|(Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars)
For the first time since opening weekend, the Texas Stars lost back-to-back home games as they fell tonight to the Chicago Wolves by a 3-1 final score. Texas' lone goal came in the third period from the captain, Curtis McKenzie. Overall, the game had a casual and slow feeling to it throughout, and things never seemed to gel for the Stars on offense.
"At the end of the day, we didn't generate nearly the o-zone momentum that we've traditionally done," said head coach Neil Graham. "So we'll have to relook at that. [It was] a low scoring affair, and we were down one nothing early. We were never able to regain it."
McKenzie added, "It's always nice when you're playing a lot more games in a row, to stay in your rhythm. [It was] a little choppy. Sometimes it just adds a little rust to your game and we didn't quite find it to the level we wanted to tonight."
Matt Murray returned to Texas this week and got his first AHL start since December 9th, stopping 22 of 24 against him. Murray will not be around for long, it seems, as Scott Wedgewood was injured in tonight's Dallas game. Former Texas Star Adam Scheel got the win, his fifth of the year, halting 24 of 25.
The Stars started strong in the first, dominating early play and offensive zone possession. However, it was a fluky goal from Ronan Seeley that opened the scoring.
On what seemed like a simple dump in from the left wing and outside the blue paint, Matt Murray got fooled. He was prepared to leave his net to the right side. Seeley dumped it right on net instead, and Murray didn't get there in time. It was a weird one, but those count too.
There were long stretches of the first without a shot either way as the two teams had a slower feel to their game. That carried through to the second period where neither team scored. Texas had some lengthy zone time but could not convert even with their league-leading top line on the ice.
Murray came up big in the frame as well with 11 stops. None was better than his cross-crease shift to deny a power play goal to Rocco Grimaldi on the left-wing side. Grimaldi looked skyward on the stop.
"It's unfortunate we weren't able to turn that into some momentum a little bit the other way," added Graham. "But I thought our PK actually tilted some of that momentum more than once."
Chicago owns the league's best power play mark at 26.1% and the Stars kept them scoreless; Texas is #2 at 24.8%. Those power play stats added a goal to their counts in the third period as McKenzie beat Scheel in the blue paint for the 2-1 score, cutting the Wolves lead in half. Mavrik Bourque and Logan Stankoven assisted on the goal.
"[It was] a nice play by Bourque to get the first one in there," said McKenzie postgame. "Take the scramble and just muck it up."
The Stars had their chances at the end of the contest but there was a confusing parade to the penalty boxes for both teams seeing 5-on-4, 4-on-4 and even 4-on-3 play in the final three minutes of the game. Graham noted he didn't agree with the last two calls against Texas but also that you have to deal with what is in your zone of control.
As Texas moved from a penalty kill to even strength, they pulled Murray for the extra attacker. However, they didn't have positive control of the puck. Chicago drained it into the empty net for the 3-1 final.
Elsewhere in the league, Milwaukee continued their hot streak and put more distance between themselves and the Stars. The Ads now lead the division by four points after blasting the Henderson Silver Knights tonight by a 7-0 margin.
"There's still a ton of hockey left," said McKenzie. "You have so many young guys that are working on developing and getting their game to the highest level we can down the stretch. I think we still have a lot to grow as a team."
These two teams play again tomorrow at 5 PM.