Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 22

The Moose face a big test as they tackle four teams from the Western Conference that are fighting for supremacy in that division. Games against the Peoria Rivermen, Milwaukee Admirals, Chicago Wolves, and the Oklahoma City Barons on the road is no easy task, so the Moose would have to be at their best as they worked through this tough stretch of road games. Make sure you visit the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose news and information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose take to the road through the West Division in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Rivermen Without A Paddle

The Moose have had pretty good success against the Rivermen thus far with three wins to their credit. Peoria is missing Ben Bishop from their nets as he's playing in St. Louis, so this was a perfect opportunity for the Moose to capitalize. Eddie Lack got the start for Manitoba while Peoria called upon Jake Allen to guard their nets.

Big night for a brand-new Moose player as Keith Seabrook, on loan from the Abbotsford Heat, notched his first goal as a member of the Herd. Seabrook's fifth goal of the season came midway through the second period, and #22 celebrated his first goal in antlers. Seabrook ended the night with a goal, three shots, and a +1 rating - pretty good for his first action on a brand-new team. He and Yann Sauvé played a pretty solid game together as a pairing. There will be more about how Seabrook got to Winnipeg below.

Special teams need to be better for the Moose as I continue to preach on this aspect of their game. The powerplay unit gave up a shorthanded marker when a turnover in their own zone resulted in a Dave Spina goal. To make matters worse, the Moose penalty kill was victimized in the second period when they gave up a goal as well. I'm not going to harp on the penalty kill units as they have been a strength all season long, but these powerplay woes the Moose are experiencing will catch up to them in the playoffs. This must be fixed sooner than later.

It wasn't a stand-out game for the Moose as they built a 3-1 lead before surrending a single point to Peoria, but the Moose responded in the shootout as Bill Sweatt put this game to bed in the breakaway content. Two points are two points, and those points are important on this road trip. With the win, the Moose improve to 33-22-6 on the season.

Admirals Find No Safe Port

The Moose haven't been welcomed very well in past games to the Bradley Center, so the game against the Admirals would be a tell-tale sign of how the Moose are evolving this season. The first-place Admirals have been playing pretty good hockey as they battled their way to the top of the West Division standings, so the Moose needed to see if they could pass this test. Veteran Tyler Weiman was given the nod for the Moose while the Admirals went with Mark Dekanich as their goaltender.

Several Moose players put up multi-point nights in this game. Cody Hodgson, Sergei Shirokov, and Guillaume Desbiens all recorded a goal and an assist each. Getting contributions from your main cogs like this will go a long way in giving the Moose a great chance to secure top spot in the North Division. It's always nice to see Hodgson picking up points after he seemed to be stuck in a mini-slump.

The addition of Keith Seabrook into the Moose line-up is looking like one of the best moves this squad has seen in a long time. Seabrook had a pair of helpers on the evening, and he earned an assist on Yann Sauvé's first goal of the season, a powerplay marker midway through the second period. Sauvé and Seabrook could be the steadying pair that the Moose blueline needed for a while, and the offence being produced by the two rearguards is very impressive.

The Moose put three pucks past Dekanich, and Cody Hodgson iced it in the final minute as the Moose downed the Admirals by a 4-2 score on Saturday night. Weiman played well in his first start in two weeks, and the addition of Seabrook is paying off in spades. With the win, the Moose improve to 34-22-6 on the season, and move into sole possession of first-place in the North Division.

Wolves Take Bite Out Of Moose

Another weekend of hockey meant another three-games-in-three-days for the Moose. This time, they rolled into Chicago to play their longtime rivals in the Chicago Wolves. And this game felt like an old IHL game as there were lots of shots in a game of wide-open hockey. Eddie Lack squared off against Edward Pasquale as the two netminders took to the ice.

Kudos to Yann Sauvé who wanted more than just his first goal one night earlier. Sauvé, paired with Travis Ramsey on this evening, turned in another great performance as he scored his second goal of the season, had a team-high four shots, and ended the night with a +2 rating. Sauvé is quietly becoming one of the Herd's most reliable defencemen, and it is extremely encouraging to see him becoming one of its most productive as well. Well done, and keep it up!

How important has Garth Murray been to the Manitoba Moose this year? Not only has the tough-as-nails winger been an important leader on this team, but his work on the penalty kill is the kind of stuff that makes men into local folk heroes. Murray poke-checked a Wolves defender, sprinted down the ice on a breakaway, and scored his fifth goal of the season - and third shorthanded goal of the season - to give the Moose some life at the end of the second after trailing 3-0. I'd take a team of Garth Murrays in terms of his efforts on the ice.

While fatigue may have been a factor, it took Manitoba over 39 minutes to finally cash in a goal, and it was too little, too late as the Wolves had already jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Manitoba fought valiantly to try and tie the game, but the final horn sounded on a 3-2 Wolves victory. With the loss, the Moose fall to 34-23-6 on the season.

