Sunday, January 18, 2015

B³ Weekend Recap: 1/16 & 1/17

Courtesy of Brandon Anderson Photography
It was a disappointing home weekend for the Lincoln Stars as they were only able to pick up 1 of 4 possible points in two games at the IceBox against the Fargo Force.  Meanwhile, the fifth-place Force picked up 4 big points to increase their standings lead to 10 points over the sixth-place Stars.

1/16:  Fargo 2, Lincoln 1
1/17:  Fargo 5, Lincoln 4 OT Shootout

After the 0-1-1 weekend, Lincoln fell to 11-15-5 (27 points) on the season.  The sixth-place Stars are four points ahead of the last place Waterloo Blackhawks, and now 10 points behind the fifth-place Fargo Force.  As of today, the Stars are 12 points out of a playoff spot in the USHL western conference.  Click here to view the current league standings.

Fargo 2, Lincoln 1

Denis Smirnov's third period goal proved to be the game-winner as the Force skated to a 2-1 victory Friday night at the IceBox.  The Fargo win spoiled the debut of Lincoln, NE native Ethan Price.

Of the two games against Fargo this weekend, I thought Fargo was the better team overall through 60 minutes on Friday night.  The Stars outshot Fargo 33-28 in the 2-1 loss, but many of Lincoln's shots were from the perimeter and Force goaltender Mathias Israelsson really didn't have to work very hard for the win.

After a scoreless first period, Miguel Fidler scored Lincoln's only goal of the night at the 10:17 mark of the second period to give the Stars a 1-0 lead.  Miguel, who always seems to be his best in and around the opposing team's net, skated out from the corner and put a quick deke on Israelsson before tossing a backhand shot glove high into the open net.

A little over three minutes later, Fargo scored their first goal of the game to knot the score at 1-1.  The score would remain at 1-1 going into the second intermission.  Shots were 25-18 in favor of Lincoln through forty minutes.

In the third period, the lone goal by Smirnov at the 8:40 mark proved to be enough for the Force as Israelsson and company held the Stars off the scoreboard the remainder of the period.  Shots were 33-28 in favor of Lincoln in this game.

Ethan Price finished with three shots on goal and was -1 in his debut with the Stars.  He's definitely a player who skates hard and will hit anything that moves.  He had a few big hits Friday night that got the fans excited for sure.

Friday night's game was also the debut of Stars forward Jack Badini.  The talented '98 forward was selected by the Lincoln Stars in the 2014 USHL Futures Draft.  Badini finished with one shot on goal in his debut against Fargo.  Badini will be the youngest player on Lincoln's roster.

Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 26 of 28 shots on goal in the loss.  Once again, Hackett did all that he could be asked of in this game.  Cam made a number of big saves while the Stars were on the penalty kill.  Force goaltender Mathias Israelsson was just a little bit better, as he stopped 32 of 33 for the win.

The Stars went 0-for-2 on the powerplay while the Force were 0-for-4.

I thought Lincoln could have done a better job in this game in terms of their overall energy, which seemed to be flat at times, especially in the first period.  I also would have liked to see Lincoln put more bodies in front of Israelsson to make him really work hard to make those saves.  Seemed like the majority of saves Israelsson made were ones that he could see all the way in.

After the game, Stars head coach Chris Hartsburg stated that Saturday's game against Fargo was a "must win" for Lincoln.  I agreed with that statement, although I would argue that Friday's game was a must win as well.

Fargo 5, Lincoln 4 OT

The Stars blew a two-goal lead in the third period and eventually fell in the overtime shootout Saturday night at the IceBox by the score of 5-4.  Lincoln did earn the one point, but this was definitely a big opportunity wasted.

Fargo opened the scoring with a powerplay goal with only 1:17 remaining in the first period to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.  Shots were 9-8 through the first period in favor of Fargo.  Lincoln had three powerplay opportunities in the first period and were unable to find the back of the net.  At lease in that first twenty minutes, Lincoln's powerplay unit did not look very good at all.

