The Texas Stars have started this season with one win and one overtime loss. Three points in the standings puts them third in the AHL’s Central Division, just behind the Chicago Wolves and Iowa Wild. The Stars have gotten there through a variety of means, such as an excellent penalty kill (they killed 10 of 12 penalties this weekend and scored a shorthanded goal). The Stars also have a good defensive system that works offensively, they have great goaltending out of Landon Bow and (to a lesser degree) Colton Point, and their forwards are moving the puck well.
The Stars have displayed faults, however. Their power play is 0-for-6 and they took too many penalties in both games. The Stars have been outshot 50-45, and have needed their goaltenders to step up more than they should.
“We’ve got to have a little more discipline and allow ourselves to play 5-on-5,” said Derek Laxdal, head coach of the T-Stars, “especially when you have back-to-back games and you’re killing ten-plus penalties, it’s just not going to work”.
Point stopped 21 shots for a .840 save percentage, though that is misleading. He made several key saves, but displayed a tendency to lose ground on breakaways. Bow also had to make a number of high-danger saves, but came up with a .960 save percentage for his efforts.
However, the T-Stars have also demonstrated a number of strengths. Among these, Michael Mersch, a veteran AHL presence, has three assists so far, including making some great plays. Mersch looks to be a crucial member of the team moving forward, and has played on the power play, penalty kill, and in the top six up to this point. He’s definitely played well enough to remain there. Watch how he sets up this crucial goal, pulling the goaltender out of the net:
The other, perhaps even more important player to this point has been Joel L’Esperance. The rookie has scored two goals and deserves some credit for a third, as he made a shorthanded breakaway, pulled Harri Sateri of the Grand Rapids Griffins out of the net, and then Colton Hargrove, following along, recovered the rebound and scored on the empty net. That should be at least an assist, but it isn’t officially.
L’Esperance has also been excellent defensively and has earned time on the penalty kill. He has said his aim this year is to become a more well-rounded player, likely aiming for a bottom six role in the future with the Dallas Stars.
“Play a better two-way game,” said L’Esperance. “I think that’s one thing that I need to work on is d-zone play, picking up guys on the back-check, I think that’s one thing I just started to focus on and I think it’s helped.”
If he continues to play the way he did this weekend, including coming up with the game-winning goal in the first game and the goal that forced overtime in second game, well, he’ll get there.
“I thought Joel L’Esperance was a beast tonight. He’s picked up right where he left off in the playoffs, he’s strong on the puck and he’s only going to get better as the season goes along. I like to compare him to Jay Beagle, likely a little more offensive upside” said Laxdal.
At the end of the weekend, however, as Laxdal said, “Anytime you can get three of four points in a weekend, you’re going to take it”.