Texas Stars Bounce Back With 3-1 Win Over Griffs; Earn Series Split

Cedar Park, TX - Joel L'Esperance scored twice, and Jordan Kawaguchi added another as the Texas Stars overpowered the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-1 Wednesday night at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, earning a split of the two-game series.

After dropping the opener 2-1 Tuesday night in one of their more lackluster appearances of the '21-22 season, Texas seemingly flipped the script and was on the attack early.

Playing the night with eleven forwards and seven blueliners Texas struck first when 3:48 into the game Ryan Shea skated the entire zone and fired a puck at Grand Rapids goalie Calvin Pickard. L'Esperance, parked in front of the net, tipped it over Pickard's shoulder to give Texas the early 1-0 lead.

"A little bit. I don't mind it." Texas head coach Neil Graham said when asked if the 11/7 rotation was out of necessity. "Today we had some question marks and that's what it was based on. We played a lot of hockey a short span and that was really more of the decision behind it."
It was the sixth time in seven games the Stars were the first on the board.

Texas was unable to generate much more offense the remainder of the first as they were called to go on the penalty kill 3-times alone, mucking down their chances of amounting any offensive-zone time. Late in the period with the Griffins on the power play, Grand Rapids defenseman Ryan Murphy was left alone and he skated right through the Stars penalty kill zone and lifted one over Texas goalie Adam Scheel's stick-side shoulder, tying the game at 1-1 with 3:17 left in the period, silencing the 3,580 in attendance as they took that score to the intermission.

Murphy's goal was the only blemish on Scheel's night as he finished with 19 saves on the 20 shots he faced. With the win, the North Dakota alum improved his record to 4-5-5 for the season while lowering his GAA to a respectable 2.99 in '21-22 with the AHL club.

As the teams skated scoreless for the first half of the second and the Stars seemingly stuck in the mud, Kawaguchi found himself in the right place at the right time when Ty Dellandrea flung a prayer at the net with the rebound finding Curtis McKenzie in front who shot one off Pickard's blocker, right to Kawaguchi's stick and into the back of the net giving the Stars a 2-1 lead with 9:33 left in the frame.

Kawaguchi's goal was his 1st on the season and just the 2nd goal in the highly touted prospect's injury marred AHL career. McKenzie's helper was his 350th point in his storied career. The 9-year veteran also leads the team in points on the season with 29.

"I feel like, you know the more I'm involved, the more you know I can help the team win" Kawaguchi said of his recent uptick in TOI. "But at the end of the day it's about us trying to get points."

Neither team found the back of the net for most of the third and while the teams skated scoreless it's not to say there weren't opportunities as the frame passed. With Grand Rapids seemingly unable to get thru the neutral zone with any consistency the Stars had chance after chance on Griffin netminder Pickard, including a 2-on-1 breakaway midway thru the period that gave Kawaguchi a chance to pick up his second goal of the night on a yawning net, only to have it tick-off Pickard's shoulder and then catch the post and away from danger.

"Honestly I was a little surprised. [I] Didn't really realize how much time I had" a giddy Kawaguchi said afterwards. "I'm trying to go blocker side and went off a shoulder and hit the post. Maybe looking back you can always say in hindsight's do some else but you know it is what it is."

Texas finally got to Pickard late in the game when L'Esperance lit the lamp for the second time of the night when he found a gargantuan rebound off a Jeremy Gregoire shot at the end of his stick and the Brighton, Michigan native did not miss his own chance at a yawning net, giving the Stars a 3-1 lead, and finally some breathing room with 3:46 left in the game.

Pickard finished the night saving  27-of-the-30 shots he saw while seeing his record fall to 15-11-5-1.

While the Stars have had some issues of late holding on to leads, they were able to close out the period without much threat from the Griffs who went empty net late and the Stars had at least 3 good looks as time waned, but the score stood and Texas came away with the 3-1 victory.

"We're defending a lot better. We'redefending with urgency" a direct Graham said later. "We need to shore up some things on the special teams again, but limiting the 5-on-5 is a big priority, it was a big priority, now we just have to stay the course." 

With the win, the Stars evened the season series with Grand Rapids at 2-1-1 while snapping a 3-game skid. Texas improved their record to 14-18-5-3 (36 pts./.489%) however remain in the cellar in the 7-team Central Division. Grand Rapids sees their record fall to 18-19-5-2 (43 pts./.500%) to remain one spot ahead of Texas for sixth in the division.

"That's the one thing I've always said about the American Hockey League" said Graham of the recent competition. "Move the standings aside, you know every team is capable of winning on any given night. When we play the right way, we seem to be in every game regardless of who the opponent is"

Texas will have a voluntary skate Thursday and a mandatory practice Friday before hitting the ice again Saturday night when they host the San Jose Barracuda in the first game of another back-to-back 2-game series. The teams split a pair of high-scoring games in early-November that saw the teams combine for 22 goals in the short series in San Jose. This weekend is "Pink in the Rink" at the HEB Center at Cedar Park, always a popular event for both the Stars and the fans. Saturday's puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. while Sunday's matinee is set for 5.

"It feels great to win. Short term memory." Graham concluded. "As soon as we get back to work here, reset ourselves. There's a few areas that we can touch on to make sure we're that much sharper moving forward."

Tonight's Lines

Tufte-L'Esperance-Louis (starters)



Lapinov -   x   -Gregoire

Rosburg-Petrovic (starters)





Injuries, scratches and notes

Caamano, Damiani, Melnick, Comeau, Khudobin

Tonight's attendance was 3,580.

AHL Gamesheet - Grand Rapids at Texas - February 16, 2022