In the second period, Dominick Sacco got the crowd back into the game early with his first of two goals on the night, this one scored just 29 seconds in.  Ethan Price picked up an assist, and his first USHL point, on Sacco's first goal of the game.

Fargo responded at the 8:43 mark of the second period with an even-strength goal to take a 2-1 lead.  However, the Stars would score the next three consecutive goal to take what seemed like at the time, a commanding 4-2 lead.

Sacco's second goal of the game, which came on a powerplay, was scored at the 13:14 mark of the second period to knot the score at 2-2.  The Lincoln Stars got video of this goal, which you can click here to see.  Good stuff by the Stars' Greg McCubbins getting that Sacco goal.  You can see Israelsson cheating a bit away from the near post, and Sacco found his spot and roofed it into the top corner.  Not a lot of room there to put the puck, and Sacco did a great job finding the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season.

It was looking like the score would remain at 2-2, but Patrick Polino's shorthanded goal with only 39 seconds remaining in the second period gave Lincoln a 3-2 lead going into the second intermission and all momentum on their side.  On the play, Stars defenseman James Ladouce cleared the puck out of the zone and Polino found it at full speed in the neutral zone.  Polino came in on Israelsson and fired a snap shot that rocketed glove-high past the Fargo goaltender.  It was a quick bang-bang play and Polino made it happen.  It was Polino's 10th goal of the season, and his second shorthanded goal.

After two period, the Stars had a 3-2 lead.  Shots were 13-11 in favor of Fargo in the second period.

Early in the third period, Lincoln extended their lead to 4-2 when Joe Lappin scored at the 1:10 mark.  Lappin collected a loose puck in the slot and quickly wristed the puck past Israelsson before he could get set up.  At the time, I really thought this was the nail in the coffin for the Force.  The crowd was loud, and the Stars definitely had all of the momentum on their side.  Unfortunately, as we've seen too often this season, Lincoln was unable to keep that third period lead.

Denis Smirnov's goal at the 12:37 mark of the third period gave Fargo life as now the Force were only down one goal with less than 8 minutes to play.

Fargo's game-tying goal was a weird one.  With only 2:13 remaining, Mitch Slattery of the Force skated the puck up the ice and simply dumped the puck into the Lincoln zone.  Slattery was probably 10 feet outside of the Stars' blueline when he dumped the puck in on Hackett.  Somehow the puck got past Hackett and just about everyone on the ice and in the stands were stunned.  I'm not sure if the puck took a crazy hop, but Hackett put his glove out to save it and it got past him.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but Cam should have put his whole body in front of the puck instead of reaching out with his glove.

Regardless, momentum had now fully switched over to the Fargo bench as they fought back to send this game into overtime with the score tied at 4-4.

Neither team scored in the five-minute OT period, so the game would be decided by a skills competition.  Israelsson blanked the Stars on all five of their attempts, and Fargo forward Kyle Sylvester scored the only shootout goal for either team to give the Force a 5-4 victory.

This was a tough one to swallow.  I really thought the Stars deserved the two points in this game, but them's the breaks.  Sometimes the puck bounces your way, other times it doesn't.

Shots were 40-29 in favor of Lincoln through regulation.  Surprisingly, the Stars outshot Fargo in both games this weekend yet were only able to get the one point.

Stars goaltender Cam Hackett stopped 24 of 28 in the loss, while Mathias Israelsson stopped 36 of 40 for his second win of the weekend.

Lincoln went 1-for-7 on the powerplay, while the Force went 1-for-4.

In my weekend preview article, I said the Force relied on good goaltending, team discipline, and a very good PK unit to get wins when maybe they shouldn't.  That's pretty much what happened this weekend.  Israelsson was the better goaltender both nights, and the Force held the Stars to one powerplay goal in nine attempts.  They weren't pretty wins for Fargo, but all that matters is the four points they took home.

Stars forward Ethan Price picked up a five-minute major and a game misconduct for head-butting early in the third period of this game.  I didn't see the play live, but I watched the replay on FASTHockey this morning, and you can definitely see Ethan attempt to head-butt a Fargo player after a whistle.  I don't think the head-butt connected, but it wasn't a smart play especially with all of the officials standing right there to witness it.  I would guess Price gets a one game suspension from it.

