AHL Central News: Standings Tighten Up Behind Admirals

The American Hockey League’s Central Division continues to prove to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of professional hockey. While the top team has opened up a huge lead, the other seven teams are only separated by five points as they battle for three playoff spots.

Even When Losing, Admirals Pad Lead

The Milwaukee Admirals (20-4-3-2) only had one victory on the week, but they picked up at least one point in all three of their games. They sit atop both the Central Division and the entire AHL with 45 points and have a 14-point cushion on the rest of the division.

Tuesday night was one of those games for the Admirals where you have nothing to be ashamed of, but you are frustrated because you faced a goaltender who stood on his head. Despite outshooting the Rockford IceHogs 56-14, they lost 2-1 in overtime.

The Admirals had a 19-2 shot advantage after 20 minutes, but the game headed into the break still scoreless. The IceHogs nabbed the only goal of the second period, while on the power play. The Admirals continued their domination by outshooting the IceHogs 25-2 in the final period of play.

They finally got a puck over the goal line, just barely, on their 48th shot of the night. After a lengthy video review, the officials ruled that Lukas Cragg did indeed push the puck into the net. It was his second goal of the season; both have come against the IceHogs. However, the IceHogs scored a minute into the extra time to steal two points.

Lukas Craggs Milwaukee Admirals
Craggs has two goals against Rockford this season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Admirals returned home on Friday night and took down the Chicago Wolves, 4-1, for their third straight victory over their long-time rivals. The Wolves opened the scoring 11 minutes into the game, but the Admirals went on to score four straight goals to extend their winning streak at the Panther Arena to seven games.

Less than two minutes after the Wolves took the lead, Anthony Richard tied the game with his seventh goal of the season by getting to a rebound and putting it home. Tanner Jeannot set up the eventual game-winning goal with a great feed to Frederic Allard early in the second period. Tommy Novak scored seconds after getting out of the penalty box a few minutes later to increase the lead to 3-1. Cole Schneider put the game out of reach with a late empty-net goal.

The Admirals killed off all six of their penalties on the night and goaltender Troy Grosenick made 25 saves for his 10th win of the season, tying him with his teammate Connor Ingram.

“I thought the first period was probably our best period of the year,” head coach Karl Taylor revealed. “We were transitioning and attacking through the neutral zone. I loved how we were jumping through. We were coming back. We were covering up pucks on the forecheck. I just thought we gave them nothing.”

The two teams headed south for Saturday’s rematch in Chicago where the Admirals were able to earn a point in a 3-2 overtime loss. Before the game, the Nashville Predators recalled forward Colin Blackwell while reassigning 2017 AHL MVP Daniel Carr.

Daniel Carr Milwaukee Admirals
Carr is back in the AHL after a stint in Nashville. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Wolves scored twice during the middle frame to take a 2-0 advantage into the third period. Schneider got the Admirals on the board, about six minutes into the final stanza, by finishing off a nice passing play with Carr and Alexandre Carrier. They drew even with less than a minute to play, with Ingram on the bench for an extra attacker, when Laurent Dauphin redirected a Carrier shot into the Chicago net. The Wolves earned the extra point just over a minute into the extra time.

Player of the Week

Schneider was the only Admiral to score two goals last week and led the way with three points in three games. He has four goals and 17 points in his last 15 games and he’s tied for the team lead in scoring with 26 points. With guys like Blackwell, Carr and Yakov Trenin moving back-and-forth between Nashville and Milwaukee, Schneider has been a constant force.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Dec. 18 vs San Antonio Rampage; Friday, Dec. 20 vs Cleveland Monsters

IceHogs Can Win on the Road Too

If it wasn’t for the Admirals, the IceHogs (15-10-0-1) would be the hottest team in the AHL Central. They are 7-3-0-0 in their last 10 games and won two out of their three games last week. They have moved up to second place in the division with 31 points.

