The Lincoln Stars fell behind early to the Chicago Steel Friday night and could never recover, losing 4-2 at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, IL . The loss was Lincoln's fourth straight, and their fifth in their last six games.
With the loss, the Stars fell to 11-4-1 (23 points) and are still in third place in the USHL Western Conference. Click here to view the updates USHL standings.
I was able to watch this game on FASTHockey, so I'll post my thoughts below. Unfortunately, FASTHockey did not have Mike Melbye's feed available, so all of us watching online had to listen to the Chicago announcers, or try to listen to radio feed which did not synch up with the FASTHockey feed. Listening to other announcers makes me appreciate what we have here in Lincoln. Melbye is a great play-by-play announcer, and it was not fun listening to the Chicago announcers scream throughout the game.
Much like the Omaha game this past Wednesday, the Stars came out very slow against the Steel. I'm not sure why the Stars can't get motivated in the first period, but it's a problem I've seen in more than a few games this season. Before the Stars could wake up, the Steel put two goals up on the scoreboard and would never trail in this game.
Down 2-0 in the second period, the Stars would get some life thanks to Brad Hawkinson's PP goal (yes, a powerplay goal!) at the 6:37 mark of the period. Paul LaDue set the play up nicely, passing across the crease to Hawkinson who simply tapped it into the open net. LaDue and Jake Wood picked up the assists on Hawk's fifth goal of the season. Hawkinson only had 1 goal in 46 games last season, so he's off to a very good start this season.
The Steel would answer with their third goal of the game later in the second period to take a 3-1 lead. Lincoln would again show some life late in the second period when Daniel Willett scored to pull the Stars to within one goal. Luke Johnson and Eric Scheid collected the assists on Willett's second goal of the season, which was scored at the 16:46 mark of the second period. Unfortunately, this would be as close as the Stars would get to the Steel Friday night.
The Stars would show some life in the third period, but they were unable to put any pucks past Chicago goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos (Sak). The Steel would add an empty-net goal very late in the game to complete the scoring.
Stars outshot the Steel 33-23, but lose 4-2. Although they had 10 more shots than the Steel, I thought a lot of those 33 shots came from the perimeter and not in slot or tough areas in front of the Chicago net. Sak stopped 31 of 33 Lincoln shots to record his eighth win of the season. Lincoln goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped 19 of 22 in the loss.
This was a very strange game to watch. There were good stretches of the game that the Stars took control and peppered Sak with shot after shot. Then there were large parts of the game in which the Stars stood around and watched the Steel play. The sense of urgency just wasn't there. It certainly wasn't a game the Stars played the entire 60 minutes, and the Steel did enough to deserve the win.
The Stars had a very good opportunity late in the third period to tied the game up at 3-3 thanks to a couple of penalties called against the Steel, but Lincoln's powerplay woes continued. Lincoln had 17 seconds of a 5-on-3 and a long 5-on-4 powerplay that were stuffed by the Steel. The Stars have scored only 5 powerplay goals in 53 opportunities this season.
A good friend of mine who is a Steel fan was at the game last night and I'm going to post his thoughts below:
I was expecting a helluva lot more from the Stars. They weren't bad, but not what I expected from a club that came in 11-3. They didn't win many puck battles, were beaten to most pucks, didn't show much speed and generally didn't look too dangerous. Tough to say what the deal was with them whether it was holiday hangover, bus legs or what... I'll get a better feel after I see them in Dubuque tomorrow. My favorite Star tonight was #26 Wood. Kid was fast, aggressive, made plays, showed IQ. Now I have a chance to look him up he's a 93 and has 12 points and is a +3. .. Nice player. Bitzer is smaller than I thought. He fought the puck in the 1st period, as did Sak. Both goalies were off in the 1st, but settled in nicely... Wish I had more thoughts on Stars players, but there wasn't much that stood out. First period was sloppy for both clubs. Lotta poor passes and turnovers, but the Steel had the better of play. No flow at all. 2nd period was a good one with both clubs tightening up and getting solid chances, each team netting 2 goals each. Following the Stars I figured they come out flyin down a goal in the 3rd, and they pretty much did. From the 12:00 mark to 6:00 they had the play the whole time in the Steel end, of course they had just short of 4 minutes consecutive PP time. But not too many high quality chances. they did outshoot the Steel in the 3rd, 11-6 but couldn't get the equalizer.
It gets no easier for the Stars as they will face the Dubuque Fighting Saints in Dubuque, IA tonight. The Saints are the top team in the USHL right now and are undefeated (8-0-0) at home this season. As I said on Twitter last night, we just have to keep the faith that the Stars can get this turned around quickly. I'm hoping that starts tonight.