Never mind first place, it's the four-game losing streak they need to concern themselves with. The Manitoba Moose made a potential blowout interesting by battling back, but eventually fell 5-4 to the league-leading Rochester Americans in American Hockey League action before a crowd of 8,812 at the MTS Centre last night.
AMERICANS 5 MOOSE 4
Rochester is now 19-1-0-2 in its last 22 games and holds a 19-point cushion over the Moose in the North Division standings. The Moose, though they hold four games in hand, also have the St. John's Maple Leafs breathing down their necks in the fight for second.
The Baby Leafs beat the Hershey Bears in a shootout last night to close within one point of the Moose.
It's the first time this season the Moose have lost four consecutive games.
"We battled back but it seems we're battling back a lot lately and getting behind the 8-ball lately," said Moose forward Josh Green. "We've got to stop this slide that we're on right now.
"I don't care if you'd had a week off or playing back-to-back nights, if you're not ready for a game like this, you shouldn't be playing. I just don't know if we were prepared for what they brought. We've got to be better by a mile."
The two clubs meet again today at 4 p.m.
Thanks to a pair of power-play markers and another two goals at even strength, the Americans jumped out to a 4-0 advantage on goals by Paul Gaustad, Norm Milley, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Jorde before the game was 12 minutes old.
The fourth goal chased veteran Wade Flaherty, who was replaced by Alex Auld at 11:59.
Auld, who was pulled from his last two starts, left his crease to chase down a puck and was hit by Gaustad who was given a five-minute major for charging that helped lead to the first Moose goal.
Jason King shoveled home a pass from Peter Sarno at 14:34 to break up the shutout bid.
Green scored 10 seconds into the second period to close the gap. Sarno made it a one-goal game at 12:43 when he banked a shot off the glove of goalie Ryan Miller from behind the goal-line.
"Discipline was a factor early for us. Those are things we push for and we want to be better at," said Moose head coach Randy Carlyle. "We had lots of energy for the first five or six minutes and then they score a goal and it seemed like our team changed. It seems like there is a switch, for whatever reason. It's happened to us far too many times and we've got to try to eliminate that.
"To be effective, we have to play a certain way."
Gaustad scored his second of the contest at 4:42 of the third to temper thoughts of a comeback, but Ryan Kesler replied at 7:30 to make it a one-goal game, but that was as close as the Moose would come.
MOOSE TRACKS: Jimmy Roy sat out his sixth consecutive game, but was feeling better after battling the flu the past few days. Jesse Schultz (healthy) and Brandon Nolan (fractured hand) also sat out. After wearing No. 27 in his Moose debut, Jason Jaffray switched to No. 14 last night.