The Texas Stars (9-6-2-1, 21 pts, #4 Western Conference) had a mixed bag week, collecting just three of a possible eight points over four games.
Their two weekend contests were solidly defensive, something that the Stars have had trouble with recently as they allowed just three goals between the two. In the other two games, however, Texas allowed a total of twelve goals against.
"We can't try to outscore teams 6-5," said Texas coach Willie Desjardins last week. "We have to start holding teams to one or two goals. Our penalty kill also has to get better."
It's a troubling trend. Two big strengths for the Stars in the preseason predictions, defense and goaltending, have turned into liabilities on many nights. With Jack Campbell still out with injury, Cristopher Nilstorp has a 3-6-1 record with a bloated 3.18 GAA and .892 SV%. Nilstorp has the worst stats of any Stars' goalie.
There has to be a bit of a conflict here. If something were to happen in Dallas, Jack Campbell is unavailable and no one else is under contract to backup the remaining goalie in the NHL. Nilstorp needs work to make sure he can be that call up, if it is needed. However, he's not stealing games with the same regularity. He did have a solid outing in Utica, the worst team in the league.
Part of the problem is that he's just facing too much high quality rubber. Something has clicked off for the defensive corps of the Texas Stars. Penalty killing numbers are down; goals against are up. Coach Desjardins attributed two of the Heat goals on Wednesday to individual mistakes in defensive coverage. Two or three more could have been attributed to the same last night in Hamilton.
The Stars have always had luck against San Antonio, their next opponent. If things aren't coming together against the Rampage, then something is really wrong.
With both teams on streaks coming into Wednesday's game, something had to give one way or the other. The Abbotsford Heat's (Calgary Flames) streak won out as they won their eighth in a row and ended the Stars' five-game home winning streak by a 7-3 margin in Cedar Park.
"We scored three, and with three you should be able to win in this league," said Francis Wathier, who had his third of the year, a shorthanded goal, in the game.
"The little mistakes that we had really cost us. We had been doing the right things in practice but small details is the type of game this is."
The Stars got two early power plays that they did not convert on and then found themselves in a 2-0 hole at the end of twenty. They battled back to draw within one at 3-2 near the end of the second but gave up a late goal to see the score slip to 4-2 after forty. Three goals in a 55-second span in the third period, one from Texas and two from the Heat, pushed the momentum firmly to the Heat end for good.
"I don't think the score indicated the game last time and neither did this score," said Coach Desjardins, referring to the 9-3 contest that Texas won on Abbotsford's last visit to Texas. "They scored on set breakouts on two and the powerplay on three, and that's five [of their goals]."
The Stars penalty kill was 0-for-3 on the night. Cristopher Nilstorp stopped 23 of 29 shots and was pulled after the sixth goal.
Given the vastly different league standings of the two clubs, a 2-1 victory is a thin margin for the Texas Stars over the fifteenth-ranked Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks), but they took that win to start their three-game road swing in the North Division. Mike Hedden headlined the night with a goal and an assist, earning first star honors.
Cristopher Nilstorp bounced back with a 28-save performance. Texas never trailed in the game, leading by 1-0 and 2-1 marks. The Stars converted on their only power play of the night and stopped two Utica man advantages. The Comets outshot the Stars over three periods. This was the only game Texas will play in Utica this season barring playoffs.
In the Stars' first shootout of the season, the home team Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) ended up victorious after ten rounds of back and forth scoring. Texas ceded two one-goal leads to end up at a tie score of 2-2 after sixty minutes.
Justin Dowling collected his first goal of the year. and Curtis McKenzie earned a power play goal, his fourth of the year. Texas was 1-for-6 on the power play and had a perfect 4-for-4 effort on the penalty kill. Cristopher Nilstorp stopped 28 of 30 shots in the game and 7 of 10 in the shootout. Brett Ritchie and Brendan Ranford scored in the shootout.
Defensive coverage was a sore spot for the Texas Stars this night as they left their starting goalie out to dry on multiple occasions to drop a 5-1 decision against the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens). Nick Tarnasky, the Bulldogs' leading penalty minute man, had two goals on the night, including a power play tally.
Nilstorp was pulled after the fourth goal and replaced by Allen York, who allowed one goal of his own. Three of the Bulldogs' goals were directly attributable to defensive turnovers or blown coverage by the Texas defense corps. Colton Sceviour had the game's only goal for Texas.
As the game got out of hand, Texas had a total of five fights, a rather uncharacteristic night in the pugilism department. William Wrenn, Hubert Labrie, Chris Mueller, Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie were the fighters for Texas.
The Week Ahead
Texas returns home for a pair of weekend contests. The San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) will visit on Friday followed by a game against the Toronto Marlies on Saturday.
Jack Campbell and Patrik Nemeth continue on the IR for Texas. Maxime Fortunus returned from injury this week only to go right back out of the lineup. Toby Petersen was out in one game due to illness.