Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 25

Well, the opening weekend of the AHL's schedule didn't go all that well for the Moose as they dropped both games of a set in Toronto against the Marlies. The Moose were in both games, but they found themselves on the wrong end at both the end of regulation and at the end of a shootout, taking just one point home for this past weekend's home opener. Who did they welcome to town? The reigning Calder Cup champions in the Ontario Reign, formerly the Manchester Monarchs. In other words, it isn't getting easier. On top of that, the Reign just signed two veteran NHL goalies in Peter Budaj and Ray Emery, so the deck seemed stacked against the Moose going into the weekend. How did they fare against the AHL's best? Let's find out in today's Antler Banter!

Game 3 - Vs Ontario

There was some excitement in the air as the Moose took to home ice for their very first home game in their second iteration. The fans in the crowd seemed ready to pop when their local heroes got going on this night. The only problem? The Ontario Reign were very ready for this as well so they did what they do best: took the crowd out of the game early. Make no mistake that the Reign are a veteran AHL team and they look every part of it. Honestly, the Reign simply looked much larger than the Moose in terms of physical size, and they used that physicality early on to thwart the Moose at every turn.

The Reign would strike first as defenceman Jamie McBain's shot ricocheted off of Joel Armia and found its way past Connor Hellebuyck for the 1-0 lead at 14:01. The two teams would finish off the opening period at that score, and the Moose had to be happy they got out of the period despite being out-chanced and outshot 6-3 in that period.

The early part of the second period was all about power-play chances. More specifically, the Moose not converting on them. The Reign opened the period with two penalties, giving the Moose a brief five-on-three man-advantage, but they were unable to capitalize on either power-play opportunity. As they say, momentum swung with the Reign killing off the two-man deficit, and Justin Auger - one of the penalized players - stepped out of the penalty box and took a feed from Kurtis MacDermid for the partial breakaway. From the left-hand circle, Auger ripped a shot that Hellebuyck couldn't glove, and the Reign were up 2-0 at 5:55 of the second period. Both teams would once again trade chances, but the 2-0 score held through two periods of play.

The Reign would add a third goal to their lead just 5:00 into the third period when Nic Dowd forced a turnover, made a nice pass to Mike Mersch in the slot area with no one around him, and the forward beat Hellebuyck in the one-on-one staredown. The Moose finally used the power-play to their advantage late in the game as they found themselves one another two-man advantage. Patrice Cormier's shot found its way through Peter Budaj with 3:58 to play, and it was 3-1 for the Reign. Hellebuyck went to the bench as head coach Keith McCambridge tried to use the extra attacker, but the Reign's Mike Mersch would ice the game with his second goal at 18:04 for the 4-1 lead.

Peter Budaj comes back to bite his former team in the rear with a 4-1 victory to his name. Connor Hellebuyck would take the loss as the Moose fall to 0-2-0-1 on the season.

Game 4 - Vs Ontario

The same two netminders squared off against one another on this afternoon, and it was literally a goaltending clinic put on by both goalies. It seemed the home side of the ice had a slant running against it as the shot totals favored the team in the visitors' end all night, but there was an amazing display of net tending on this night.

The first period saw no goals, but the Reign outshot Manitoba by a 14-5 margin. Connor Hellebuyck was the only reason the Reign didn't lead 2-0 or even 3-0 as he made a number of outstanding stops to keep this game knotted at a scoreless draw.

As stated above, the Moose outshot the Reign 8-6 in the second period, but both netminders were equal to the task. Peter Budaj made a couple of saves of the amazing variety as the Moose appeared to have him beat, but the veteran goalie wasn't prepared to give anything up on this night.

The third period saw Ontario pour the pressure on and Manitoba simply couldn't handle it. However, Connor Hellebuyck was willing to withstand the barrage of shots as Ontario outshot Manitoba 18-6 in the final frame! Hellebuyck simply shut the door, though, as the Moose and Reign would head to overtime deadlocked at 0-0.

Overtime was all Ontario once again as they outshot Manitoba 7-1, and it finally resulted in a goal. With Joel Armia in the penalty box for tripping, Valentin Zykov ripped a shot past Hellebuyck for his first professional goal and the Reign won 1-0 in overtime. Honestly, Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding in stopping 44 of the 45 shots he faced on the night, but he took the loss while Peter Budaj picked up the win and shutout in stopping all 20 shots he faced.

The Moose fall to 0-2-1-1 on the season with the loss.

The Infirmary

The Moose were down a key player this past weekend as Thomas Raffl seems to be suffering with an injury. There have been no official releases on what is plaguing the 27 year-old, but he was absent from the lineup in both games against Ontario. There's hope that Raffl can return sooner than later as the Moose can certainly use the scoring help.

There were also reports that veteran defenceman Jay Harrison was nursing an injury, but Harrison played in both games against the Reign. The Moose need some veteran leadership in the lineup, and it was good to see Harrison on the ice.

Shown The Door

The Moose released forward Kellan Lain from his professional tryout on Monday after having seen no action in the first four games of the AHL season. He also didn't play in the two preseason games the Moose played, so this may have simply been a player who is seeking an opportunity elsewhere. Lain is now a free agent and can sign anywhere he likes.

There's your Moose update for the week as the Moose prepare to play the Lake Erie Monsters in a two-game set at MTS Centre on Thursday and Saturday. Lake Erie and Manitoba are a mere point apart in the Central Division standings, so this weekend's games will be huge in the future of both teams as every team competes for a playoff spot. As the old saying goes, two point in October are worth just as much as two points in April, so here's hoping the Moose can pick up their first wins of the season this weekend!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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