Manitoba Moose Give Blueprint for Second-Half Success

The Manitoba Moose have been sitting around the Western Conference playoff line for a few weeks now, but as they roll into the second half of the season, they delivered two impressive wins against the Central Division-leading Texas Stars.

Missing Jansen Harkins, Cole Maier, and Evan Polei from the lineup, the Moose still managed to score nine goals over the two-game series. This young, fluctuating lineup is finding ways to win hockey games, and they find themselves in second place in the Central Division when sorting by points percentage (P%).

Related: Manitoba Moose Persevere Despite Jets Call-Ups

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Young Group Shows Immaturity but Overcomes it

The Moose were up 4-2 with 10 minutes remaining on Jan. 21 before the Stars scored twice and forced overtime. Declan Chisholm ended this contest with a shot over the left shoulder of Stars goaltender Matt Murray, which gave the Moose the 5-4 overtime victory.

Declan Chisholm Manitoba Moose
Declan Chisholm, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

On Jan. 22, the Moose jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead just 13 minutes into the game. The Stars slowly chipped away and tied the game on a power play late in the third period, to once again force overtime. Dominic Toninato ended this one with his second of the game, and the Moose took both games in overtime.

Head coach Mark Morrisson alluded to this after the game on Jan. 21: “We’re getting good with being patient with that because it’s happened to us about five times.” He mentioned that, over the next few months, his team needs to stop being nervous in the last five minutes and keep playing with an aggressive mindset. This will happen with a young team, and their ability to remain resilient and win both games in overtime shows that they are beginning to make strides in that regard.

Limoges, Toninato, and Boland Can Carry the Load Offensively

The Moose’s top line of Alex Limoges, Toninato, and Tyler Boland combined for 11 points over the weekend and was the team’s main source of offence. Limoges is hitting his stride, as he’s got 35 points through 35 games this season, and seemed to have instant chemistry with his linemates.

“That line played really strong hockey all weekend. They are three guys that have a lot of poise, they don’t panic, and they’ll try to make plays. So it seems like it was a good matchup, all three guys together.”

Eric Dubois

On Jan. 21, showed that Limoges, Boland, and Toninato led the Moose in game score (GS). They continued that success the next game, and received some praise from teammate Ashton Sautner who told reporters, “(Toninato) obviously has the experience, he played in the NHL, and he’s a really good player, and Limoges is one of those players that’s always around the net and could make good plays.”

Alex Limoges Manitoba Moose
Alex Limoges, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Moose have found lightning in a bottle with this top line, and even when the injured players return to the lineup, it would be smart to let them build off of their strong performance last weekend.

Offensive & Defensive Reinforcements Are On the Way

The Moose are still expecting reinforcements. On Jan. 24, the organization activated Logan Stanley off of injured reserve and sent Ville Heinola back down to the Moose to make room. Heinola is not only one of the best offensive defenders on the team, but one of the best across the entire American Hockey League (AHL). In 14 games with the Moose this season, he has 11 points and a plus/minus of plus-17.

The Moose’s goaltending has stabilized from a season ago, as Arvid Holm and Oskari Salminen are playing well enough for them to make the playoffs. If they get healthy and start to clean up some aspects of their game such as the “immaturity” that Morrisson referenced, they could find themselves near the top of the Western Conference.

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Their next two contests come against the Toronto Marlies, the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, on Jan. 27 and Jan. 29. With another big test ahead, this is a chance for the Moose to play their best hockey and measure how well they stack up with the top teams in the league.