The Texas Stars (9-11-0-1, 19 pts, #13 Western Conference) hit the road this week for an oddly extended road trip against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes). The Checkers joined the Western Conference this year to make room for the St. John's IceCaps (Winnipeg Jets) in the East. With the long travel distance, Texas played both of their road games against the club in the same week without any in between.
The Stars seem to have made the most of the time off on the road, which is often cited as the place where a group of individuals becomes a team. Brad Lukowich and company enjoyed a Joy Formidable concert on Friday and also tweeted his followers after finding that Luke Gazdic, Ryan Garbutt, and Scott Glennie had left their credit cards at the local Ruth's Chris. It appears Glennie, the rookie, may have "bought" Lukowich dinner that night.
That good bit of bonding turned the 3-2 losing effort on Wednesday into an emphatic 4-2 win on Saturday. Charlotte is a quality team. They are number two in the conference, were on a five game winning streak coming into the week and were 7-1-0-1 at home before Texas got there. Add the reigning AHL Goalie of the Month with Justin Peters in the net, and you've got a nasty matchup. The split was a nice result and now Texas returns home to face Charlotte in Cedar Park.
Inside we'll talk more about each of the games and how Coach Pyle is tweaking his power play to bump up its recent "sag"...
The Checkers struck first in this one with an early goal from Zac Dalpe. The Stars answered in the period with two goal two minutes apart from Jordie Benn and Luke Gazdic. The frenetic first finished tied with a goal from Brett Sutter.
Charlotte got the only other goal of the night from Jon Matsumoto. The Stars held Charlotte without a PPG but didn't score one themselves. Both teams were 0/5. Tyler Beskorowany took the loss with 21 saves on 24 shots against.
Texas scored about every which way you can in this game. The scoring opened up with a shorthanded tally by Luke Gazdic, assisted by Garbutt. The goal was Gazdic's first shorthanded goal of the season and his pro career. Sutter tied things up a minute later though and Drayson Bowman extended the lead early in the second.
This is where Texas's character showed through. Down 2-1, Texas scored the next three goals to win in regulation. Power play goals from Matt Fraser and Mike Hedden put Texas over the top with an even strength tally from Maxime Fortunus for good measure. Assists went to Glennie, Benn, Brenden Dillon, Travis Morin, Fraser and Mathieu Tousignant. Beskorowany had 22 saves on 24 shots.
Tweaking the PP
Coach Pyle retooled his power play units to great success on Saturday. Traditionally, Pyle's power play is one of his strong suits, often finishing in the upper 20% or low 30% range for the season. Two of the players changed had goals on the PP.
First, Matt Fraser was swapped to the umbrella PP unit, which features one defenseman and four forwards. Jordie Benn stays at the point while the other four spread out in an umbrella formation. Ryan Garbutt lost his spot on the PP to make room for Fraser, who joined Francis Wathier, Colton Sceviour and Glennie. Fraser collected the first PP goal at 14:44 of the second. It was his first PPG in 9 games.
Newcomer to the power play, Mike Hedden, replaced Matt Fraser on the second more "traditional" PP unit, which also features Dillon, Lukowich, Morin and Ray Sawada. Hedden made good on his PP time, scoring his second goal of the year, the eventual game winner, with four seconds left in the second period.
The Week Ahead
Charlotte follows Texas back to Austin for a game this Friday. The league-leading Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) then come to town on Saturday night.