Depleted Stars Give Up Four Unanswered Goals in 5-3 Loss to Griffins

The Texas Stars lost a 5-3 decision to the Central-leading Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday night. Forwards Tony Calderone, Joel L’Esperance, and Michael Mersch each had a goal for the Stars, but Grand Rapids found the back of the net four straight times over the span of the second half of the game.

“We got the game to 3-1, and we had only given up thirteen shots,” said Stars head coach Derek Laxdal. “We had a turnover in the slot that ended up in our net. It kind of gave them a little bit of life, and from that point on they had a big push in the second period. They were kind of sleepy, and I think we woke them up.”

(credit: Texas Stars)
Before the game, the Stars found themselves without several key forwards due to the call-ups of Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz. Stars captain Justin Dowling and fourth line speedster Colin Markison are both nursing lower body injuries. With a deployment of eleven forwards and seven defensemen, Shane Hanna was used in a utility role and filled in admirably.

“I thought Shane did a good job tonight. I thought he was really good up front there. Obviously, he’s detailed player, he’s got a little bite in his game. I like the way he played.”

The shuffling of personnel worked well in the first half of the game. Seven minutes and change into the contest, Calderone threw a fluttering puck at Griffins goaltender Harri Sateri from the high slot and found twine for his third goal of the year.

“Calderone played up in the lineup, and I thought it was one of his better games of the year. He’s starting to come in his development so we want to see that continue to move along.”

Five minutes later, the Stars defense was caught too far up ice, which sprung a 3-on-1 rush the other way. Griffins forward Dominic Turgeon scored on a pretty tic-tac-toe play. L’Esperance’s goal gave the Stars back the lead when he cleaned up a loose puck on the power play three minutes later. The tally gave L’Esperance a temporary edge over Griffins winger Chris Terry for the number one slot in league goal-scoring.

“We’ve been struggling on the power play, and to get a couple tonight, it was a good thing going into next week,” said L’Esperance. “We gotta find a way to get to the net. When we get there, we’re good, and we’ve got to find ways to put it in the net when we get there.”

Five minutes into the second period, L’Esperance drew a hooking call by doing just that. Michael Mersch did the rest on the power play when he crammed in a rebound from in close to push the Stars lead to two.

Then the wheels came off.

The Griffins possessed the puck on virtually every shift for the rest of the second period and outshot the Stars 23-6 in the frame. “I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties. Kind of lost our momentum when we took those penalties in the second, and I think we never really got it back.”

Near the halfway point, the Stars coughed up the puck in their own zone, and Terry got a piece of the offering from the slot, to cut into the Stars lead and take away L’Esperances goal-scoring lead. For Laxdal, that was where the Griffins woke up.

“If you look back at the game, the second goal was probably the biggest turning point.”

Two minutes later, Michael Rasmussen scored on the power play to knot the game at three. Rasmussen would later add an empty net goal to his score sheet.

Laxdal made some strategic moves heading into the third period. Among players who wouldn’t see any ice time in the final frame were defenseman John Nyberg and forward James Phelan. “We’ve got some guys up in Dallas, so there’s an opportunity for some guys to really step up in the lineup. I benched [Phelan[ because he made some mistakes on the goal. Some guys are rising to the occasion and some guys aren’t.”

It took less than three minutes for the Griffins to strike in the third. Dominic Shine cleaned up a loose puck to give the Griffins the lead for good. The Stars didn’t take a penalty in the frame and made a good push to find the equalizer, but close doesn’t count.

Nic Caamano had a golden back door chance on a wide open net when the Stars pulled Bow in the waning minutes of the game, but he mishandled the puck.

“I thought Caamano had a great look there to tie it up 4-4. We had a couple other looks that we just didn’t score on. They did a good job defending, and their goalie made the big saves when counted upon.”

Rasmussen’s empty netter sent most of the fans to the exits with close to thirty seconds left of play.

For Laxdal, the message for the players after this one was simple: “Tonight was a huge four point game. If you look at our next two months, we play our Central division a lot. If you can’t sustain or play with pressure, you won’t be in the lineup.”

The Stars hit the road for a four-game stretch over the next two weeks. The first will be on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Admirals.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Dowling, Markison (lower body)

Tonight’s attendance was 4,751.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Grand Rapids - January 31 2019