Last night’s performance to the Milwaukee Admirals is one that slightly has me frozen. Was it that the Admirals were that good or were the Texas Stars simply that bad? The feeling heading into the weekend was that these two teams play with great pace in transition, both had plenty of skill, and both could end up playing a very wide open contest. It felt like it could be a track meet type of a match-up for the Admirals and Stars. Basically, the hype going in was matched Friday and Saturday night.
On Friday, the Admirals and Stars provided a rather relentless back and fourth game. The Admirals won 4-3 with the biggest bright spot coming defensively by holding the fort for whole of the third period with Marek Mazanec stopping seventeen shots in net for the final twenty minutes. As for what happened last night? That is a far different story.
The Admirals and Stars did have a track meet sort of a game last night. The problem was nobody seemed to inform the Stars that they were involved. The Admirals won 9-1. It’s their biggest win since winning by 9-1 on 2/28/14 against the Iowa Wild on home ice. It is the most amount of goals scored on the road by the Admirals since 11/14/06 when they defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins by the final score of 8-2.
“Pretty tough to assess,” said Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal of his team’s performance. “We got a pretty good ass kicking tonight. I think right from the get-go they were the better club and we didn’t have a response for it.”
That is a pretty short and sweet recap of last night’s game from the Stars group. There is just one area of Laxdal’s press conference last night that makes my eye begin to twitch and that’s why this is an Open Letter to him. Because I simply don’t know what on Earth he’s getting at.
Laxdal was asked to elaborate on the following, “I’m not sure if there’s any history between these two teams really but it seemed that it was more physical than last week’s series.” His response:
“There will be probably history next game because guys aren’t going to forget you’re down 8-1 and they’re putting their first power-play unit on the ice. Guys don’t forget that. Guys are upset. They’re getting shown up in their own building. So, there’s going to be a little bit of emotions there. Guys are stepping up for teammates. That’s good to see. At the end of the day it wasn’t a good night for us. Last night we played pretty well in the third period and had a chance to get some points and we didn’t. Tonight they were the better team.”
Before I get into the whole inciting or insinuating that the Stars are out for blood next time they play the Admirals. Because he very blatantly did and you can buy tickets to that game here. I want to address the trigger that made him say that which is the Admirals, who were leading 8-1 at the time, being put on a power-play with 4:33 remaining in regulation and putting their first choice power-play unit on the ice.
Firstly, you’re losing 8-1 at this point coach Laxdal so more than a few things have gone completely wrong at this point. I’d be more annoyed at that on an internal basis. Secondly, if it were up to the Admirals at that point, I feel as if they’d have preferred cruising out to the finish line and winning by that already astonishing scoreline. There was just one problem which was that Bryce Van Brabant decided it would be a good idea to hit Jimmy Oligny in the numbers into the end wall behind the Admirals net and get called for boarding.
So, the Admirals are forced onto the power-play with 4:33 left to play in a game that they already won. Who do you roll out on the power-play? Well, as it happens, the Admirals continued on with the game as though it still was one and the Stars simply didn’t – story of the night. I can appreciate the idea of “don’t run up the score” but when you’re already trying not to and get forced into a power-play and have four forward lines that all have power-play level players on them I kind of don’t know what more the Admirals could have done but exactly what they did.
You would assume that Admirals fourth line would be the safe option for use in a moment such as a power-play, up 8-1, in the closing stages of a game. That isn’t all that true either. It’s not safe at all.
All Félix Girard seems to do is win face-offs to the point that the Admirals have no issue with attempting home run style stretch passes if he is on the ice knowing that he’d win the icing call face-off in their defensive zone should the pass not connect. Girard worked the Admirals power-play late last season leading into the playoffs for his effectiveness at winning face-offs. Him doing what he does wouldn’t help the Stars in that moment.
While not known for goal scoring, so naturally he scored last night, Mike Liambas would have likely rotated into a like-role that Bass provides on the Admirals power-play that sees him as the net front presence. Bass had scored a net front deflection earlier in the game. Liambas, while not as known for it, would have been just as capable providing that net front ability. What he typically is known for by most other AHL organizations though is his fighting prowess. Given the scenario that played out to set the stage for that power-play would it really have been in the Admirals best interest to send out someone for the Stars to continue an altercation with? Even after the fact Dustin Stevenson dropped his gloves to fight an unwilling combatant in Liambas and grappled with him until Liambas finally gave in to fight. The officials should have stepped in and bailed Liambas out to prevent the fight from happening, it took a lifetime before Liambas decided to get involved, but alas – they fought. Why would that situation not have happened directly on the Admirals power-play, following a fight by the Stars between Van Barbant and Bass, considering it did later? The Admirals didn’t want to fight. They didn’t need to fight. They were simply choosing not to fight.
Then there is that third component to the Admirals fourth line by the name of Adam Payerl. He already is part of the Admirals power-play and this season has 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 25 games including 6 points (1 goal, 4 assists) on the power-play. Clearly sending him out on the power-play, the fourth line winger, would have been bad.
This whole situation then is effectively a no-win scenario for the Admirals. If they could have put Jonas Gunnarsson in the game as a skater and had him running around on the power-play I’m sure they would have given it a go. Anything to have helped the Stars see their way out the door swiftly and without more damage.
That’s I feel the biggest issue at hand for Laxdal, though. Finger wagging at the opposition for not doing enough to help them lose by more rather than his own team. I make no bones about it. I felt bad for both Stars goaltenders last night. Maxime Lagacé had a quick leash. Perhaps that was the proverbial wake-up call technique when yanking the starting goaltender. What’s sad is to do that, for it to fail miserably, and then Landon Bow – a guy who exited the middle of Friday night’s third period to throw up because he is battling flue-like symptoms – had to be in net for the rest of the game. The goaltenders were hung out to dry and forgotten about. The Stars were the inventors of their own peril last night. It never mattered who was going out on that final Admirals power-play. They were probably scoring regardless because they were playing a team a man short on the ice with their heads long elsewhere.
The next time the Admirals and Stars play, buy tickets here, will be April 1st. That is a date already notorious in Admirals lore for such a circumstance Laxdal seems to be suggesting the Stars wouldn’t mind having because “guys don’t forget.” The previous game that the Admirals played in when it was a 9-1 game featured a combined 141 penalty minutes with 10 fighting majors. Thanks to the AHL’s new Fighting Policy that simply wasn’t going to happen last night and, when it tried to, the Admirals players didn’t want to get involved – they already won the game anyways. I’d hope that the Stars and Laxdal do forget and rather do something regarding their ineffective and hopeless defense of their’s which has allowed 3.76 goals per game this season compared to the Admirals allowing 2.52 goals per game.
So, Laxdal and the Texas Stars, do yourselves a favor and relax on this your off-day. Practice for yourselves, as the head coach stated angrily a few times, is at 10 o’clock Monday morning. Though, I’d hope the team avoids doing what Laxdal also stated the team do after last night.
“It’s one of those games where you almost just take the video tape or you take the data drive and throw it out the window.”
Please don’t. You should be watching that footage until you’re all throwing up like Bow. Please take stock of all the mistakes, to which there were many – you don’t have a 9-1 scoreline without that, and fix them. I’m on the Admirals side of the fence and that was painful seeing two goalies so exposed last night. Focus less on “there’s going to be history next time we see the Admirals” and more of a focus on night allowing 9 goals against. The lessons of how not to play well are in the video tape and on those data drives. That should probably be saved, utilized, and bludgeoning players over their heads this week until they never play like that again.
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