Stars Struggle to Bury Chances in 4-1 Loss to Wolves

The Texas Stars fell to the Chicago Wolves on Friday night in a 4-1 contest. Power forward Michael Mersch scored the lone goal for the Stars as the team struggled to capitalize on several golden chances throughout the contest.

“Probably the difference in the game is [Chicago] buried on a couple of their chances,” said head coach Derek Laxdal. “They had a couple lucky bounces, but we didn’t bury our chances. I thought [Chicago goaltender] Oscar Dansk played pretty well. That’s twice he’s come in here this year when we’ve had some good looks, but they ended up winning.”

(credit: Andy Nietupski)
Chicago defenseman Dylan Coghlan got the Wolves on the board within the first five minutes of play with a power play goal from the high slot. In reaction to a check he didn’t like, Texas blueliner Ben Gleason took an undisciplined cross-checking minor to set the Wolves up with the man advantage.

Mersch answered just over a minute later with one of his signature goals from in front of the crease. Stars captain Justin Dowling recorded the primary assist on the play and was the best player for Texas. His line drove play throughout the contest and threatened to tilt the ice at any given moment.

“I thought Justin Dowling was absolutely outstanding tonight. [The top line is] showing their leadership and showing their will to get in the playoffs, to push this team and drive the team. Every five-on-five shift they were a threat.”

Mersch’s marker was a continuation of his strong play against the Wolves this season. The tally gives him ten points in his last ten games and seven points in his last eight games against Chicago. His line combination with Dowling and Erik Condra will be critical going forward as the Stars continue to incorporate their recently acquired young players into the lineup.

“Probably our best line was our most mature line with Dowling, Mersch, and Condra. After that, we had three rookie centers down the middle. I thought it was a little rich for them tonight. But that’s part of the process of the learning curve for these kids.”

In the last five minutes of the first period, the Stars broke a stick, which led to extended zone time for the Wolves. Ryan Wagner scored to give the Wolves a lead they would never relinquish.

The Wolves added an even strength goal from Keegan Kolesar less than four minutes into the second period and an empty netter from Tomas Hyka with two minutes remaining in regulation to seal the Stars’ fate. Again, the chances were there for the Stars, but the bounces didn’t go their way.

“Give our guys a lot of credit. We had a good push in the third period. We had a couple of good looks. I think [Colin] Markison had the empty net, hit the post. We had some good looks in the first period and hit the post. That’s an experienced team over there, and we had a lot of young guys in the lineup tonight.”

One player who could’ve helped the Stars keep the puck out of their net was lockdown defender Dillon Heatherington who missed the game due to an illness that has affected several Texas players.

“We missed Dillon Heatherington tonight. We missed him shutting down the cycle down low. He’s a big part of our back end, and you can see how much smaller we got without him in the lineup. At the end of the day, they have their injuries, they have their sicknesses, so do we. They took advantage of their opportunities tonight.”

Dowling agreed with Laxdal’s assessments after the game. “I thought we had our chances tonight to tie the game up in the third,” he said. “It’s a game of inches out there. We bury a couple of those, who knows what happens? Maybe we come out on top, get to overtime or something. But give credit to them. They played well.”

The Stars play against the Griffins tomorrow night in Cedar Park.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Laberge (upper body)
Caamano (lower body)
Morin, Heatherington (illness)
Nyberg, Calderone, McClure, Point (scratch)

Tonight’s attendance was 4,816.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Chicago - March 22 2019