MANITOBA MOOSE - FIRST QUARTER REPORT
The Manitoba Moose reached the quarter mark of their regular season after a two game set this week against the Milwaukee Admirals. These Central Division squads faced each other 11 times last season, with the Admirals ending the Moose's post-season hopes. This season the rivalry will continue to grow, as the early appearances are that they will be battling for the division's top spot throughout the season.
Milwaukee has started off great this season and were sitting in first with a 13-5 record coming into the series. The Nashville Predators' farm team has been led by 20 year old Luke Evangelista (2nd rd pick in 2020) with 17 pts in 20 games. They also have former Jet Zach Sanford on their roster, but he hasn't had much of an impact yet (1 pt in 5 gms/-4).
The 2nd place Moose were digging deep into their roster depth due to call ups and injuries, but they put a strong effort in the 2 games despite this. Two players in particular aided Manitoba to a 4-3 SO loss on Thursday and a 3-2 win yesterday, Alex Limoges and Ville Heinola. Continuing their strong play this season, Heinola picked up 3 assists (all at 5 on 5), while Limoges netted a goal & an assist in the two games. A third star could be Oskari Salminen, who picked up the loss on Thursday despite turning aside 38 of 41 shots (.927 save%).
With that series in the books, Manitoba officially had 25% of the regular season completed with 18 out of 72 games played. Here is a quick look at the teams statistics to this point:
Manitoba Moose Team Stats:
- 10-5-3 record (5-3-2 home/5-2-1 road)
- 23 pts (on pace for 92 pts - last year's Moose had 89 pts)
- .639 winning percentage
- 2nd place in Central Division
- 5th place in Western Conference (tie w/ Ontario Reign)
- 9th place in AHL (tie w/ Ontario Reign)
- 3.28 Goals For Per Game (good for 14th place in AHL)
- 2.94 Goals Against Per Game (good for 10th place in AHL)
- +6 Goal Differential
- 21.9% PP (good for 13th place in AHL)
- 83.5% PK (good for 7th place in AHL)
The Manitoba Moose have quite a few similarities to their parent club, the Winnipeg Jets. First, both squads are off to strong starts and look to be prepared to challenge for a post-season berth.
Secondly, the Moose and Jets have had to deal with roster movement due to injuries. While Winnipeg has mainly had long-term injuries to some key players (Ehlers & Appleton), Manitoba has had to deal with many small injuries/illnesses/call ups. Moose players to miss games due to these reasons include:
Jimmy Oligny (18), Jansen Harkins (12), Mikey Eyssimont (9), Brad Lambert (6), Cole Maier (6), Chaz Lucius (5), Ville Heinola (5), Leon Gawanke (3), & Daniel Torgersson (1).
Thirdly, the teams play Bowness' smothering style of hockey well (most of the time, at least) which allows the defensemen to get involved in the offense (Heinola 5th, Gawanke 7th, & Chisholm 8th in points per game on Moose).
Fourthly, one word...goaltending. The Jets are riding Hellebuyck's outstanding play, while the Moose have used a combination to great effect (Salminen 16th & Holm 18th in AHL in save %).
Some other likenesses include having efficient penalty killing units, positive goal differentials at the 25% mark of the season, and getting scoring from all 4 lines.
Things haven't been all sunshine and rainbows for Manitoba, which is not surprising given the amount of roster turnover the team went through in the off-season. Mark Morrison and the rest of the coaching staff really haven't been able to find that elusive 2nd scoring line to go with a strong 1st line (initially involving Eyssimont/Harkins/Limoges, but now Malott/Stenlund/Limoges). The grind line involves all players on contracts with Manitoba (Polei/Maier/Jones) and provides a 3rd line that can keep possession and assist with the scoring. While the 4th line has mainly including Nikkanen centering various wingers, it has looked dangerous at times, typically when Torgersson is on one wing. The 2nd line is centered by youngster Lucius and was initially hindered by an ice cold start by winger Malott and more recently due to injuries to the 1st round draft pick, but it has created chances, just not capitalizing on enough of them to this point. One thing to remember is that the Moose are relying on 4 rookies (Lambert, Lucius, Torgersson, Nikkanen) in key spots, so there is bound to be a learning curve (especially with 3 of the 4 still adjusting to playing on North American ice).
On defense, it has been a bit of good and bad in the early part of the season. A shining light has been Heinola (normally paired w/ Lundmark), who has outperformed my expectations in most aspects of the game this season. But defensive lapses and some unproven depth have resulted in the coaching staff having to break up the proven 2nd pairing of Chisholm/Gawanke in an attempt to reduce the defensive mistakes and spread out the talent.
Goaltending coach Drew MacIntyre has to be pleased with the play of the masked men, something he may have been worried about after the loss of Mikhail Berdin to the KHL (Winnipeg granted leave for personal reasons & he is still under contract with the Jets). Holm has bounced back from an up & down rookie season and free agent signing Salminen has been a pleasant surprise, giving the Manitoba Moose a chance to win every game with solid play.
