It was a weekend of opposites for the Texas Stars. In the results column, they captured five of six possible points in the grueling 3-in-3 slog that is AHL hockey. They were very close to taking all six points with their first game of the weekend going to overtime.
But regardless of the outcome of the games on the scoresheet, Friday's contest will have reverberations on the rest of the season for the Texas Stars.
In the third period, Devin Shore, the Stars' leading scorer, was upended and fell to the ice in a lot of pain. Ryan Murphy was not penalized on the play, but he was later suspended three games for clipping. Shore left holding his right elbow to support his arm and did not return. Coach Laxdal put his timeline at a 4-6 week minimum, possibly more depending on the diagnosis.
Shore, who was definitely garnering consideration for the AHL All-Star Game and had already played three games with Dallas this year, sees his season come to a sudden pause. Shore was in a unique position of being good enough to excel at the AHL level but still a rookie and unlikely to get an extended callup in a deep Dallas system. That combination could have put him on pace for the Rookie of the Year trophy. At this point, that seems very unlikely.
Wondering where the offense would come from, Texas took the ice on Saturday and had a near immediate answer to that question. Brett Ritchie, who has spent the season on IR after an injury in preseason, tallied a hat trick. It was the third of his AHL career. He added a goal on Sunday to now total four goals in just three games of work. For as long as the Texas Stars can keep him, Ritchie will need to continue piling on that offense
Texas played a very familiar game to many of their recent home contests. Enough scoring to win the game but mistakes that bit them at the wrong times.
Laxdal noted, "When you're in a rut like this, every time you make a mistake you get stung. It's too good of a league to make the same mistakes. When things aren't going great for your team, you find ways to lose."
Texas opened the scoring with Julius Honka's third of the year, a nice back door finish of a Stransky pass. The Stars then ceded the next three to Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) before the end of the first. Jack Campbell was pulled for John Muse, and the frame ended at 3-2 Checkers after Radek Faksa tipped a Ludwig Bystrom shot for the Stars' second goal.
Laxdal made the decision to put Campbell back in for the second.
"We did a lot of good things in the first period but we made three mistakes they capitalized on. A couple of the goals I don't fault Jack on. We had to make a statement to the team, you can't just pull your goaltender and blame it on them. We put him back and challenged the guys to stick up for the goaltender."
Within six seconds in the middle frame, the Stars tied and went up on the Checkers thanks to goals from their Czech duo. Faksa went first at 12:33 and Matej Stransky scored off the ensuing faceoff at 12:39. Charlotte tied it up and went onto win on a power play in OT.
Seeking redemption for the prior night's loss, Texas got a quick chance with Stockton (Calgary Flames) in town on Saturday. After starting the season on the IR, Ritchie potted a hat trick in tonight's game to help Texas top Stockton by a 5-2 final.
"Ritchie is a trigger man," said Derek Laxdal. "He's a scorer and he's got a bomb of a shot."
The Stars got themselves a really solid all around effort after last night's disappointing outcome. They scored five, allowed only two, scored twice on the power play, had a clean sheet on the PK and piked up three fights against a physical team.
"I thought our guys really responded after last night," said Derek Laxdal. "[The Heat] play big and physical and our guys stepped up."
Brett Ritchie started his night early with a goal just 80 seconds into the contest off the centering pass from Justin Dowling. Radek Faksa added his third of the weekend off a rebound before the end of the frame.
Julius Honka kept his scoring ways going with a power play tally. The Heat answered back with their first of the night with 6 minutes left in the second. Brett Ritchie restored the three goal lead with another power play goal to end 40 up 4-1.
The physical game was highlighted by three fights, certainly the most this Texas team has seen in a while. Brennan Evans, Curtis McKenzie, and Jason Dickinson dropped the gloves in the first, second and third periods respectively.
After allowing the first goal, the Stars stormed back and played an excellent game in San Antonio (Colorado Avalanche) for a 3-2 win. Julius Honka scored the game-winner in the third and Brett Ritchie added his fourth of the season. For the second night in a row, the Stars had three fights: Brennan Evans once and Curtis McKenzie twice.
The Week Ahead
The Stars will play another three-in-three weekend, their second in a row and third of the season. Thursday will find Texas in Chicago for a kids game against the Wolves (St. Louis Blues) at 11 AM. Friday and Saturday, Texas will head to Michigan for two games against the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings). The Griffins, as of this writing, are on an eleven game winning streak.
As previously mentioned, Devin Shore is out at least a month with an injury. Branden Troock is currently out with an injury as well and missed all games this week. Jesse Blacker was hurt in the Stars' game on Saturday. Brendan Ranford could be questionable this week as well after getting hit late in San Antonio on Sunday.