In six games in the season series, the Texas Stars were unable to defeat the reigning champions of the AHL, division rival Ontario (Los Angeles). That team is the measuring stick for playoff competitiveness in the Pacific Division, and the Stars did not measure up this past weekend.
Coach Laxdal and all the players called them a playoff-style team. They've been playing that way since October, rolling their Calder Cup win right into a dominating season in their new digs in California.
"They play tighter and structure, that LA style. They're tough to play. Trying to get a grade A scoring chance, you have to create by movement."
It hasn't hurt that Peter Budaj has 30+ wins for the club, bailing them out when the offense can't generate. He's likely to be your goalie of the year in the league despite the reduced 68 game schedule his Reign play.
Missed opportunities on the power play were partly to blame (sound familiar, Dallas?). Texas had two 5-on-3s in the Saturday game that failed to connect. Also, injuries have been plaguing the team. With Greg Rallo, Justin Dowling and Travis Morin out, Laxdal has asked his bottom six players to step up into new roles. Cole Ully, for example, was on the second PP unit on Saturday. "You're not going to get [goals from them] every night," said Laxdal.
Texas has some lighter competition this week to continue honing their skills and hopefully see some players return to the lineup.
Goalie Logjam Loosens As Stars Trade John Muse
Texas sent third goalie John Muse to the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) in an AHL-only deal. The return was 'future considerations,' which could very well mean nothing. Muse hadn't started a game since January 5th following the emergence of Maxime Lagace as the clear starter.
Texas Stars Lean Heavily On Maxime Lagace in OT Loss to Reign
Another battle with Ontario led to another one-goal loss, this time in quite dramatic fashion. The Reign brought their playoff style brand of hockey to the Cedar Park Center and bombed 51 shots on Maxime Lagace in a 3-2 overtime victory.
"One goal games can go either way," noted Derek Hulak, who scored tonight. "We're right there [with them]. We have to find a way to crack the curse."
The curse he refers to is the winless record the Stars have against Ontario with only a single game left between the two in the regular season. Of course, tonight's score of 1-1 through most of the contest was a far cry from the 7-6 loss to start the series
"Our coaching staff has done a good job putting focus on our defensive play. It's been growing and getting better, and I think you see it in our last stretch of games here. The guys have been coming together, buying into the systems."
Maxime Lagace was the true story of the night. Texas had no right to be in the game after the second period. Tied at one, Lagace and the Stars had to stop three consecutive Reign power plays
Special Teams The Difference in 5-2 Texas Loss
To close the season series between the two teams, you'd have to expect a one-goal game, right? Each game in the series had been decided by a single goal until today's contest. Tonight's was a 5-2 loss. The key difference in the game was the Texas special teams. Despite two lengthy 5-on-3 chances, Texas ended up 0-for-5 on the power play this evening
"Our power play just has to be better," said Jason Dickinson. "Two 5-on-3s that don't connect change the game. It could be numerous reasons. We're not crisp enough moving the puck. I have to make better plays, we've all got to be better."
Coach Laxdal continued, "We got the looks we wanted, but we just missed the net on wide open opportunities. We missed the net on the power play and on point shots. It's something we'll address."
Maxime Lagace wasn't nearly as tested tonight with only 27 shots vaulted on the Texas net. His counterpart, Peter Budaj, earned his 30th win of the season with a 24 save effort.
The Stars may be close to regaining some of their key players next week. Until then, bottom six players have been asked to step into big roles, according to Coach Laxdal.
The best chances Texas had were off the rush as Texas tried to simplify its offense against Ontario.
The Week Ahead
As previously mentioned, Greg Rallo, Travis Morin and Justin Dowling are all injured.