The Texas Stars (10-6-2-2, 24 pts, #4 Western Conference) picked up three points out of an available four against two non-playoff teams this past week.
With their points continuing to tick along at a nice clip (.600 overall), the even better news is that the club is getting healthier by the day. Cristopher Nilstorp picked up a minor lower body injury last week and was held out of the weekend's contests. Allen York started both. Nilstorp was a full participant in practice yesterday, and goalie Josh Robinson was sent down to ECHL Idaho ahead of tonight's game
Patrik Nemeth, who has been out since November 9th, skated in practice yesterday as well without a no-contact jersey. Goalie Jack Campbell worked out on the ice with Mike Valley this week as well.
Jokipakka and Gaunce coming together as a pairing
Since the early season, Jyrki Jokipakka and Cameron Gaunce have been a consistent pairing. The offensive minded rookie Jokipakka and the defensive veteran Gaunce had a breakout game on Saturday night against the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Gaunce picked up two primary assists and Jokipakka a secondary as both finished plus-3 on the night.
"We got a bit lucky in the sense that we caught them late in shifts," said Gaunce. "When that happens, their forwards collapse. That gives us more time at the point to move our feet and get open lanes."
"Gaunce had a great game," added Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins. "He got pucks through, and whenever you can do that, it helps."
Brett Ritchie quietly moving up points standings
Rookie Brett Ritchie has had a slow start to this season but is moving up the points list steadily. He ranks just behind Travis Morin, Colton Sceviour and Chris Mueller on the team and is ahead of fellow rookie Curtis McKenzie by a single point. He has just four goals on the season, rounding out his 15 point total with 11 assists. It looks like he is becoming more comfortable with the pro game with each passing contest. He had a four-game point streak earlier in the month. The rookie needs to shoot more, given just a basic look at his numbers. He does well when generating three or more shots per game for himself.
After starting with a 2-0 lead, Texas needed a late goal from Brendan Ranford to tie things up at three but ultimately fell in the shootout 4-3 to the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) on Friday.
"We came into this game after a rough road trip," said captain Maxime Fortunus. "We started strong and they found a way to get back in. It doesn't change for us. We need to keep the same game plan."
Just 68 seconds into the game, Fortunus potted his second of the season from the points. With traffic in front, Fortunus walked the blue line and beat Jacob Markstrom on Texas's first shot of the night.
Colton Sceviour put away his 14th of the year just three seconds after a penalty expired. Travis Morin and Chris Mueller completed the frenetic tic-tac-toe play that saw Texas complete a few passes of just a few feet each to get Markstrom out of position for the goal.
Texas let San Antonio back into the game with three unanswered goals. Trailing 3-2, the Stars were getting outshot 9-3 in the final period. Texas started flinging rubber at Markstrom. After the Rampage goal, Texas outshot them 10-0 over the last twelve minutes of the period.
"It's simple. Get pucks to the net. We've seen this goalie can give rebounds," said Fortunus.
Coach Desjardins added, "Once that goal went in, it seemed like we got going again. The players knew what we wanted. They weren't happy. It was them that generated it."
They were rewarded as Mike Hedden won an individual puck battle down low in the Rampage zone. He managed to find Brendan Ranford in the slot, where the rookie dusted it off and picked a corner on Markstrom for the 3-3 tie.
Sceviour was the only goal scorer in the shootout for Texas, which went to seven rounds.
Texas's three-goal second period keyed their victory on Saturday night over the visiting Toronto Marlies. Brett Ritchie picked up a goal and an assist on the night. His goal was the first of the game and launched thousands of teddy bears onto the ice for the annual charity event.
"I had a whole celebration planned if I scored it," said Ritchie. "I forgot to do it. I got too excited."
"As a coach, you always worry you aren't going to score [on Teddy Bear Toss night]," added Coach Desjardins. "So it's always good when those go in."
Beyond the first-period goal, Texas had a three-goal second that put the game out of reach for the Marlies.
"It really took the wind out of their sails," said Ritchie. Curtis McKenzie got it started on the power play with a one-timer of his own, his sixth goal of the year. Only 27 seconds later, Chris Mueller redirected a Jokipakka shot past Drew MacIntyre for the 3-1 lead.
Morin found twine on another tip just two minutes later. Gaunce again had the primary assist with the initial shot.
"In that scenario, I'm looking for sticks," said Gaunce. "Travis did a good job of giving me a target."
Gaunce and his defensive partner, Jokipakka, were both plus-3 on the night.
Mike Hedden polished off the scoring in the third with his sixth of the year.
The Week Ahead
Texas welcomes the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) to the Cedar Park Center tonight. After Thanksgiving, the Stars set out for a three-game road trip. They will play back-to-back Friday and Saturday in Grand Rapids against the defending Calder Cup champion Griffins (Detroit Red Wings). On Tuesday, they will head to OKC for a rematch with the Barons.
As mentioned above, Texas is getting healthier. Nilstorp and Nemeth are expected to play tonight. Fortunus is back at 100%. Campbell is skating again. There was a bit of a flu bug in the room but nothing major. Justin Dowling, Hedden and York all got maintenance days on Tuesday to make sure it didn't hold them out of any games.