|(Credit: Texas Stars)
"The mentality is doing whatever we can," said Justin Dowling, who scored the opening goal tonight. "These points at the beginning of the year are huge. All these points before Christmas, at the end, teams that make it or don't, it's as close as one or two points."
Ontario plays a big, heavy game that flies in the face of Texas's speed-based strategy. Tonight, Texas got the best of the Reign.
"They're pretty good in the neutral zone, so it's hard to get our feet going and play with speed when they're almost trapping us. We just have to adjust our game plan a bit."
Strong play from the fourth line and the power play were the differences tonight. The difference in speed vs. size was no better demonstrated than on the game-winning goal. Colin Markison, noted by Coach Laxdal for his speed all season, beared down on a Reign defender to generate a turnover and send the puck to the net for a deflection goal by Samuel Laberge.
"[Markison] plays in the identity of our club," said Laxdal. "He puts a lot of pressure on you with that speed and puts you in a bad spot and he put the young defenseman Walker in a bad spot with that speed there on the third goal."
The power play opened up the evening's scoring on a 5-on-3 early. Dowling, who scored the goal, pointed out that it's sometimes difficult to get a power play so early when "you don't have a feel for the game or too many touches on the puck."
Regardless, a misplay of a clear by Ontario came back on them for the 1-0 Stars lead.
In the second, Michael Mersch scored on the power play to even things up, just a few seconds after a rather light interference penalty call on Andrew Bodnarchuk. Matt Moulson, playing in the AHL for the first time since 2009, had the primary assist.
Immediately off a faceoff early in the third, Ontario took the lead. While the goal could have put Texas back on its heels and pointed to a loss, that has not been in the team's DNA over the last ten games. The Stars roared back with a power play goal off a backhand from Jason Dickinson. On the very next shift, Markison assisted Laberge for the aforementioned forecheck goal, and the momentum had shifted completely. The Reign would have some chances but wouldn't seriously threaten for the rest of the night.
"We're getting good contributions from everybody right now. We're trying to balance our lineup. [Our fourth liners] are doing their job. They're defensively responsible and they're chipping in points as well."
The Reign pulled Jack Campbell perhaps a bit too early, as Texas was gaining possession as he left the ice. Jason Dickinson salted the game away with his second of the night and 13th of the year, an empty netter. Travis Morin picked up the assist, his second of the game and 28th point overall. He is currently 4th in the league in scoring.
Texas will take tomorrow off and go light on Monday as they look to recover from a long road trip and three quick home games. They're in action against Ontario again on Wednesday.
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Ully, Rallo, McNeill (scratch)
Fyten (lower body)
Elie, Honka (call-up)
Coach Laxdal called tonight's game Gurianov's best of the year without the puck, indicating improvements in his defensive game.
Tonight's attendance was 5,857.
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Ontario - December 9 2017