Joel L'Esperance and Ben Gleason Power Texas Stars Past Wild 5-4

The Texas Stars handed the Iowa Wild a 5-4 loss on Friday in Iowa’s first road game of the season. Ben Gleason, Michael Mersch, Nick Caamano, Joel L'Esperance, and Denis Gurianov all found the back of the net for the Stars with four of the goals coming in a blitzkrieg third period.

“I thought the depth was good,” said head coach Derek Laxdal of his team. “We’re trying to get four lines rolling early in the season here and trying to give a chance for everyone to click. We had contributions from every line just like we did the other night [in Grand Rapids].”
(credit: Andy Nietupski)
Special teams were a big theme headed into this one with the Wild ranking fifth in both the power play and the penalty kill. Two early penalties taken by the Stars killed any momentum they possessed up to that point from an early Justin Dowling breakaway chance that led to a power play. After the dust settled, the Stars walked away unscathed in the first period thanks to Landon Bow. Bow would finish the game with 25 saves on 29 shots.

The Stars would've liked to get more shots on net in the first period, as they were outshot 13-6, but they generated a few golden chances that won't show up on the score sheet. Dowling and Mersch made some magic on two different back door feeds but couldn’t quite case in. As time expired for the first twenty minutes of play, L'Esperance forced a five hole attempt off a rebound from a Travis Morin shot.

L’Esperance, who plays in all situations for the Stars now, would go on to finish the game with a goal and an assist. “He was a beast,” offered Laxdal. “He’s going to have a bright future ahead of him just because he plays the game the right way.”

Though the Stars amassed four power play opportunities in the second period they also ceded two to the Wild. As you would expect, the hot power play unit for Iowa took advantage. After killing their own power play by taking committing a careless hooking minor in the offensive zone, the Stars gave up the first goal of the game to winger Kyle Rau when he came in hot towards the net about fourteen minutes into the frame.

The Stars answered the goal in a big way a couple shifts later. After earning almost a full minute of 5-on-3 play, they probed, prodded, and peppered their way to some decent chances but couldn’t yet solve goaltender Andrew Hammond. Once the Wild got their fourth man back on the ice, Gleason called his own number in the neutral zone as he dangled his way past a back checker, beating Hammond cleanly over his right shoulder with two and a half minutes left in the second period.

“I saw an opportunity there and took it,” said Gleason after the game. “A lot of guys set some picks out there for me and I saw a couple plays to be made in the whole game. It was nice to put one away.”

The third period was some of the very best hockey that the AHL has to offer, or at least some of the most entertaining. “The adjustments made in the third I thought paid dividends, and give our guys a lot of credit for executing the adjustments that we put in,” said Laxdal.

Liambas’s tally less than two minutes into the final frame took the air out of the building at first. Bow was heavily screened and really had no chance to track the puck. Mersch’s game-tying goal came three minutes later with L’Esperance went behind the net and set him up nicely in the slot. One shift later, the Stars pulled ahead when Caamano scored on the rush, notching his second goal of the season. Wild captain Cal O’Reilly responded with a back hand goal near the thirteen minute marker to knot the game up again.

One of the adjustments that Laxdal was referring to in the third period was putting Gleason with the top power play unit. The Stars continued to ravage the Wilds’ impressive special teams stat sheet with their second power play goal a couple minutes after the O’Reilly marker. They cycled for about one minute and ten seconds until Gleason found L’Esperance waiting near the crease pulling the Stars ahead by one.

Laxdal beamed about the young defenseman. “He’s been fun to have so far and he’s going to be a big part of our power play moving forward. You saw what he can do. He’s here to develop and learn. We’ve just got to keep nourishing that skillset.”

With just over five minutes left in the game, the Stars found a huge insurance goal after Mersch just missed a wide open net on a wrap around attempt. The puck cycled back to Gurianov who buried it from the left circle, tallying his sixth point in as many games.

The Wild had enough fight in them to draw one more penalty in the dying minutes of the game and cashed in again to make the Stars sweat for about thirty seconds. Perhaps it gave the Stars something to think about for tomorrow’s game to complete the weekend set against the Wild.

“We gotta come out ready to go tomorrow,” said L’Esperance. “They’re going to push back. They probably aren’t happy with the way the game ended. We just got to come out and play the same way we did tonight and clean up some of our neutral zone play.”

The puck drops drops at 7:00 PM CDT.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Gluchowski, Bayreuther, Laberge, Payne, Pearce (scratch)

Tonight’s attendance was 4,930.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Iowa - October 19 2018