|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
At the end of the second, this looked like a tight one, but the Texas Stars turned it on in the third period to win going away. It was a 5-2 final over the visiting Penguins, and Tanner Kero scored his second pro hat trick in the affair. Kero had a slow start to the year but has come on with goals in the past two games and five total on the season.
"Definitely a slow start personally," he said. "[We're] just playing better as a group, and the personal success is going to come as the group starts playing better so it's been a good little run here and we want to keep going with it."
Kero's last hat trick came almost exactly a year ago as Utica played Cleveland on January 6th.
It wasn't the cleanest game for either team. Some nights are just like that. "You earn your bounces and I wouldn't necessarily say we've earned them tonight," noted head coach Neil Graham. "At the end of the day, we will take two points [and] we'll look at some things. I think we have better."
Stephen Johns wasn't as dynamic in tonight's contest but Graham didn't put that on the defender himself, noting that the entire team was playing at a lower level in the game compared to Saturday. Even with that, John finished plus-2, which tells you a lot about what he is as a player. With the win, Texas is above .500 for the first time all season.
Despite Texas having the first seven shots of the, the Pens opened the scoring on the power play. Kevin Roy was the trigger man less than five minutes in; it was WBS's first shot of the contest. It only took a few more shots for Texas to get back to even footing. Tanner Kero split the defenders off the pass from Emil Djuse, a play that they tried a few times tonight. After twenty, the scored remained tied.
In the second, Wilkes-Barre against struck first. The goal came at 4-on-4 after some interesting between the whistle behavior. Reece Scarlett got Joe Blandisi up high with a cross-check behind the Texas net. The officials called that and an embellishment minor on Blandisi, who was having none of it. He slammed his stick on the penalty box glass while the referees were reporting the penalty and then shoved an off-ice official when he was trying to leave the penalty box to serve his misconduct for the stick incident. It was only a ten minute misconduct, but the league will probably take a look.
Adam Johnson's goal was short-side high on Oettinger, finding the smallest possible opening to make it 2-1. Texas again tied things before the end of the frame. This time it was luck as much as anything. Anthony Louis snapped one in on Casey DeSmith, who dropped the puck between his legs and had it roll into the net behind him as Brad McClure watched in his crease.
After a back and forth first forty, it was all Texas in the final frame.
"I think we stayed calm. we refocused ourselves and then...I thought the third we played much better," said Graham. "We were more detailed in our game. And then in turn I thought we had much better O-zone time. And we were able to kind of grind them down in the last 20."
The luck was on Texas's side to start the frame as the eventual game winner came on another fluky play. Joel L'Esperance sent a puck to DeSmith's pad that ramped over him and in. From there it was the Kero Show. He was the opportunistic benefactor of a poor clearing attempt by David Warsofsky, putting the puck high over DeSmith from the slot to make it 4-2.
With 6:13 left in the third and a power play, Wilkes-Barre decided to pull DeSmith, setting up possibly the longest 6-on-4 and 6-on-5 set that Texas will see all year. With the two-goal lead and Kero on hat trick watch, Texas got a little greedy trying to send Kero off with the puck for the third.
"[You're staying] out a little longer than you probably should," said Kero. "But good play by Caamano there and we killed off their attack there, which is obviously the most important thing, and got rewarded."
Texas stays in town to rematch this game on Friday.
Injuries, scratches, and notes:
MacKay, Cuglietta, Cecconi, Nyberg (scratch)
Tonight’s attendance was 4,565.
AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - January 15 2020