There are a lot of players in Cedar Park right now.
Even with the assignment of Maxime Lagace, Gemel Smith and Cole Ully to Idaho, the Texas Stars are carrying 14 forwards and eight defensemen. It's a good problem to have for Texas though.
Brett Ritchie returned to the lineup last night, notching a point on Dowling's late goal. He noted postgame, "The first couple shifts it felt weird, lots of adrenaline like a big playoff game. I settled down and felt OK. Legs felt good and the wrist held up."
Now the Stars need to find some chemistry for the young winger. Justin Dowling has been his linemate for nearly every game he's played with Texas, but the Stars have almost too many top 6 type forwards now. They're sporting a fourth line that includes Derek Hulak, Greg Rallo and Matej Stransky, which could arguably be a second line on several AHL teams in the division.
Derek Laxdal will have plenty of opportunity to sort that out over the coming two weeks. Texas plays two three-in-three sequences on the coming two weekends. The Stars were 0-2-1 over the past week, so it's a good chance to reverse that trend and quick.
The Stars scored 11 goals in the past two home games going into this game. They won neither.
Each time, Texas has been bested by the visitor. Last Wednesday, Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks) took Texas to overtime and beat the home side by a 6-5 final. It's clear they can score, now they need to stop the puck more effectively.
"A lot of it is our own doing," said Travis Morin, who scored in the game. "We are making big mistakes at bad times and leaving our goalies out to dry. We have to know that our offense is going to score as long as we play good defense."
Neither team led by more than a goal at any time as Jack Campbell and Michael Leighton were both equally porous and mistake-prone. Campbell let in an easy goal gloveside in the second and both Campbell and Leighton had misplayed pucks that ended up in the back of their nets.
"We're a little porous in the D zone," Laxdal said. "Jack played today despite traveling all day. There's probably 3 or 4 he'd like to have back. Leighton wasn't any better. It was the last team to score that would win."
Campbell stopped 37 of 43 shots on the night after arriving at 3:45 PM from Calgary. Michael Leighton stopped 32 of 37 shots. With the loss, the Stars dropped to 5-4-1 on home ice this season.
A quick trip to Milwaukee (Nashville Predators) turned up no luck for the Stars Sunday afternoon as they fell 5-2 to the Admirals. The Stars hung in it through the first half of the game, trading goals with the Ads up to 2-2. Joe Pendenza netted a shorthanded goal that broke the back of the Stars and was the ultimate game winner. The Ads added two goals in the third to set the final.
Despite the loss, Devin Shore extended his point streak to nine games. Jack Campbell took the loss with 18 saves on 23 shots. Jason Dickinson and Derek Hulak returned to the Stars lineup. Brett Ritchie, who was assigned yesterday, did not suit up.
Michael Leighton was the story of the night against the Texas Stars Tuesday evening. Texas dropped 52 shots on the IceHogs' goalie and by all acounts should have won the game with that effort. Leighton was up to the task though, winning the contest with a 5-3 final.
"Leighton was the difference in the game," agreed Laxdal. "We played a nearly perfect game here. I liked our game, but we didn't get the win."
The Stars scored three and limited the chances on John Muse to just 18 through two periods. By all accounts, the Stars had a distinct advantage and were the better overall team. Strong play from the aforementioned Leighton and some individuals like Pierre-Cedric Labrie made the difference for Rockford.
"We outworked them and out chanced them," said Derek Hulak, who had a goal and an assist in the game. "But we have to put the puck in the net. It's a bounce here or there. Whenever you lose, there's always something you can do better."
Laxdal noted that each of the first three goals came off of avoidable mistakes. Each one was correctable in his estimation. He added, "You have to win the tight games, the one goal games. This is part of our learning curve."
The Week Ahead
The Stars have a busy week. A 3-in-3 stretch stares them in the face this coming weekend, the only action on the slate for the week. Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) visits on Friday then Stockton (Calgary Flames) on Saturday. Sunday will see a trip to San Antonio (Colorado Avalanche).
Everyone returned to health this week. Jason Dickinson, Remi Elie and Derek Hulak all rejoined the healthy ranks. Brett Ritchie also played in his first game action of the season.