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Stars Stun Griffins With Late Rally
GR squanders two goal lead, suffers fifth straight loss...
By Jason Kasiorek
December 1st, 2017

Mike McKenna got a small measure of revenge, earning his first win against the Griffins since being on the wrong side of the AHL championship series last spring. The home team got off to a quick start on a goal by sniper Matt Puempel less than a minute in and then managed to end both the first and second periods with two goal leads. The third period was a different story as they trailed off and allowed Texas back into the game allowing an early powerplay goal and a late goal to force overtime. Following a scoreless extra session, Roope Hintz added the only goal of the shootout in the second round sealing the come from behind win for the visiting Stars. The Griffins also added goals from Tyler Bertuzzi (5), Matt Ford (6) and Turner Elson (8). Thomas McCollum was solid in the net despite the loss, making 33 saves including several odd man rushes.

Grand Rapids got on the board early, notching a goal just 42 seconds in. Turgeon made a nice play, sent the puck to Russo, who centered it and Puempel creeped in back door to redirect it past McKenna for his 7th of the season. The Stars came close to tying it with traffic around McCollum, the puck hit him and lay to the side of the net, but the big netminder dove on it to draw a whistle. Nice play by Brian Lashoff to pick off a clearing attempt and put it on net for a good scoring chance. Midway through the period, the Stars finally got one past McCollum, on the powerplay. McNeill cut in on net and got between the netminder and the net and chipped the puck in to knot the score at one. Grand Rapids answered back a minute later when Elson was opportunistic in front, pouncing on a loose puck and wristed it past McKenna to restore the lead. Tyler Bertuzzi made it 3-1 late in the period when he took a back door pass from Elson for a 4-on-4 goal. Shots on goal: GR 15 - Tex 9.

Texas cut the lead back to one when Russo lost his man and allowed him to walk in alone and convert a pass from the corner past McCollum. Matt Ford restored the two goal cushion when he drifted into the slot and snapped a pass from Elkins past McKenna to make the score 4-2. Colin Campbell shot in on net on a shorthanded breakaway, and just had the the puck roll so he didn't get the shot he wanted. The puck went all the way down the other way on a good scoring chance for Texas, but Lashoff made a great play to break up the Stars breakaway without taking a penalty. Shots on goal: GR 7 - Tex 12.

Texas scored a powerplay goal early in the third to cut the lead to one. Hintz took advantage of the defense switching off to get a step in on McCollum, then converted a perfect pass from Mangene past McCollum as he cut by the net. Grand Rapids back on it's heals trying to kill off consecutive penalties. Texas controlling play for most of the period as it looks like the Griffins are falling back into bad habits. McKenna was summoned to the bench for an extra skater with Texas pressing for the equalizer. Dickinson chipped the puck in over McCollum with 5.9 seconds left to play, sending the game to overtime. Shots on goal: GR 4 - Tex 14.

Grand Rapids looked to have recovered for the start of overtime, playing with jump and confidence in the extra session. Great work by Street in the corner then brought the puck out and threaded a pass to Bertuzzi back door for a chance. Huge save by McCollum on a close-in chance by Texas. Hronek in the slot wound up for a big shot and smoked Heatherington square in the face. The gritty defender went down, but got right back up and stayed in the play, holding his face with one hand before leaving the game after the clear. Hicketts and Bertuzzi came together and crunched Mangene with a huge hit that sent him flying. Shots on goal: GR 5 - Tex 2. For the game: GR 31 - Tex 38.

The Shootout
Matt Lorito was the first shooter for Grand Rapids, cutting in on McKenna making a nice deke and then trying to slide the puck in from the side but McKenna didn't bite and made the stop. Morin went next for Texas, flying in close and ripping a shot into McCollum's glove. Puempel went next for GR, streaking on net and ringing a shot off of McKenna's pads. Roope Hinz scored a pretty goal through McCollum, five-hole to give the Stars the lead. Filip Hronek was the last shooter for the Griffins, making a nice move and trying to score five-hole, but McKenna made the stop to give the Stars a come from behind win 5-4.

#73 Puempel - #23 Turgeon - #45 Campbell
#28 Lorito - #15 Elson - #77 Svechnikov
#26 Tangradi - #10 Street - #39 Bertuzzi
# 55 Ford - #47 Elkins - #65 Shine

#18 Lashoff - #5 Russo
#2 Hicketts- #52 McIlrath
#20 Renouf - #13 Hronek

Starter: #30 McCollum
Backup: #31 Coreau

#25 Holmstrom

Tangradi -Street - Bertuzzi
Puempel - Lorito

Elson - Ford - Svechnikov
Hicketts - Russo

Turgeon - Campbell
Lashoff - Renouf

Elkins - Ford/Bertuzzi
Hicketts - McIlrath


Fifth straight loss shows that there is much work to be done. This team is very brittle at the moment and has been brutal the second half of games during that stretch. It was especially disappointing last night as the first period was the best they had played in weeks, but they were unable to sustain that. As happens when things go bad for a team, there are too many people guilty of trying to do too much themselves and not relying on the system or their teammates to help.

A couple of key areas that need to be address soon would start with faceoffs. This team direly misses Tomas Nosek and his ability in the circle. Either they need to work on faceoffs, or bring in another player who excels at that to push everyone back a position. One of the biggest issues with the offense right now is that we can't win key faceoffs and have to keep starting in our own end after chasing the puck down.

While the losing streak is a team effort there are a few players that really need to step things up. Offensively several of the expected scorers have been very quiet. Last season while Tangradi was going through a slump, you at least noticed that he was getting his chances and knew it would turn around. This season too many games go by where you don't notice Lorito, Svechnikov, Tangradi, and Street. That needs to change. Mike Borkowski has been putting up points in bunches in Toledo and brings energy, making him a prime candidate for recall to breath some life into the fourth line, something this team has been lacking.

While the penalty kill has been stellar, the powerplay has been up and down. It does not seem to be a systemic issue or that the team lacks the proper talent, but instead an issue of execution. At times the artists on the powerplay could use a couple of plumbers to make the easy play and get the puck to the net instead of circling around for the perfect opening. Looking at the fact that grinders Elson, Campbell and Turgeon are among the leading scorers, maybe they should see some powerplay time when the man advantage unit gets too fancy and isn't generating shots or pressure. They couldn't do any worse and would probably surprise with a few goals and a new look to defend against. (Elson did see powerplay time tonight on the second unit.)

The team also needs to figure out what to do with Robbie Russo. After earning a long look in Detroit last season he has been in a free fall. He was arguably the weakest link on the blueline in the post-season, and has fallen fast this season. It is clear his confidence level is low and his play is costing the team on a nightly basis. With an all-star defenseman as his coach, I would expect this to be corrected, but the clock is ticking. Add in the fact that Vili Saarijarvi is tearing the cover off the ball in the ECHL and needs to get some AHL playing time, and we can see something is going to come to a head.

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