After a tough and trying December that saw the Manitoba Moose capture just three wins, they turned it around in the first month of 2019. Overall, their January was solid as the team found increased scoring touch, continuity and chemistry. As a result, they posted a 6-3-3 record in a month that had many exciting moments (but also a few notable flops.)
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Early-Month Goal-Scoring Struggles
The Moose kicked off the 2019 portion of their schedule with a three-game Texas swing. Unfortunately, they couldn’t build on the momentum they’d gained from a pair of solid efforts — 4-0 and 4-1 wins — over the Colorado Eagles in the last two days of 2018 and their goal-scoring struggles returned.
On Jan. 2, against the San Antonio Rampage, the Moose entered the third down 2-0, but Jansen Harkins tallied a late goal with Eric Comrie pulled to cut the deficit in half. An empty-netter by Jordan Kyrou less than a minute later, however, quashed any chance for a comeback.
The next day, the Moose did some dealing to try and shore up their defensive depth. They shipped Tye McGinn — who’d tallied two goals and four assists in 26 games — to the Chicago Wolves in exchange for veteran defenseman Jimmy Oligny.
From there, the Moose headed to Cedar Park for a pair of games versus the Texas Stars. The first contest, on Jan. 4, was similar to the prior game in San Antonio: they entered the third period down 2-0, scored to cut the lead in half but were sunk by a late goal, losing by an identical 3-1 score.
In the rematch the next night, it looked as though the Moose were going to return home with nothing to show for their trip, down 2-1 in the third. However, captain Peter Stoykewich scored on a point shot with less than four minutes left to tie the game. Some massive saves from Moose backup Ken Appleby in the final seconds forced an extra frame and ensured the Moose at least a point.
Overtime solved nothing and the game went to a shootout. Harkins scored in the fifth round to secure his team’s first victory of 2019.
The First True Taste of Sustained Success
After going 1-2-0 on their three-game road trip, the Moose returned to Bell MTS Place to begin a six-game homestand — one that turned out to be quite heady. Their first visitor was their only non-Central Division opponent of the month: the North Division’s Laval Rocket.
In the Jan 10. meeting — only the third all-time between the clubs — the Moose grabbed an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals by Cameron Schilling and Alexis D’Aoust less than 10 minutes into the game. The chippy affair, which had a playoff-like atmosphere, remained that score until 3:05 left in the third.
Harkins scored an empty-netter — his second point of the game — and Marko Dano put a punctuation mark on the 4-0 victory with a goal in the final minute. Comrie was sharp, making 35 saves for his second shutout of the season.
In the rematch on Jan. 12, the Moose held their Military Appreciation Night and wore special jerseys to mark the occasion. The pre-game ceremony honoured members of the Canadian Armed Forces and members of the military descended from the rafters to deliver the game puck. The game also saw the return of Tucker Poolman, who’d been sidelined since late November with a concussion.
Poolman looked sturdy in his return and the 5,434 fans in attendance were treated — despite the Rocket and the Moose being 28th and 30th overall, respectively, in total scoring at the time— to a back-and-forth barn burner. The game featured four lead changes, six special teams goals and points from 13 of 18 Moose skaters.
The Moose relinquished a 4-3 lead in the third period but Dano’s goal with less than five minutes to play drew the Moose even. They eventually fell 6-5 in a shootout, but did pick up a point in their third straight game.
In his post-game remarks, head coach Pascal Vincent opined that his team won the five-on-five battle and pointed to their 27 even-strength chances as evidence. However, he admitted they lost the special teams battle, allowing three power play goals and one shorthanded goal.
“We stayed composed, we stayed focused to what we needed to do,” he said. “I would say — we won the last game 4-0 — and the result was better. We still got a point today, and we played better today. We played a better game, 5-on-5… the way we handled the pressure and the adversity was pretty good.”
Keeping Good Times Going
The Moose extended their point streak to four games against the visiting Milwaukee Admirals on Jan. 14. This time, they found themselves on the right side of an extra-time victory. After a spirited 60 between the two squads resulted in a 2-2 deadlock, Seth Griffith scored with 1:00 left in overtime by completing a great three-way passing play by himself, Logan Shaw and Stoykewich.
— Manitoba Moose (@ManitobaMoose) January 15, 2019
In the Jan. 16 rematch, the Moose didn’t need extra time to come out on top. They fell behind early but then got four straight from four different players, captured a solid 4-2 victory and extended their point streak to five games.
Locking Horns with the Rampage
On Jan. 19, Moose fans showed up early to get their hands on Mason Appleton bobbleheads, and the Moose’s offence showed up early too: Shaw set a new franchise record by scoring a goal just 10 seconds into the game.
The Moose were without three defensemen for various reasons — Stoykewich due to suspension, Schilling due to recall and Oligny due to non-hockey-related surgery — but still came away with a 4-1 victory. Comrie stood tall in the crease, surviving an onslaught of 19 third-period shots and making 37 saves overall. With the win, the Moose got back to the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 30.
