|Photo Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars|
Cedar Park, TX - A night after dropping a 3-2 heartbreaker, the Texas Stars closed out the season-opening series by dropping the finale 2-1 to the Tucson Roadrunners in front of a sold out crowd of 6,778 Saturday night.
Rookie Logan Stankoven added his second goal in as many games while goalie Matt Murray turned away 15 of 17 shots in his season debut, but neither was enough as Texas took the one-goal loss.
"I didn't love our first 20 [minutes]. I thought we were soft on pucks, especially in the D zone which extended some of their roles over time," Texas head coach Neil Graham said after the game. "We didn't necessarily get burned for it on some of those plays, but we weren't hard enough on the walls hard enough on our first touches. In turn, we didn't really control or manage momentum or pucks."
For the second consecutive night, Tucson got on the board first when top-line winger Dylan Guenther slipped beneath the defense and five-holed Murray to give the Roadrunners the initial 1-0 lead 10:32 into the opening stanza. Guenther's goal was his first as a professional.
The Stars struggled to get things going offensively in the first and were challenged multiple times defensively in the period. They were able to escape the frame with Guenther's goal the lone blemish as the teams headed to the intermission with each tallying nine shots apiece.
"I think the first period we weren't the aggressor, and in this league every night it's a tough night, and [when] you lose the night prior. Every play matters the next night you have to be hard you have to be willing to take a hit you have to be willing to be in dirty areas of the ice especially to win puck battles," said Graham of his squad's first period performance.
The Stars stepped it up in the second period, outshooting the visitors 9-4 for the middle frame but came away with nothing to show for it, despite multiple opportunities and several chances from juicy rebounds off of Roadrunner goalie Matt Villalta.
The period saw its lone goal late when Tucson blueliner Max Szuber floated a knuckler through traffic past Murray to double the Roadrunner's lead to 2-0 with 1:49 left, a lead they would take to the room for the second intermission.
With twenty minutes to play, after killing off a penalty to start the final frame, Texas came out like gangbusters, outshooting Tucson 18-4 in the third. The Stars finally found the back of the net when, during a mad scrum in front of the net, Mavrik Bourque found an open Stankoven to the left of the net and the rookie from Kamloops, B.C., buried the puck into the yawning cage to cut the lead to 2-1 just 6:13 into the third period.
"Just right spot right time and obviously great plays by my teammates as well," Stankoven said of his second goal in as many nights. "I don't expect to score every game, but obviously it's a nice way to start off individually. But I think it's as a team and collectively it'd be nice to you know, pop a few more in the net."
Texas continued their pressure on the visitors but could not find the back of the net despite the momentum shift and the enormous shot advantage for the period.
"Obviously, momentum is a huge part of the game. I think once we scored there, we were really putting the pressure on," Stankoven continued. "It would be nice for us to play like that the whole game. I think for the for the last period, there and a bit, we kind of controlled the ice and hopefully we can build off of that."
The Stars had one last flurry in the closing minutes as they pulled Murray with 2:35 left. Despite several close-up chances, they could not get the equalizer.
"It's important for our group to recognize you're never out of the game," said Graham. "You have to keep playing. You actually have to start on time. But to finish is equally as important to our teams here. Never quit or never change the way, and we stayed in it. It's unfortunate we were unable to tie it up. We're going to keep getting better. It's part of our job to teach. Our players will learn and will continue to improve," Graham concluded.
Villata stopped 35 of 36 shots in his second consecutive win to start the season. Murray's 15 saves on 17 shots weren't enough as he kicked off the season with his first loss of the 2023-24 campaign.
The Stars now head out on their first road trip of the season with a 11 a.m. matinee Wednesday in Chicago.
Injuries, scratches and notes
Mastrodonato, Reedy, White (scratch)
Bayreuther (out indefinitely- lower body injury)
Both Jerad Rosburg and Chase Wheatcroft are physically in Cedar Park but on the injured reserve in Dallas.
Bourque wore the second "A" for the first time in his career in Bayreuther's absence.
Tonight's attendance was 6,778, a sellout.