While the Manitoba Moose will be pleased with their start, it appears that they will be in a season-long battle in the AHL's Central Division. Last year's Calder Cup Champion Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes) has seen a huge roster turnover and find themselves in the basement with the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings). But the other 5 teams all have winning percentages between .700 and .526, putting the Moose in a battle with the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators), Texas Stars (Dallas Stars), Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild), and the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks).
Milwaukee / 20 GP / .700 win%
Manitoba / 18 GP / .639 win%
Rockford / 19 GP / .605 win%
Texas / 22 GP / .591 win%
Iowa / 19 GP / .526 win%
Grand Rapids / 20 GP / .425 win%
Chicago / 17 GP / .412 win%
I think Manitoba should be in a good position to challenge for the division title as I expect to see some of the talented young players become regulars on the scoresheet as they gain experience and confidence. With a system that makes it hard for opponents to get quality scoring chances when implemented properly and above average goaltending, I think the Moose could become a really dangerous team if they can find a way to get all four forward lines rolling offensively.
Oskari Salminen was never drafted by an NHL team, but he didn't let that stop him, improving his play over three seasons from 2018-19 to 2020-21 in Liiga. This culminated in a .925 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average in his final season, prompting the Winnipeg Jets to sign the 23 year old Finn to a 2 year contract in the off-season.
Salminen peaked my attention during the Jets' Rookie Camp, playing well despite him stating afterwards that he felt really uncomfortable with how the play develops on smaller North American rinks. Oskari looked plenty comfortable in his opening regular season game, turning aside 32 shots for his 1st AHL shutout. He has mainly continued his strong play, but has had some up & downs. The Finnish goaltender has had 6 of 12 starts with a .927 save % or better, but also has had 5 games with a less than .900 save %. Not all of those bad statistical performances were on Salminen's shoulders, as the Moose did give up high quality looks/low quantity shots in a few of those games.
Arvid Holm was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 6th round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft after strong play in the Swedish Junior leagues. Last season saw Holm start his North American career, playing 24 games and putting up a 2.90 goals against average & a .877 save percentage.
With an eye on improving his consistency in year 2, Arvid has made inroads in that category. The 24 year old Swede has put up a save % of .939 or better in half of his starts (4) and only had one really disappointing start (.700 pulled after 1st).
Manitoba hasn't played great defensively in front of Holm, allowing 30 or more shots in 5 out of 8 appearances (2 games over 40 shots), resulting in a 2.99 GAA. However, the goalie has picked up his 2nd career shutout and is sporting a very good .913 save % this season.
In the AHL, Salminen sits in 10th place in GAA (2.52) and 16th in save percentage (.915), while Holm holds onto the 27th spot in GAA (2.99) and 18th in save percentage (.913). League-wide, Salminen sits in 2nd place for GAA and 3rd place in save % for rookie goalies.
It is way too early to start dreaming about the Winnipeg Jets becoming a goaltending factory with Salminen, Holm, and Mikhail Berdin in the pipeline to back up, or less likely, replace Connor Hellebuyck in the future.
However, both Salminen and Holm are built right to become NHL goalies, standing tall at 6'4' and 6'5" respectively. They use their positional strength and big bodies to get a piece of most shots and have also displayed the ability to make quick reaction saves when called up. Salminen may be slightly better at rebound control at this point, while Holm has been outstanding shutting down opportunities on breakaways.
While all three of Winnipeg's goaltending prospects may not pan out, it does give the Jets organization some mobility to possibly move one of them to a rival NHL team in need of goaltending depth in their systems.
Personally, watching Salminen & Holm's ongoing development will be something I am most interested in going forward about this Manitoba team, since the need for a replacement for David Rittich next year gives them the chance to possibly grab an NHL spot.
Below you can check out the stats for this year's Moose goalies, as well as stats for comparable players time in the AHL. Probably self explanatory, but the Year category represents the seasons the players have spent in the AHL.
NAME / AGE / GP / W-L-T / GA / GAA / SV% / SO
Salminen / 23 / 12 / 6-3-1 / 28 / 2.52 / .915 / 1
Holm / 24 / 8 / 4-2-2 / 21 / 2.99 / .913 / 0
NAME / YEAR / AGE / GP / W-L-T / GA / GAA / SV% / SO
Hellebuyck / 1 / 22 / 30 / 13-15-1 / 72 / 2.49 / .922 / 4
Berdin / 1 / 20 / 23 / 12-11-0 / 51 / 2.34 / .927 / 2
Berdin / 2 / 21 / 42 / 20-21-1 / 117 / 2.89 / .910 / 2
Berdin / 3 / 22 / 30 / 13-11-4 / 84 / 2.89 / .897 / 0
Berdin / 4 / 23 / 32 / 19-10-2 / 75 / 2.40 / .902 / 4
Berdin / 5 / 24 / 3 / 0-1-1 / 9 / 3.13 / .914 / 0 *w/ Sochi in KHL