Tuesday, February 15, 2011

B³ Pregame Report: Green Bay Gamblers vs. Lincoln Stars 2/16

The league leading Green Bay Gamblers will invade the IceBox this Wednesday night when they will take on the the Lincoln Stars for the final time this season.  The Stars are coming off a long road trip in which they went 1-1-1 against three eastern conference teams (Muskegon, Indiana, Youngstown).  The Gamblers are riding a five-game winning streak, although they are winless in their last two road games. If you're not lucky enough to be in attendance Wednesday evening, you can follow the game online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on KLMS 1480 AM, or watch the game live on B2 Networks for $7. 

The visiting Green Bay Gamblers (30-9-2, 62 points, first place in the USHL Eastern Conference) are considered by many (including myself) to be the best team in the USHL right now.  Their 62 points are five more than second place Cedar Rapids, and seven more than the Omaha Lancers, who are in first place in the western conference with 55 points.  They have the best defense in the league also, allowing a miniscule 2.19 goals per game (the Stars are allowing an average of 3.10 goals against per game).  The Green Bay penalty kill unit is also #1 in the league, killing off 92.47% of all penalties against them. 

When you look at the numbers, it's very hard to find a weakness with the Gamblers.  They are that good.  In their previous matchup on 12/29/10, the Stars were blasted by the hometown Gamblers by a score of 7-4.  It was the first game back for both teams after the X-Mas break, so you have to wonder if the Stars were still on break mentally in that game.  Green Bay sports a two-headed monster in net, with goaltenders Ryan McKay and Adam Wilcox sharing duties between the pipes.  McKay is 17-5-1 with a 2.02 goals against average, and a .926 save percentage.  Wilcox is 13-4-1 with a 2.25 goals against average, and a .921 save percentage.  Gaudy numbers from those two young ('92) netminders. 

The Gamblers have an incredible home record of 18-1-1, but are *only* 12-8-1 on the road.  That's not a lot to get excited about, but it shows that this team is beatable.  Over the years, we've seen some very good teams come into the IceBox and lay an egg, so that certainly could happen Wednesday night.  Regardless, the Stars will have to play a full 60 minutes worth of mistake-free,  disciplined hockey if they want to earn two points from the Gamblers.  The Stars have demonstrated in the last few weeks that they can play with any USHL team, regardless of how good their record is.  It's just a matter of making it happen and being consistent over a full 60 minutes. 

Since January 1st, 2011, the Lincoln Stars (19-16-4, 42 points, sixth place in the USHL Western Conference) have been a team on the rise.  Since the new year, the Stars have an impressive record of 8-3-3, and are currently fighting for a playoff spot in the cutthroat western conference.  The Stars have a tough task ahead of them this week with three games against very formidable foes.  First up is Green Bay at home on Wednesday, then the Fargo Force at home on Friday, then the Omaha Lancers on the road on Saturday.  The combined record of those three teams is 79-34-11, and all three teams are playing some of their best hockey right now.

Realistically, I believe getting between 3-4 points from these upcoming three games is vital in terms of keeping the Stars in the mix for a spot in the playoffs.  A bad stretch of games can send a team right into last place in the west, but a good winning streak can propel a team like Lincoln all the way up near 4th or 3rd place in the west.  With points being so important in the western conference, it's crucial the Stars come out strong and play their best hockey against all three teams this week.  

For Stars season ticket holders, Wednesday night is "Unused Ticket Night" and $1 beers from 6-7pm.  See the Lincoln Stars website for more info.  Hope to see you all at the IceBox!

Go Stars.

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