Trailing behind many of their conference foes in games played, the busy past week was a great chance for the Texas Stars (12-14-0-1, 25 pts, #14 Western Conference) to catch up in the points race. With a 2-2 record on the week, the Stars missed their chance to get back to .500 on the season with a loss to San Antonio on Sunday afternoon.
It was really an up and down week for the Stars. After losing to the OKC Barons (Edmonton Oilers) last week, they went to their house and kicked their teeth in in the first and eventually won 3-2. It was a strong win against the #1 team in the league. Then, they played a 3-in-3, losing 2 of 3, both against division foes. The only win on the weekend was at home against the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres), a team that Texas had never played before that night.
Texas scored six goals in that game, including two shorthanded goals, but totaled three goals for in the other two games on the weekend. They bombed Jakob Markstrom with 48 shots on Sunday and still couldn't beat him for more than two. Lack of finish is hurting this team right now in the standings. Coach Pyle openly admits that when you can't get more than two, you aren't going to win a lot of games. Now the question is what to do about it.
More inside on the four games that the Stars had this week and an injury to a Dallas contracted player...
Last Tuesday in Oklahoma City, the Stars played arguably one of their best games of the season, beating the league-leading Barons by the score of 3-2. Texas did their damage in the first period with three goals in the period. Scoring came evenly from three of the four lines. The Stars limited shots against, allowing only 20 in the entire contest, which certainly helped matters.
Stephen Schultz scored his first pro tally, and Raymond Sawada and Colton Sceviour also potted goals. The Stars chased David LeNeveu, who gave way to Yann Danis, who did not allow a goal the rest of the way. OKC mounted a minor comeback, scoring two in the third but ultimately came up short.
The Stars had a forgettable game against the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) after their strong game against OKC. Texas trailed 3-0 four minutes into the second period. Really, the game can be honed down to the first 5 minutes of the second period. Texas actually outshot Houston in the second 17-7 but was outscored 2-1 thanks to those first five minutes.
The Stars found themselves in a familar spot four minutes into the first period against the Amerks. Rochester was up 2-0 early. "We were right where we usually are," joked Coach Pyle. Good thing for Texas that Rochester hasn't scored more than 2 goals in nine road games this season.
Texas then put the pedal down and flew past Rochester with a superior remaining 56 minutes. The Stars scored six unanswered goals including two shorthanded markers. Ryan Garbutt had a four point night, scoring two goals. "You knew at some point he'd have a game and break through," said Pyle. "I'm really glad for him."
Other goals came from Brenden Dillon (SHG), Brad Lukowich, Francis Wathier (SHG) and Mike Hedden. Dillon also assisted on Wathier's SHG. Rookie goaltender JImmy Spratt got his first start in the game and won with 14 saves on 16 shots.
Finish was a big problem for Texas in San Antonio (Florida Panthers). Facing the third night of a 3-in-3, they outshot San Antonio 48-33 including 20-7 in the third period but couldn't break through. Ondrej Roman and Matt Fraser scored the Stars goals. Fraser's goal extended his goal scoring lead on the team to 14 and pushed his scoring streak to seven games (5-3-8).
The top line finished a combined minus-8 in the game. The defensive play of the unit has been a going concern on the season. Fraser and Sawada (injured) are each minus-11 on the season, and Travis Morin is minus-10. Ryan Garbutt, who subbed in tonight in Sawada's place, is plus-4 overall even after tonight's minus-2. Coach Pyle clearly sees that the line has scoring potential, but that they are also a defensive liability. How do you keep that line's offense clicking while also bringing up their sagging defensive?
The Week Ahead
The Stars are finally at the Christmas break and will play just one more game in the next week. Their visit to Houston on Wednesday will be the last game action until after Christmas.
Raymond Sawada missed Saturday and Sunday's games with an unspecified injury. Rather unexpectedly, in his place the Stars inserted Jake Hauswirth, recently acquired in the trade with Florida and called up from Rio Grande Valley.