The following day, the Moose celebrated Star Wars Day and the force was with them. They built up a 4-0 lead through the first half of the game and held on for a 4-2 victory. Overall, the Moose finished their homestand 5-0-1 and outscored their opponents 24-13.
“To see the process of how we’re evolving as a team, that’s fun,” Vincent said in a Jan. 20 media availability in which he credited his team for its hard work, for finding their identity and for overcoming adversity. “When you look at guys blocking shots, look at guys taking hits to make plays, when you look at guys running their routes and finding energy to come back in the d-zone and play the right way, to me, that’s fun… when you have a team that’s committed like we are right now, that’s a lot of fun.”
Point Streaks, Losing Streaks
The Moose then went out on a six-game road trip, but couldn’t cultivate the same success they did at home. They began the swing against the Grand Rapids Griffins, who they were 1-4-0 against this season heading into the matchup. The game was tightly contested — and although the Moose flirted with disaster by allowing the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate seven power play chances —they eked out a point in a 2-1 in overtime loss that pushed their point streak to eight games.
Against the Rockford IceHogs on Jan. 25, the Moose kept their point streak going, albeit in a dubious fashion. Powered by goals by Dano, Sami Niku and Michael Spacek, they were up 3-1 in the third and looked firmly in control. However, they collapsed and allowed two goals in the final two minutes, with the game-tying tally coming off Jordan Schroeder’s stick with just three ticks to go.
After a frenetic overtime, they were quickly dispatched in a shootout. One bright spot in the otherwise demoralizing defeat was a two-assist night for Griffith, who extended his point streak to eight games.
The Moose didn’t have much time to dwell on the defeat, though. The next afternoon, they clashed with the Admirals for the third time in January, undoubtedly hoping to put the previous night’s blown lead behind them. Unfortunately, they were hammered 8-2 in their most lopsided loss of the month.
The offseason depth signing was the month’s hottest Moose. The 26-year-old makes the team much more dangerous thanks to his elite vision, soft hands and great playmaking ability.
Griffith tallied one goal and 12 helpers for 13 points in 12 games, had four multi-point efforts, is tied for the team lead with 30 points and is currently riding a nine-game point streak.
The second-year pro, known for his blue-collar play style, showed flashes of offence throughout the month, putting up four goals and four assists for eight points (he also had a shootout winner.)
“He’s more confident. He’s stronger on the puck. I think for Jansen it’s all about confidence. He’s got some tools, some great tools, to create some things offensively. You’ve seen this goal on the power play was a heavy shot and the accuracy was pretty good,” Pascal Vincent said mid-month of the 21-year-old.
Harkins missed the final three games of the month.
Shaw, who had a strong December with four goals and two assists, easily topped that output in January.
The Glace Bay native scored six goals and added three assists for nine points. He also represented the Moose at the AHL All-Star Classic in Springfield, replacing Appleton, who was the initial selectee but has been with the Winnipeg Jets since late November.
A big part of the Moose’s increased success was their masked man’s marvelous month. Comrie started 10 out of 12 games, went 5-2-3 and made 30-plus stops on eight separate occasions.
— Manitoba Moose (@ManitobaMoose) January 21, 2019
He reduced his goals-against average to 2.63 and increased his save percentage to .923. He was recognized for his heady homestand play, earning AHL Player of the Week honours for the week ending Jan. 20.
Records and Milestones
- Marko Dano suited up for his 100th-career AHL game on Jan. 3 in San Antonio.
- Cameron Schilling suited up for his 450th-career AHL game on Jan. 5 in Cedar Park.
- Logan Shaw set a new career high by scoring his 14th goal of the season on Jan. 14. Shaw also set a new career high for points with his 26th on Jan. 16.
- Jansen Harkins set a new career high with his 14th point on Jan. 19 against the Rampage.
- Chris Collins, the ECHL’s leading scorer prior to inking a PTO with the Moose on Jan. 17, tipped in an Alexis D’Aoust shot on Jan. 20 for his first AHL goal.
The Road Ahead
The Moose are in the midst of six days off thanks to the All-Star break, but it’s the last extended rest they’ll have for a while. Their February looks daunting — 13 games in 27 days — but presents them their last real chance to get into the Calder Cup Playoff picture. They’re still last in the Central Division but within eight points of a playoff spot.
They’ve got three more games to go on their current road trip. First, they’ll face the Admirals on Feb. 1. Then they’ll face the Wolves the following day before wrapping up their trip against the Griffins on Feb 6.
After that, just like January, they’ll return to Bell MTS Place — where they’ll hope to find success similar to January’s — for six straight between Feb. 9 and Feb. 18. Three Central Division opponents — the Stars, Wolves and Admirals, in that order — will visit for a pair of games each.
The Moose conclude February with four straight all-Canadian road games. The team will begin the trip against the Toronto Marlies on Feb. 20, head to Laval for a pair of games on Feb. 22 and 23, then return to the Big Smoke for their last game of the month on Feb. 27.