The IceHogs committed flat out larceny when they stole two points from the Admirals on Tuesday night. Goaltender Kevin Lankinen was the man of the hour by making 55 saves in an incredible 2-1 overtime victory.

The game headed into the first intermission still knotted at 0-0 thanks to 19 saves from Lankinen. The IceHogs managed just two shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes. Brandon Hagel broke the tie, about seven minutes into the second period, by following up his own rebound and depositing it into the net. The power-play goal was his eighth of the season and fourth in the last six games.

The Admirals got on the board with just over seven minutes to play in the third period. Lankinen made 24 more saves in the final frame to send the game into overtime. Anton Wedin, who recently made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks, won the game just over a minute into overtime with a wrist shot from the left circle.

The IceHogs went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill against the AHL’s top-rated power-play unit. They played with fire all night long and lived to tell about it.

Lankinen’s 55 saves were a new franchise record for the most in a regular-season game; smashing the previous high mark of 49.

“A crazy game,” the young Finnish netminder set with a big smile on his face. “Probably not the prettiest one from our team, but we got two points. We did bend but we didn’t break and I think that’s a huge learning lesson for this team going forward. Especially against a high-class team like that.”

The IceHogs then embarked on a three-game road trip through Canada with its first stop in Belleville for the first-ever meeting with the Senators on Friday night. They fought back to draw even in the third period but ended up falling 5-2.

The Senators built up a 2-0 lead with a shorthanded goal in the first period and a second tally just 28 seconds into the middle frame. Defenseman Nicolas Beaudin scored the first goal of his professional career to get the IceHogs on the board late in the second period.

Nicolas Beaudin Rockford Icehogs
Beaudin potted his first pro goal in Belleville. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The third period saw another goal scored at the 28-second mark, with John Quenneville evening things up. The Senators regained the lead four minutes later then added two insurance goals before the end of regulation; the last one being of the empty-net variety.

The trip continued to Toronto, on Sunday afternoon, where the IceHogs picked up a 4-2 victory to sweep the two-game season series with the Marlies.

Quenneville got the scoring going, early in the first period, by one-timing a nice setup pass by Philip Holm into the back of the net. The Marlies responded by tying the game about nine minutes later. On the very next shift, Philipp Kurashev, who had the secondary assist on the opening goal, scored on a breakaway to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Philipp Kurashev Rockford Icehogs
Kurashev had a big weekend in Canada. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Marlies drew even just over a minute into the second period before the IceHogs scored the final three goals of the game. Just over six minutes later, Quenneville scored the eventual game-winning goal, while on the power play, from the right circle. Nick Moutrey added a late empty-net goal to secure the victory.

Lankinen picked up his second win of the week with a much lighter workload as the IceHogs only allowed 13 shots on goal.

Later in the evening, the IceHogs learned that forward Mikael Hakkarainen will be returning from the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. Hakkarainen was injured on opening night and he picked up two goals and four points in his three-game conditioning stint with the Fuel.

Player of the Week

Quenneville and Kurahsev were put on the same line a few days ago with all the recent roster moves between the IceHogs and the Blackhawks. They have clicked and they both finished the week tied with defenseman Ben Youds for the team lead with four points. Quenneville gets the nod as he scored three goals and added an assist. He has become a real asset for the IceHogs since recovery from some early-season injuries.

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, Dec. 17 @ Laval Rocket; Friday, Dec. 20 vs Texas Stars; Saturday, Dec. 21 vs Monsters

Wild Get Back in the Win Column

The Iowa Wild (13-11-2-2) were finally able to get back into the win column last week, but with just the lone victory, they have fallen to third place. Their 30 points have them in a Calder Cup playoff spot at the moment, but they will need to improve quickly as the teams behind them continue to heat up.

Recent call-ups and injuries have left a bit of a void on the Wild’s blue line. With that in mind, Iowa made a pair roster moves on Monday. They signed defenseman Josh Atkinson to standard player contract as well as Matt Register to a professional try-out contract (PTO).

