0

Moose Moment: The Climb back into the Playoffs

When the Moose came off of the ice on December 22 after a 3-1 loss to Grand Rapids, their fifth straight loss heading into the Christmas break, they were written off as not having a chance to make the playoffs. With a record of 11-16-2-0, they sat last in the AHL, and were looking at a huge gap to make up to get back in the race.

Fast forward three months, and the Moose have done a complete 180 since the break. With their 3-2 win over Colorado on Saturday night, the Moose entered the top four in the Central Division for the first time all season. The win was punctuated by a gorgeous overtime winner by Tucker Poolman.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Moose now have a record of 22-11-2-2 since the Christmas break.  However, with just 10 games left in the regular season, the challenge for the Moose is to continue to elevate their play, and maintain their newly established position.

“It’s huge. We’re playing playoff games. Every game for us is a playoff game.” – Logan Shaw after Tuesday’s practice in Cedar Park, Texas.

The Moose have been keyed by two main factors in their comeback since the Christmas break. The first factor has been their renewed commitment to team defense. In the 29 games before the Christmas break, the Moose conceded an average of 3.41 goals per game, and had a penalty kill percentage of 80.1%. They were also one of the most penalized teams in the league, giving an average of 4.69 power-play chances per game. The Moose gave up four or more goals in almost half of their games, and had a 1-13-0-0 record in those games.

In the 37 games since the break, the goals against average has dropped by 0.82 goals per game, down to 2.59 GA/G. Their penalty kill has improved by 2.6%, up to 82.7% since the break. Their penalty kill improvement correlates to a drop in the number of times they’ve had to kill penalties. The Moose have seen the average number of power-plays against drop by 0.93 per game. The Moose have only given up four or more goals nine times since the break, with an 0-6-2-1 record in those games.

The second key to the turnaround has been a dominant record at home. After going 6-8-0-0 at home before the break, the Moose are in the midst of a stretch where they have gotten points in 18 of their last 20 home games (16-2-1-1). Their 22 overall home wins are tied for first n the Western Conference with Grand Rapids, and their 46 home points put them third in the Western Conference, behind Grand Rapids (50) and Iowa (47). Unfortunately, the Moose have only four home games remaining, which they will need to make sure they take care of if they want to squeeze into the playoffs.

The Return Of Veselainen

On March 15th, 2017 Jets 1st round pick Kristian Veselainen was returned to the Moose after finishing his season with Jokerit of the KHL.  In 31 games with Jokerit, Veselainen had six goals and 17 points, and added one goal in six playoff games.  Since returning to the Moose, Veselainen has chipped in a goal and an assist in four games, and has added some scoring punch on the top line with Logan Shaw and Mason Appleton.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Race

With Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Iowa comfortably locked into playoff spots, and San Antonio on an nine game winless streak and fading quickly, what’s left is a four team battle for a single playoff spot.

Games Left

Manitoba (72 pts) Rockford (72 pts) Milwaukee (71 pts) Texas (71 pts)

10

at Texas N/A N/A

N/A

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

9

at San Antonio vs Milwaukee at Rockford

N/A

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

8

at San Antonio vs Grand Rapids at Chicago

vs Manitoba

7

vs Bakersfield vs Chicago at Grand Rapids

at Iowa

6

vs Bakersfield vs San Antonio vs San Antonio

at Iowa

5 vs Stockton at Texas vs Chicago

vs Rockford

4

vs Stockton at Texas vs Iowa

vs Rockford

3

at Grand Rapids at Milwaukee vs Rockford

vs San Antonio

2

at Chicago at Iowa vs Grand Rapids

at San Antonio

1 at Chicago vs Milwaukee at Rockford

vs San Antonio

By strength of schedule, the Moose have the second hardest schedule remaining, with a combined opponent’s points percentage of .593. Milwaukee’s schedule is slightly tougher at .595, while Rockford and Texas both have a remaining strength at .566. The other danger in the rest of this race is the number of games between the three teams chasing the Moose (five games), and the potential for overtime games in those head-to-head matchups. The bottom line is that the Moose control their own destiny, which is a statement you wouldn’t have thought would be possible at Christmas.

Up Next…

The Moose continue their five game road trip with their final head-to-head matchup against the Texas Stars tonight (7:00 PM, TSN 1290, AHL TV). The Moose will be looking to avenge a 5-4 overtime loss against Texas just 12 days ago. In that game, the Moose fell behind 4-1 after two periods, setting the stage for a remarkable comeback. They would score three times in a 4:56 span in the third period to salvage a point, before Michael Mersch would score the OT winner in a 5-4 Stars win. The Moose hold a 5-2 edge in the season series against the Stars.

From there, the Moose head south down I-35 to San Antonio for their final two regular season meetings against the San Antonio Rampage. As mentioned earlier, the Rampage have a record of 0-8-1-0 over their last 8 games, including a pair of home losses on the weekend to Chicago and Grand Rapids where they were outscored 8-1. San Antonio cannot be taken lightly at the AT&T Center, as they have a solid 21-9-2-1 record at home this season. The Moose hold a 4-2 edge in the season series against the Rampage, but both Rampage wins came in San Antonio, by a combined score of 8-1.