monster" suited up for the Marlies. Jonas Gustavsson took his spot in the blue paint for the Marlies, but a bout of flu changed things up for Tyler Weiman as he needed the night off to combat the illness. That meant that Eddie Lack was called upon once again to guard the Herd's net.

Another defensive pairing earned low marks on this night as Yann Sauvé and Travis Ramsey bought front-row seats to the Nazmi Kadri show. Kadri made the two Moose defenders look foolish as he danced in for a highlight-reel goal just 3:00 into the first period. To make matters worse, these two men were on the ice for the Marlies' powerplay goal later in the period. That's two straight games that Ramsey has been called out by this writer after I was big on his physical defensive play early in the season. Ramsey needs to get back to his physical ways in a serious hurry.

Full marks for the penalty killers as they are doing their best to keep the Moose in games. With Mark Flood in the box for tripping, the PK units erased the powerplay goal scored by Toronto earlier in the game. Garth Murray was credited with his fourth of season as the puck found its way behind Gustavsson. After getting shelled the night before in Rochester, the PK units earned their keep again on this night.

The Moose can't seem to find the net when playing with five men on the ice, and it's really beginning to hurt them. A late empty-net goal by Christian Hanson put the cap on this game as Jonas Gustavsson and the Marlies downed the Moose by a 3-1 score. With the loss, Manitoba finds itself with a 31-22-6 record.

Three In Three For The Win

The third game in three days saw the Moose getting an early start as they took to the ice on another CBC production of AHL on CBC. The Marlies and Moose met less than 24 hours after the Marlies handed the Moose a loss, so there was revenge on the minds of the Moose despite their tired bodies. Lack and Gustavsson were given the starts for their respective teams again as these two Swedish goaltending phenoms squared off once more.

Give full credit to Eddie Lack for the performance he put on in this game. Lack was out of his mind in the first period as he stopped all 14 shots he faced, including several of the ridiculous variety during a five-on-three powerplay for the Marlies. Much like his performance in Rochester on Wednesday night, Lack was flawless on this afternoon, pitching his fifth shutout of the season - on national TV no less - as the entire CBC audience got to see just how good he is.

The Moose got another big game out of their four- and three-man units as the penalty kill eliminated all seven man-advantages that the Marlies received on Sunday. For a squad that has played three games in two-and-a-half days, the PK units' work was incredible as they worked their butts off in this one. I was especially impressed with Yann Sauvé's and Travis Ramsey's work in front of the net on Aaron Voros. Voros never seemed to get good position for a screen, making Lack's job much easier. Well done, gents, and good on you guys for bouncing back and playing much better.

Bill Sweatt's 15th goal of the season 5:04 into the third period was all the scoring on the day as he chipped a rebound past Gustavsson. And thanks to Eddie Lack's outstanding performance, Sweatt's goal stood as the winner as the Moose closed out February with a 1-0 victory. With the win, the Moose improve their record to 32-22-6.

Losing For The Sake Of Winning

The NHL Trade Deadline saw one Moose player leave town while another donned different colours, but remained as part of the team. The Moose also received a player very familiar to Moose fans through a loaned player situation.

Gone from the blueline is Evan Oberg. Oberg was dealt by the Vancouver Canucks to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Chris Higgins. The Moose didn't need to lose another body from their blueline, but the Canucks are making a push for the Stanley Cup so you have to give to get, I suppose. It just sucks to lose a good player from the back-end when he's desperately needed. And it appears GM Craig Heisinger is looking to fill that gap left by Oberg's departure.

“This year there have been a lot more defencemen out there than ever before, hence guys like Geoff Waugh and Ryan McGinnis having to spend the better part of the year in the ECHL,” Heisinger told QMI Agency's Kirk Penton. “That’s never been the case, and it’s been hard to find forwards. Right now we have a plethora of forwards and need to find some D.

“You can never have too many defencemen, and right now we don’t have too many defenceman,” he said. “We’ll have to see what we can do about that.”

Indeed, Mr. Heisinger. The Moose blueline is being held together via duct tape right now, it seems.