The defense was not an issue on Tuesday night when they took the ice against the Tucson Roadrunners as the offensive struggles continued. After only three goals in three in their three previous games, the Wild were shutout 2-0.

Goaltender Mat Robson played well in the loss, making 25 saves. He allowed a goal late in the first period and another one, off a rebound, in the middle frame. The Wild had 30 shots on goal but were unable to get any of them behind Roadrunners netminder Adin Hill.

“It was a better, full 60 minutes than we’ve played in the last couple,” said head coach Tim Army. “That’s how we are going to get out it, by stringing together some better hockey. You feel like you’re playing pretty well and then you slip back at times during the game. Because of a lack of confidence right now, you are going to have those moments.”

Just before the Wild left for their road trip out west, they lost their leading scorer to the NHL. The Minnesota Wild recalled Gerald Mayhew on Wednesday morning, who is tied for third in the AHL with 14 goals.

Gerald Mayhew Minnesota Wild
Mayhew is off for another stint in the NHL(Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Wild snapped their four-game losing streak on Saturday night with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Ontario Reign.

Connor Dewar gave the Wild a 1-0 lead for just the eighth time this season with a shorthanded tally late in the first period. Will Bitten got in on a breakaway and was denied, but Dewar followed up to cash in on the rebound for his third goal of the season.

The Reign tied the game with a power-play goal at 13:32 of the second period. After a lengthy delay to clean up all the stuffed animals from the Teddy Bear Toss, they took a 2-1 lead with a shorthanded goal before the end of the middle frame.

While on a third-period power play, Bitten evened the score at 2-2 with a shot from the slot after some quick passing by Sam Anas and Kyle Rau. This set the stage for a crazy final minute of play. Defenseman Louie Belpedio’s one-timer gave the Wild a 3-2 with just 26 seconds left to play, but the Reign answered back 14 seconds later.

Sam Anas, Iowa Wild
Anas was a big part of the Wild’s win on Saturday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

After a scoreless overtime, both Anas and Martin Frk scored in the first round of the shootout. Robson stopped the next two shots he faced which setup Dmitry Sokolov’s game-winner in the third round.

These two teams got back together on Sunday with Reign getting some revenge in a 4-3 regulation win after allowing the first three goals of games.

J.T. Brown’s fourth goal of the season, while on the power play, opened the scoring 13 minutes into the game. Bitten continued his big weekend by doubling the lead less than three minutes into the second period. Brown added another goal less than two minutes later and the Wild looked to be sitting pretty with a 3-0 lead.

Just over a minute later, the Reign began their epic comeback by redirecting a shot past goaltender Dereck Baribeau. They drew even before the end of the frame with a pair of late second-period goals.

Ontario finished off their rally when Mikey Eyssimont scored his fourth goal of the season with less than three minutes to play. Baribeau made 28 saves in the losing effort.

Player of the Week

The Wild scored only six goals in their three games last week and Rau assisted on four of them. He has three straight games with two assists and is on a five-game point streak with a stint in the NHL sandwiched in the middle of it. Rau’s 12 assists are good enough for third on the team.

Kyle Rau Minnesota Wild
Rau picked up right where he left off after returning from Minnesota. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, Dec. 18 @ Stockton Heat; Friday, Dec. 20 vs Grand Rapids Griffins; Saturday, Dec. 21 vs Griffins

Rampage Grab a Point in Rough Week

The Rampage (10-10-5-3) picked up a lone point in their two games last week. They are currently tied for fourth place with 28 points, but they have the tie-breaker over the Manitoba Moose because they have a higher point percentage.

On Wednesday, the St. Louis Blues reassigned Nathan Walker to the Rampage, who had 12 goals and 22 points before his promotion to the NHL. Defenseman Niko Mikkola was recalled to St. Louis the following day while Austin Poganski headed back to San Antonio.

Nathan Walker San Antonio Rampage
The Rampage were thrilled to get Walker back into their lineup. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Despite the boost to the offense with the additions of Poganski and Walker, they still fell, 2-1, to the Roadrunners in a shootout Friday night.

