5 Observations from the Manitoba Moose’s First 5 Games

The Manitoba Moose have started the season on fire. They have an impressive 4-0-1 record through their first five games, and they are in first place in the American Hockey League, with their most recent win coming on Oct. 23rd against the Rockford IceHogs, who they beat 6-3.

They played road games in three straight nights and won all three without showing any signs of fatigue. Here are five observations from their dominant start to the 2022-23 season.

Oskari Salminen is the Starting Goaltender Moving Forward

The Moose’s biggest issue last year was goaltending. After losing Mikhail Berdin early in training camp, they decided to run a goaltending tandem of Arvid Holm and Oskari Salminen to begin the season.

Salminen is undefeated so far, posting a .939 save percentage (SV%) and is currently tied for third amongst all AHL goaltenders in game score (GS) with a 3.95 GS, according to ahltracker.com. Holm had a rough first outing but bounced back on Oct. 22 in a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Admirals, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced and proving that he is poised to improve from last year.

Related: Moose’s Lambert & Lucius Impressive in Opening Weekend

Based on their usage, it seems as though Salminen will be the starter until proven otherwise. The 6-foot-4 goaltender went undrafted and posted a .920 SV% in the 55 games he started in the SM-Liiga last season. But regardless of who the starter is, it seems as though the Moose are going to improve off of the .886 SV% they held as a team last year.

Dominant Special Teams a Big Factor in Outstanding Start

The Moose are dominating the special team’s battle every game, which is a great recipe for success throughout the season. Their power play is clicking at an outstanding 29.4 percent, which is good for fifth-best in the AHL.

One reason for that is Ville Heinola. Ever since the Jets drafted him, Heinola has specialized at quarterbacking the power play and putting his shooters in good positions to score. According to AHL Tracker, he has recorded four primary assists in the five games played thus far. This team is built to get offence from their defence, and they have done just that through five games.

Jeff Malott, Chaz Lucius, and Kevin Stenlund have all recorded a power play goal so far, and this team has offensive scoring threats on both units from both sides of the ice. They can, and will, score on you in a multitude of ways with the man-advantage.

Ville Heinola Manitoba Moose
Ville Heinola, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Their penalty kill has the more impressive side of the special teams, as they are killing penalties off at a 95.2 percent rate. That number is good for second-best amongst all AHL teams, and their goaltending being outstanding is one of the main reasons for that dominant start on the PK.

Forward Depth is on Full Display

This forward group is incredibly deep and is currently getting scoring from all four lines. This makes the team a matchup nightmare, helps the bottom-six take advantage of their matchups, and keeps all of their forwards fresh and healthy.

Mikey Eyssimont is currently second on the team with six points in five games, behind only Jansen Harkins. He finished last season with 42 points in 58 games, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if he led the team in scoring again.

Mikey Eyssimont Manitoba Moose
Mikey Eyssimont, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

There are currently nine Moose forwards with three or more points to start the season — an unbelievable scoring pace for a team whose strengths last season came from the defensive group.

Moose’s Young Players Look More Than Comfortable

One of the most exciting aspects of this season’s Moose squad is the young players that are developing on the fly. Brad Lambert, Lucius, and Daniel Torgersson are three forwards who are adjusting quite well to the AHL game so far.

Lambert has three points in the four games he has played, and his ability to blow by defenders with his speed has been on full display. Lucius has centered the top line and looked comfortable in that position, despite questions going into the season surrounding his ability to play centre. Torgersson has built off of an impressive preseason with the Winnipeg Jets and has also put up three points in four games. These players’ development is not only important to the Moose but also to the Jets, who are already dealing with some injury issues in their top-six.

The young defensive players have continued their success from a year ago. Declan Chisholm leads the defensive group in points, Heinola is a team-high plus-8 in plus-minus, and Leon Gawanke has continued his defensive dominance early in the season. The young players are going to play big factors in sustaining success this season, and they are off to a dominant start.

They Have Established Themselves as Calder Cup Contenders

So what does an elite forward group, special teams, goaltender, and defence core get you? The best team in the AHL.

After making the playoffs last season but failing to win a series, it seems as though the Moose have improved on almost every weakness, and it’s bound to pay off for them throughout the season. The only thing getting in the way of their success is if they lose players to NHL call-ups. If this team remains intact, they will continue to dominate their competition.

Leon Gawanke Manitoba Moose
Leon Gawanke, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

They have been so dominant to begin the season that they have been able to rest key forwards and still win games in a blowout fashion — Stenlund, Lambert, Lucius, and Malott have all gotten a game off, and they have yet to miss a beat.

The Moose will now return home for a six-game homestand, where they are slated to take on the Iowa Wild, Texas Stars, and Calgary Wranglers. They will look to keep up this impressive four-game winning streak in front of the home crowd.

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