The season is still young. That's pretty much the only positive news surrounding the Manitoba Moose at the moment.
The 2019-20 campaign has not gone according to plan for the Winnipeg Jets' farm team thus far.
After eight games, the Moose have the second-worst record in the American Hockey League as they find themselves at 1-7-0-0. The Moose have dropped six games in a row and are coming off of a disappointing weekend on the road where they were outscored 8-1 in two games.
So, what's the reason for the losses piling up?
"A lot of things," said Moose head coach Pascal Vincent after Tuesday's practice at Bell MTS Place. "We don't score enough goals. That's the one thing. I think the last two games have been better defensively, giving up less than 25 shots against, but I think our offence is struggling right now getting into the hard areas. Last week we did a lot of one-on-one battles, so we improved our scoring chances, but now it's a matter of finishing around the net."
The Moose average less than two goals per game as their current goal tally stands at 15. It's the third-lowest goals-per-game average in the 31-team league. Their special teams unit hasn't been great, either. The Moose have one power-play goal in 28 opportunities and they're killing penalties at a rate of 78.4 per cent. It's not lost on Vincent that if special teams don't improve, the Moose won't be turning a corner any time soon.
"Five-on-five, when you look at the games, we're pretty much even. So, we need to improve our special teams," said Vincent, who guided the Moose to a 17 per cent power-play conversion rate last season. "The power-play hasn't produced enough. The chances are there. The system is right. It's been proven in the past that it works, so now it's a matter of execution."
But the problems don't end there. The Moose haven't gotten the necessary goaltending to steal games. Last year's team MVP Eric Comrie was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Coyotes prior to this season but the Moose didn't panic. They believed 21-year-old Russian goalie Mikhail Berdin was ready to step up and become the full-time starter.
As a rookie, Berdin appeared in 23 games for the Moose and had a 12-8-3 record to go along with a 2.34 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. This season, Berdin's numbers have regressed. He's 1-5-0 with a 3.21 GAA and .898 SP. His backup, Adam Carlson, has allowed seven goals in two games and has a .863 save percentage.
"Don't look at the stats right now. They don't necessarily explain the way (Berdin's) been playing... I don't think our goalies have been the problem." – Manitoba Moose head coach Pascal Vincent
Vincent said losing Comrie has been an adjustment but the team can't use that as an excuse. Although Berdin's numbers are far from stellar, Vincent doesn't believe they're a fair representation of how the young goaltender has played between the pipes.
"Don't look at the stats right now. They don't necessarily explain the way (Berdin's) been playing," Vincent said. "At the end of the day, you win or you lose as a team. He's part of the team. We're not winning enough at this point. He's part of it. But not too many games I can say our goalie should've done a better job. There are a few goals here and there like every team would say, but I don't think our goalies have been the problem."
Times have been tough lately, but Moose captain Peter Stoykewych isn't ready to press the panic button yet. The Winnipeg native said the team is confident they could just as easily win six games in a row and put their slow start in the past.
"We actually feel like we've played some pretty good hockey for most of the time, "said the defenceman, who's pointless in eight games. "It's just a couple of minutes here and there that we take our foot off the gas and in this league, that'll kill you. We've seen that. We've learned that and we've had a couple good days of practice here and we have every intention of turning this thing around right away."
For the second straight season, the Moose have stumbled out of the gate. Last season, the Moose were last in the AHL by the Christmas break. In the second half, the team went on a 28-14-3-2 run but missed qualifying for the playoffs by two points.
Stoykewych doesn't want this team to wait until after Christmas to wake up. He believes the time is now and the first step to doing so would be a strong showing this weekend when the Moose host the Grand Rapids Griffins for a pair of games. The Moose play six of their next nine games at home.
"We know we're good hockey players. We know we're a good hockey team," Stoykewych said. "When you break the game down in segments, there are certain times throughout the game where we dominate teams and even just last weekend, we outshot teams, we put a lot of pucks to the net, two-to-one in some cases. So, we feel like we're getting closer and closer. We just got to find a way to break through and as soon as we do, I think we'll be fine."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.