Kelly Klima opened the scoring 11 minutes into the second period with his third goal of the season for the Roadrunners. Jordan Nolan tied the game less than six minutes later while playing in his 600th professional hockey game.

“Jordan’s a big part of this team,” head coach Drew Bannister said following the game. “He has great leadership qualities and that is why he’s been around the game for so long. It was nice to see him contribute offensively here tonight. He does a lot of things away from the rink and in the room that a lot of people don’t see, so we’re lucky to have him.”

The game remained even for quite some time as the teams needed a franchise-high 15-round shootout to decide a winner. The shootout started with Jordan Gross and Joey LaLeggia both scoring in the first round. Then goaltenders Ville Husso and Ivan Prosvetov stopped every puck they faced for the next 13 rounds. Defenseman Nate Schnarr, who was part of the Taylor Hall trade on Monday, finally ended the game with a goal in the 15th round.

The Rampage was back on the ice the following night, hosting the Moose. Despite getting 43 shots on goal, their late comeback was thwarted in a 4-2 defeat.

The visitors built up a 3-0 lead by the time the teams took to the ice for the third period. The Rampage took over the game in the final frame, outshooting the Moose 24-4 as they tried to claw back into the game.

Poganski’s third goal of the season, while the teams were skating 4-on-4, got the Rampage on the board at the 8:03 mark. Just past the midway point of the period, Mike Vecchione cut the deficit to one while on a 5-on-3 power play. The Moose iced the game with an empty-net goal to hang on for the victory.

Player of the Week

Derrick Pouliot assisted on two of the Rampage’s three goals last week and was the only player to have more than one point. The 25-year-old defender leads the Rampage with 18 assists and 23 points. His 18 helpers are the second-most among all AHL defensemen. Pouliot’s 16 power-play points (2 goals, 14 assists) leads the league.

Derrick Pouliot San Antonio Rampage
Pouliot leads the AHL in power-play points. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, Dec. 17 @ Wolves; Wednesday, Dec. 18 @ Admirals; Saturday, Dec. 21 @ Moose; Sunday, Dec. 22 @ Moose

Moose Cool Off to Start Road Trip

The Moose (14-15-0-0) had a rough week with just one victory in three games. They are on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff spot with 28 points, but they are right in the thick of the race.

Tuesday may have been an off day on the schedule, but it was a busy day for the front office. Early in the day, the Winnipeg Jets announced they reassigned forward Mason Appleton to the Moose. He had played in nine NHL games this season before returning to the AHL.

They made four more roster moves a couple of hours later. Defensemen Charles-David Beaudoin and Hayden Shaw were recalled from the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL. They also sent forward Alexis D’Aoust down to Jacksonville and released forward Hunter Fejes from his PTO.

The following evening, they began a five-game road trip with a 3-1 loss at the Texas Stars. The Moose allowed a single goal in the first period and two more in second to fall behind by three.

Jansen Harkins scored the lone of the evening for the Moose. With just over two minutes to play, Leon Gawanke found the team’s leading scorer at the backdoor for the tap-in goal.

Jansen Harkins Manitoba Moose
Harkins continues to put up huge numbers. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Starting goaltender Mikhail Berdin got the third period off after giving up three goals on 13 shots. Griffen Outhouse stopped all 10 shots in faced in the final frame. The Moose killed off all seven of their penalties on the night but also went 0-for-5 on the power play.

The Moose and Stars got back together on Friday night and it was much of the same with the home team taking a 3-2 victory. The Moose gave up a pair of goals late in the first period to put themselves in a two-goal hole at the end of 20 minutes.

Seth Griffith scored the lone goal of the second period and he cut the Texas lead down to 2-1 while cashing in on a two-man advantage. The Stars went back up by two by lighting the lamp less than a minute into the third period. Midway through the final frame, Kristian Vesalainen scored into the top corner of the net to pull the Moose back to within a single goal. However, that would be as close as they would get.