Oil Well Runs Dry

The Moose and Oklahoma City Barons got to renew acquaintances on Tuesday night as the two teams met in Oklahoma City. The Herd had been playing some pretty solid hockey over their last three games despite falling to Chicago on Sunday, so there was hope that they could continue playing well as the road trip progressed. Tyler Weiman earned the start after his solid performance against Milwaukee on Saturday, and Oklahoma City responded by sending former NHL netminder Martin Gerber to the nets.

After being hard on the powerplay for their poor play over the last few weeks, the powerplay units came to play tonight. Manitoba scored two powerplay markers thanks to a couple of players who started their seasons in Vancouver. Guillaume Desbiens redirected a beautiful slap-pass from Sergei Shirokov past Gerber midway through the second period, and Alexandre Bolduc tapped in a gift from Desbiens midway through the third period. Manitoba finished the night 2-for-6 on the powerplay, and really controlled the puck well while having the extra man on the ice.

Desbiens really had himself a solid game as he a goal and two assists on the night. The veteran is expected to contribute, and tonight was a very good night on the scoresheet as Desbiens also had two shots and ended the night with a +2 rating. This kind of leadership shown by example will certainly get the rest of the line-up involved.

Kudos goes out to Alex Bolduc as well as he not only scored a powerplay goal in the third period, but he scored a shorthanded marker early in the second period and assisted on Desbiens' powerplay goal! Bolduc's offensive outburst in this game gives him four goals on the season, but the scrappy forward has been so muhc more important than just his offensive output. Bolduc eats up minutes on the penalty kill and wins a ton of key face-offs - two things the Moose will certainly be able to use as they make their way into the playoffs. Well done on a great night, Alex!

The Moose really played a sound game in this one, controlling the puck and not giving the Barons many good scoring chances on Weiman. More importantly, the Moose showed a total teal game - an even-strength goal, a shorthanded marker, and two powerplay goals for a 4-1 win. This is the kind of game that the coaching staff should send to all the players as an example of a total team game. With the win, the Moose improve to 35-23-6 on the season!

More Bodies In Camp

As stated above, the Moose got themselves some serious help on the blueline from Keith Seabrook. With the Heat having a plethora of defencemen and needing forwards, they went searching for options. Manitoba had a pile of forwards, and needed a defenceman. The two teams came to an agreement as the Heat received recently-acquired MacGregor Sharp on loan from the Moose for Seabrook. Both teams had a need, and both had that need filled.

Heat head coach Jim Playfair had made Keith Seabrook a healthy scratch a number of times this season, calling into question his play on several occasions as well. Playfair stated that he wasn't very excited to letting Seabrook leave to play for a division rival, but they needed a body up front and the Moose demanded Seabrook in return. Well done on GM Craig Heisinger's part for making the play to get Seabrook, and I doubt I'm not the only person who isn't complaining with Seabrook's excellent play so far in his Moose debut.

The Moose also got a huge shot in the arm from the Vancouver Canucks as they allowed the Moose to place fan favorite Rick Rypien on their reserve list. Rypien, who had been out of hockey for personal reasons since November, should give the Moose a huge boost if there are a number of recalls by the Canucks.

AHL rules state that Rypien and the other seven players on the reserve list may only play when three or more regular-roster players are injured, suspended or recalled. As it stands, the Moose are sitting with six players in those three categories. I'm not wishing harm on anyone as I like the make-up of the Moose roster right now, but if another player goes down or gets recalled, the Moose can replace that player with an NHL-ready player. This is not something of which most AHL teams have the luxury, especially heading into the playoffs.

More importantly, it's just great to see Rick Rypien back in hockey. Welcome back, Rick!

Finish The West, Start With The East

The Moose continue their road trip this week as they swing through the state of Texas for three games before returning home by the middle of next week. They'll see the Houston Aeros on Friday and Sunday, the San Antonio Rampage on Saturday, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

The Aeros have three players with 40+ points on the season, but play very good defensive hockey. They don't take many risks, but have scoring threats that can make undisciplined teams pay. They have decent goaltending in Matt Hackett and Josh Tordjman, so the Aeros aren't pushovers and are challenging for first-place in the constantly-changing West Division. The Moose will have to bring their A-game to start off and finish this Texas road swing.

The San Antonio Rampage pose a different sort of problem for the Moose. They are missing a few players who have been recalled to the NHL, so they aren't as solid as they normally are, but that doesn't mean there should be any let-up for the Moose. Matt Climie is a very good goaltender who can shut down any offence, so the Moose will still need to play well to get by the Rampage. Although they sit sixth-place in the West Division, they only trail first-place by six points.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is still the toast of the league as they boast a 45-18-0 record for first overall in the AHL. Brett Sterling and Ryan Craig are having great seasons for the Penguins, and the goaltending tandem of Brad Thiessen and John Curry has been outstanding. If the Moose are looking for a test, they need look no further than Tuesday and Wednesday at MTS Centre when the Penguins visit.

With those five games on-tap, the Moose will need to be at the top of their game if they hope to take down the rest of the West before tackling the best team in the AHL. Lack and Weiman have been providing excellent goaltending over the last few weeks, so the offence just needs to continue to roll. Get on it, Moose, and DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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