The Manitoba Moose opened their season against the Rockford IceHogs over the weekend. The team has high hopes, with plenty of young and exciting prospects boosting an already-stacked lineup. Dominic Toninato and Jansen Harkins joined the team after clearing waivers and produced immediately.
They split the weekend series after losing the first game in heartbreaking fashion – they were ahead 3-0 going into the third period but fell apart late in the game and lost 5-4 in overtime. On Sunday, they played a much more complete game and won 4-0 on the back of goaltender Oskari Salminen’s 32-save shutout.
Lucius Looked Comfortable Centring Top Line
Chaz Lucius centred the top line between Alex Limoges and Mikey Eyssimont over the weekend. Some people have questioned whether he projects to be an NHL winger, but he looked extremely comfortable.
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He told reporters after the game that he “didn’t play centre at all” last season at the University of Minnesota when he scored 19 points in 21 games. However, the Winnipeg Jets’ prospect pool already has plenty of wingers, so getting him comfortable in the middle could be great for the future.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward used his skill and hockey IQ to set up his teammates consistently. On the top power play, he is playing the middle “bumper” role, which is where he scored his first career American Hockey League (AHL) goal on Saturday. Lucius is making his case to be one of the first call-ups if the Jets suffer injuries, and his crucial year of development in the AHL is off to a good start.
Lambert Was Critical of Game 1 Performance & Improved in Game 2
Brad Lambert told reporters after Saturday’s game that he needs to “pick it up”, noting that it wasn’t his best game. He was extremely critical of his AHL debut as he adjusts to new teammates and systems. He also stated that he was “looking forward to bouncing back,” and he did just that, picking up his first career AHL goal on a breakaway shot over the goaltender’s glove. He was named the third star after a strong bounce-back performance in a 4-0 win over the IceHogs.
One thing that remained consistent over the weekend was the young players playing with veterans. After playing with Jeff Malott and Kevin Stenlund in the first game, head coach Mark Morrison put Harkins and Toninato next to Lambert on the second line. This trend will likely continue throughout the season as prospects adjust to the AHL game.
Bad games will happen, and it’s encouraging to see Lambert bounce back so quickly. After a strong preseason with the Jets, he too could be called up this season. Similar to Lucius, this is a big development year for Lambert, whom the Jets drafted with the 30th-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Goaltending Issues from 2021-22 Potentially Solved
The team’s biggest downfall last season was goaltending. On Saturday, Arvid Holm was stellar through two periods before giving up four goals in the third period and the overtime winner.
Salminen stole the show on Sunday, being named the first star for his 32-save shutout performance. He admitted after the game that the defence in front of him improved from Saturday’s showing, but more performances like that will make the Moose a Calder Trophy contender in 2022-23.
For a team with a .886 save percentage last season and still made the playoffs, Salminen emerging as a solid starter would be a huge boost to their success.
One lineup note from the weekend is that Malott was out of the lineup on Sunday, and it is unknown whether or not that was due to injury. The Moose are headed for their first road trip this week, travelling to Chicago to take on the Wolves, then the Milwaukee Admirals, and finally the IceHogs in the span of three days. They are facing a daunting “triple-header”, with all three of these games taking place from Oct. 21 to Oct. 23.