The Moose traveled to San Antonio on Saturday night and they were able to get into the win column with a 4-2 victory over the Rampage.

With just under seven minutes to play in the first period, Emile Poirier and JC Lipon broke on a 2-on-1 rush with the latter finishing off the play for his sixth goal of the season. C.J. Suess doubled the lead in the final minute of the frame with a shorthanded tally. Kristian Reichel scored the lone goal of the middle frame by going top shelf.

JC Lipon, Manitoba Moose
Lipon has been a great role player for the Moose this season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Rampage mounted a huge comeback effort with a pair of goals and 24 shots during the third period, but Berdin stood tall. Poirier ended any idea of a rally with an empty-netter late in the game. Berdin made 41 total saves on the night after his hectic third period.

“We stay composed, even when they almost tied it up,” Reichel said of how the Moose were able to withstand San Antonio’s late rush. “We played a hard game. Sometimes, the games are like that and we battled through it to get a W.”

Player of the Week

Gawanke gets the honor for picking up an assist in all three games last week. The rookie defenseman has six helpers over his last six games. Gawanke’s season total for assists is up to nine, which has him tied for the fourth-most on the team.

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, Dec. 17 @ Colorado Eagles; Wednesday, Dec. 18 @ Eagles; Saturday, Dec. 21 vs Rampage; Sunday, Dec. 22 vs Rampage

Things Starting to Come Together for Wolves

A split during the week has the Wolves (12-15-2-0) feeling better about themselves. They are shaking off the effects of a rough November and have moved up to sixth place, just two points out of a playoff spot with 26 points.

The Wolves concluded their four-game road trip with their third visit to Milwaukee on the season. Just like the previous two visits, they were on the short end of the stick.

Reid Duke struck for the third straight game to give the Wolves a 1-0 lead 11 minutes into the game. Duke was the first to a loose puck after Paul Cotter’s shot hit the post and pushed it over the goal line for his seventh goal of the season.

The Admirals responded with the game-tying goal less than two minutes later. The Wolves were fortunate to be tied 1-1 after the first period as they were outshot 18-5. The Admirals took the lead early in the second period and added a third goal about 10 minutes later.

Patrick Brown though he had trimmed the lead down to 3-2, with three minutes to play, but the goal was waved off due to goaltender interference. The Admirals capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal for the 4-1 victory.

Despite the loss, the Wolves were happy to get Gage Quinney, Keegan Kolesar and Tyrell Goulbourne all back in the lineup. The trio of forwards had missed a combined 22 games due to injury. The Wolves were a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, which was good to see considering they gave up five power-play goals the last time they were in Milwaukee. However, going 0-for-6 on the power play was the difference in the game.

Gage Quinney Chicago Wolves
Quinney’s return to the lineup is a welcomed one. (Sarah Avampato / The Hockey Writers)

Saturday night’s rematch in Chicago was one of the best games of the season for the Wolves. They showed great resiliency by beating the Admirals 3-2 in overtime.

After a scoreless first period that saw the Wolves dictate much the play, the finally got on the board during an early second-period power play. Brandon Pirri started his big night by doing what he does best and scoring with a slap shot from the top of the left circle.

Pirri doubled the lead about 10 minutes later thanks to a great individual effort from Kolesar. The Wolves’ power forward won a race to the puck, skated through a defender then found Pirri at the side of the net and put a laser beam of a pass right on his tape for an easy tap-in goal.

The Admirals did not roll over and play dead in the third period. They cut the lead in half, six minutes into the frame, then sent the game in overtime with a goal in the final minute of regulation. Nicolas Roy won the game for the Wolves, just over a minute into overtime, with a spinning, backhand shot from the slot.

Goaltender Oscar Dansk made 21 saves for his third straight win while improving his record on the season to 7-6-0.

