Texas followed up last week's excellent performances against Houston and last night's thriller win against Rockford with yet another 'W'. Texas defeated Houston for the 8th time this year in 10 meetings and Ray Sawada picked up the Gordie Howe hat trick. Overall, it was a night for grinders, as the Three Stars selections showed.
Despite my proclamations of the return of Krahn, Matt Climie got the start tonight. Also, Anton Khudobin was in net for the Aeros. Zero for two on goaltender predictions for the day. Sometimes I wonder why I even try guessing.
The Stars came out of the room sluggishly. Two early icing calls left opening defensive pair Stephenson and Jancevski on the ice for over two minutes, causing Texas to call a timeout on the second icing. The Stars were lucky not to get cuaght tired in the early going of this game and be down before three minutes had even elapsed. Travis Morin scored the first of the night on a feed from Sergei Korostin in front of the net. It was Morin's 18th of the year.
The 'night of the grinders' started at 16:38 of the first when Perttu Lindgren skated down the left wing side and passed to a hard-charging Ray Sawada. Sawada wristed one over the pad and over the glove of an outstreched Khudobin to make it 2-0 going into the first intermission.
Ray Sawada and Petr Kalus squared off three minutes into the second. It was a spirited fight that really got the 6,000+ in the Cedar Park Center into the match. Sadly though, it was Houston that capitalized off that energy, putting one past Climie at 8:52 to make it 2-1.
Colton Sceviour and Cody Almond dropped their mitts to end the second. The ice crew came out to a bloody faceoff dot when they went to move the goal. It was Sceviour's first fight as a professional. Colton had never taken more than two penalty minutes in a game prior to tonight and was the least penalized skater on the Texas Stars until tonight at eight. Landon Wilson technically has fewer, but he has only played 8 games.
Texas opened the third with their third goal of the night. Warren Peters, another grinder, scored on a semi-breakaway, again tucking the puck between Khudobin's pads and glove for a 3-1 Texas lead. Ray Sawada got the primary assist, giving him the final piece of the Gordie Howe hat trick.
The Aeros would answer quickly with two goals in rapid succession. The first, a power play goal from Ryan Gunderson, set the score at 3-2 at 3:08. Only ninety seconds later, Duncan Milroy's tip of a Nathan Smith shot knotted the contest at three.
Late in the third, Colton Sceviour put it away. Sceviour had played well all game with the fight and a lot of pep in his game overall. Sceviour pried a pass off the left-half-wall and skated straight across the the high slot where he slapped one past Khudobin despite several Houston players hounding him. It was Sceviour's first goal in 27 games and the sixth of the year for the rookie. Texas's defense would make it stand up as the game winner.
Tonight's game demonstrated some team scoring effort. Goals came from three of the four lines, with the only one left out being McCulloch-Lindgren-Beaudoin. It is great to see that 3rd and 4th line guys are grinding it out and getting goals. Secondary scoring is key to success for low scoring teams like the Stars. If your top line has an off night, you have to be able to count on your other guys to get it done.
Alright now standing talk. Milwaukee lost tonight, so that places the Stars in sole possession of third place with 77 points. Milwaukee will play Peoria tomorrow and Lake Erie on Wednesday when the Stars are in action again. Realistically, the most important part of the equation for Texas is getting to the #2 spot. I don't think getting to #1 is a reasonable goal at this point. Texas would need to achieve 31 of 32 points to match Chicago's pace. Getting to #2 only requires 21 of 32 points to match Rockford's pace. Additionally, Texas has several "four-point" head-to-head games against Milwaukee and Rockford coming up to bolster their chances.
Being #2 guarantees home-ice advantage and likely guarantees Texas will not play likely juggernaut Chicago in the first round. Chicago, Rockford, Texas and Milwaukee are your West Division playoff teams; now it's just a matter of what order they fall in.
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Stafford (scratched, but possibly injured)
Tousignant and Gazdic (scratched)
If you were to scratch a player to give Ethan Graham a chance to play, it wouldn't be Garrett Stafford. It would probably be Ludwig or Stephenson. This leads me to believe that Stafford might have sustained some sort of injury.
Tonight's attendance was 6,110.
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Houston - March 6 2010