The Canucks also dealt Joel Perrault to the Anaheim Ducks for Maxim Lapierre and MacGregor Sharp, but the Ducks, in rather unorthodox move, assigned Perrault back to Manitoba instead of their affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. This means that the Moose will keep Perrault while adding the services of Sharp! On top of that, the Ducks also announced that they would assign former Moose star Jason Jaffray back to the Herd instead of Syracuse as soon as he was cleared to play after recovering from knee surgery!

I had do a little digging to find out what the Ducks are up to in terms of depleting their affiliate while strenghtening another AHL team. At the time of writing this, Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon had gone on record in questioning the moves made by the Ducks to strengthen another team while leaving his team weaker. He stated,
"We are proactively addressing the recent actions of our NHL affiliate, the Anaheim Ducks, including the two recent player assignments to another AHL franchise. Our singular focus is the performance of our team on the ice, and to provide our fans with the enjoyment and unique fan experience that is consistent with the support that they provide to our organization. Character is an essential element of everyone associated with the Syracuse Crunch and we expect the same character, integrity and honorability from outside parties that are affiliated with our organization."
According to a report filed by Lindsay Kramer in The Post-Standard in Syracuse,
"Murray told the [Orange Country Register] he wants Perrault to remain in a playoff race, which, of course, he wouldn't get a whiff of here. He can also keep company was Jason Jaffray, another Ducks farmhand who Murray thinks would be better off with the Moose.

"'Why move him? He’s there. He’s playing on a playoff-bound team. It’ll keep his interest going. He’s coming off an ankle sprain so he’s about a week and a half away. It’s better for him. That’s all,' Murray told the OCR."
Wow. Talk about a dysfunctional development system. I get what Murray is doing as Syracuse's playoff hopes are hovering somewhere "next season", but it would send a strong message to Crunch fans that the Ducks are interested in building a strong affiliate in Syracuse. All I can say is that I'm not going to complain about Vancouver's affiliation agreement with Manitoba in light of seeing the Anaheim-Syracuse situation.

Because Vancouver found itself with a plethoras of forwards after bringing in Higgins and Lapierre, they also returned Cody Hodgson and Victor Oreskovich to the Moose. If you're doing the math, that's one player gone, and three players in. It also gives the Moose a logjam of forwards, so it will be interesting to see what moves Craig Heisinger will make to patch the defence and open up spots up front. The trade deadline turned out to be a very good day for the Moose, it seems!

March Will Be Busy

The Moose continue their road trip this week as they head into Peoria, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Oklahoma City as they battle four teams from the West Division. These will not be easy games, so the newcomers to the Moose as well as the returnees from Vancouver will have to be at their best.

Peoria is in the mix for a playoff spot as they sit in fourth-place in the West Division. However, they are only five points back of Milwaukee. TJ Hensick has been the best player on the Rivermen all season long as he leads the team in scoring by a large margin over Graham Mink. Peoria has six players with 30+ points, so the Moose will need a big effort in their own zone to grab two points from Peoria.

Milwaukee leads the West Division with 81 points, so the Moose will have to be ready to play on back-to-back nights. Led by Blake Geoffrion's 37 points, the Admirals have five players with 30+ points. They can score if given the chance, so the Moose will have to be responsible in their own zone once again if they hope to get by the Admirals on Sunday for a couple of points.

It's another three-in-three weekend as the Moose travel to Chicago for a game against the Wolves on Sunday. Darren Haydar and Jason Krog continue to be AHL superstars as these two are one-two in scoring for the Wolves. They may be in seventh-place in the West Division, but Chicago is only nine points behind Milwaukee. Don't be fooled by the standings - this is another dangerous team.

Tuesday night sees the Moose travel to Oklahoma City as they take on the Barons. OKC is right ahead of Chicago, so there's no let up as the Moose play a difficult stretch of teams over the next week. Alexandre Giroux leads the way in Oil Country in terms of stats. Martin Gerber has been playing excellent hockey lately as the Barons look to climb up the standings in the West Division.

Last week didn't go as well as one might have hoped for the Herd, so they'll have to play well this week to get themselves back on top in the North Division. As always, there's really only one thing that must be said: DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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