“I thought our guys played a really strong game,” head coach Rocky Thompson said after the win. “We had a tough first five minutes and then, from that point on, I thought we played really well. I thought it was our best game, so far, this year. We’ve been progressively getting better and tonight was an important night for our group.”

Player of the Week

Pirri’s three-point evening against the Admirals on Saturday led the way for the Wolves this week. The veteran forward is averaging a point per game since returning from the NHL with five goals and 11 points. He is a big reason why the Wolves have been playing much better of late.

Vegas Golden Knights Brandon Pirri
Pirri is averaging a point per game since returning from Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“There are very few guys who just adjust very quickly and normally they’re in the NHL,” Pirri said when talking about the recent play of the Wolves. “We’re getting better, guys are getting more confident and it’s showing.”

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, Dec. 17 vs Rampage; Saturday, Dec. 21 vs Stars; Sunday, Dec. 22 vs Stars

Griffins Find Success on the West Coast

The Grand Rapids Griffins (11-14-1-2) needed to head out to the west coast in order to shed their losing ways. The team won two out of their games and sit with 25 points on the season. Another productive week or two and they will be right back in a postseason position.

The Griffins began their four-game trek through California, and six-game road trip, in San Diego to take on the Gulls Wednesday night. They snapped their seven-game losing streak with a 4-3, come-from-behind win.

Givani Smith opened the scoring just over three minutes into the game with his fourth tally on the season. The Gulls responded by tying the game a little over a minute after Smith’s goal. They took a 2-1 lead just 13 seconds later, leaving the Griffins on their heels. The lead was extended to 3-1 just past the halfway mark of the opening period.

Midway through the second period, defenseman Joe Hicketts started the comeback when his shot from the left point found its way through heavy traffic and into the net. Leading-scorer Chris Terry evened things up, early in the third period, by firing home a drop pass by Turner Elson for his 12th goal of the season.

Chris Terry Grand Rapids Griffins
When the Griffins need a big goal, Terry is there to provide it. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Matthew Ford, a California native, scored his 200th career AHL goal to give the Griffins a 4-3 lead with just 1:27 left to play. Goaltender Calvin Pickard and the Griffins survived one final San Diego rush, with an extra attacker, to land back into the win column for the first time since Nov. 20.

The front office had some business to attend to in between games. On Thursday morning, the Detroit Red Wings recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath as well as forward Filip Zadina. A short time later, the Red Wings sent defenseman Oliwer Kaski to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for fellow blueliner Kyle Wood.

The following day, defenseman Madison Bowey was recalled by the Red Wings. He made his Griffins debut in San Diego and had the secondary assist on Ford’s game-winning goal.

The Griffins needed to pull off another comeback in Friday night’s 6-5 overtime win at the Bakersfield Condors. The home team built up a two-goal lead less than 15 minutes into the first period before the Griffins got on track.

Joe Veleno picked the top right corner of the Condors’ net to get the Griffins on the board with six minutes to go in the opening frame. Less than two minutes later, Eric Tangradi found Taro Hirose streaking down the left wing where he scored his second goal of the season to even things up at 2-2.

Taro Hirose Detroit Red Wings
Hirose has been very effective in Grand Rapids. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Shortly after the Condors regained the lead early in the second period, Hirose returned the favor by springing Tangradi on a breakaway where he tied the game by going to the glove side. Bakersfield responded by scoring twice late in the frame to take a 5-3 lead. Dominic Turgeon scored his sixth goal of the season, with just 10 seconds left in the period, to bring the Griffins to within a goal heading into the final frame.

Veleno tied the game, with his second goal of the road trip, early in the third period. The game settled down a bit from there and headed into extra time knotted up at 5-5. Veleno was called for hooking just over a minute into overtime, but the Griffins were able to stand tall and kill off the penalty. With just 11 seconds left before a shootout, Hirose made a nice move to create space in the slot where he won the game with a top-shelf, backhand shot.

After 11 total goals on Friday, the Griffins and Condors combined for just three in the following night’s rematch.

All the scoring took place within the first 13:16 of the game. The Condors scored first for the second straight night and the doubled their lead before the game was even 10 minutes old. Tyler Spezia scored the lone goal for the Griffins by getting to a bounce off the end boards and depositing into the Condors’ net for his second career AHL goal.

Pat Nagle, making his third AHL appearance in goal this season, kept things interesting by making 28 saves; with 23 of those coming in the first two periods.

Player of the Week

Smith has gotten very used to the drive between Grand Rapids and Detroit this season with multiple trips between the AHL and NHL this season. He had a goal and four assists last week to lead the Griffins with five points in three games. Smith is now up to 13 points on the season, which has him tied for fifth on the team.

Givani Smith Grand Rapids Griffins
Smith led the way with five points last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, Dec. 17 @ San Diego Gulls, Friday, Dec. 20 @ Wild, Saturday, Dec. 21 @ Wild

Stars Keep Pushing Forward

An unexpected coaching change did not derail the Stars (11-14-1-2) from their recent winning ways. They picked up another pair of division wins last week and have gotten themselves right back into the thick of the playoff race. They are tied with the Griffins at 25 points and are just three back of fourth place.

Less than 24 hours after the Stars learned head coach Derek Laxdal was heading to Dallas to become a member of the NHL coaching staff, they took to the ice versus the Moose. They continued their hot streak with a 3-1 victory; their fourth in a row and the first for new head coach Neil Graham.

The recently acquired Anthony Louis started the scoring midway through the first period with a goal from the top of the left circle. They tally was his second with the Stars and third overall on the season.

The Stars took control of the game with a pair of goals in the second period. The first came just one minute in from Joel L’Esperance. Louis found him at the right of the net where he went upstairs for this 10th goal of the season. Parker MacKay’s second goal of the season increased the lead to 3-0 less than four minutes later.

Goaltender Jake Oettinger continued his recent run of good fortune. He made 26 saves for his third consecutive win. His shutout bid was denied with just 2:26 left in the game when the Moose scored their lone goal of the evening.

The Stars swept the two-game series against the Moose with a 3-2 victory in Friday night’s rematch. Jason Robertson’s 11th goal of the season broke a scoreless tie at the 16:40 mark of the first period. Michael Mersch doubled the lead just over a minute later by getting to the front of the net and cleaning up a rebound.

The Moose scored the only goal of the middle to pull within a single goal. Adam Mascherin restored the Stars’ two-goal advantage by scoring on a breakaway in the opening minute of the third period. Manitoba made things interesting by converting on a power play halfway through the period, but goaltender Landon Bow and the Stars stood tall for another win.

Landon Bow Texas Stars
Bow brought home the win on Friday night. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Two of the hottest teams in the Western Conference got together on Saturday night. The Roadrunners extended their winning streak to six games with a 3-1 victory; snapping the Stars’ nine-game point streak in the process.

Tucson scored first when Jeremy Gregoire got to a loose puck off an Oettinger rebound and fired it back into the net. The Stars came back to tie the game before the end of the first period when L’Esperance scored a power-play tally off a wicked one-timer from the right circle.

The Roadrunners regained the lead, on an early second-period power play, off a set faceoff play. They scored a second goal while on the man-advantage just two minutes into the final frame to cap off the scoring.

Player of the Week

The top line of Robertson, L’Esperance and Louis carried the offensive weight last week with each member scoring three points. L’Esperance gets the honor because he was the only Star to find the back of the net twice last week. He is currently tied with Robertson for the team lead in goals with 11 and is second in overall scoring with 18 points on the season.

“We’ve been through a lot, obviously, when we went on the losing streak we did,” he said about his team’s season so far. “It feels good to win a few. Obviously, we aren’t going to win them all for here on out. We’ve got to take what we have learned into each game.

The Week Ahead

Friday, Dec. 20 @ IceHogs; Saturday, Dec. 21 @ Wolves; Sunday, Dec. 22 @ Wolves