As I stated above, considering what was at stake, this was a disappointing weekend for the Stars who were looking to creep up closer to Fargo in the standings, and possibly get in contention for a playoff spot.  There are still 29 games left in the season, but the teams ahead of the Stars in the standings aren't slowing down.

These next four games for Lincoln, which are all on the road, will be crucial in determining their postseason chances.  The opponents in those four road games are no slouches either.

Wednesday, January 21st:  at Madison Capitols (.609 winning %)
Friday, January 23rd:  at Sioux Falls Stampede (.559 winning %)
Saturday, January 24th:  at Omaha Lancers (.652 winning %)
Tuesday, January 27th:  at Tri-City (.609 winning %)

If Lincoln is serious about fighting for a playoff spot, they'll need to win 3 of those 4 games.  The three games against western conference foes are especially big considering Lincoln is in the same conference.  If the Stars struggle in those four games, I believe you have to seriously think about playing for next season and trade away assets that aren't returning next season for draft picks or younger players.

Thanks for reading.  Go Stars.

Edit:  Someone told me today to take a closer look at Fargo's fourth goal.  It's crappy quality, but I recorded a Vine below of the play.  You can see a Fargo forward enter Lincoln's zone on the left wing.  The puck comes into the zone, but then comes out to Slattery.  Slattery shoots the puck into the zone at Hackett while the Fargo forward is still coming out of the zone.  That's offside, and the goal never should have counted.  Tough break.


Anonymous said...

Parts of this game were very difficult to watch. Yes, the dump in goal in the 3rd was painful--I don't think I've ever seen such a lucky shot at the Ice Box before--a real fluke.
Just as painful was our play in the 1st--3 powerplays, and we finished the period with a total of 8 shots on net. This team has had trouble putting a full 60 min game together all year. Plus, we don't seem to play very well when we HAVE a lead. Bottom line is, this was the weekend to make a move if we were to have a chance at the playoffs. I hate to say it (because I'm fond of ALL our players), but now may already be the time to start making trades--i just don't see us making a run at the playoffs at this point. May as well trade up for the future and let some of our veteran players have a chance to go farther.

Anonymous said...

what hasn't been mentioned is we had five shooters in the shoot-out, two never got a shot off and two couldn't hit the net. Our goalie Hacket made four great stops before the fifth scored. don't we practice shoot outs?

MacAttack said...

some of us knew coming into the season it was going to be a struggle at times with all the new and very young players. I was not expecting an immediate turnaround. it takes time to develope a team. we have already traded away some good vets. now some fans would have us trade the few we have left? I say stick to the program and let the boys learn and grow from the experience.

Anonymous said...

In defense of my previous comment--
I never meant to imply we should have a "fire sale" or trade players just for the sake of trading. That decision is up to the coach and John Hull--those guys actually KNOW what they're doing while I, on the other hand, am just a fan with an opinion.
But based on our record, the way we've played, and coaches comments lately, it seems we're still a long way from where the coach expected us to be at this point.
Trading away established veteran players is rarely a pleasant experience for we fans (I was especially bummed when we traded Marchin, Humitz, and Christiansen, just to name a few.) It's up to management to make the best decision for the team--I'm just saying I expect it sooner rather than later--mostly because the closer we get to the trading deadline, the fewer teams will still think they have a shot at the playoffs.
Black & Blue Forever. GO STARS!

Anonymous said...

I believe that as long as the player that was in the zone touches the blue line before the puck crosses the goal line it would not be offsides. Unless that player touched the puck before getting to the blue line. In watching the video, the Fargo player who was in the zone makes it to the blue line before the puck goes in.

Yeti said...

Anon at 10:34am,

No need to defend your opinion. I understand where you were coming from and I'm of the same opinion.

If your team isn't going to make the playoffs, to me it makes sense to move the players who aren't going to be here next season to teams who are in the playoff race. Build for next season.

I know fans don't like to see vets traded, but that's life in the USHL and the players understand that.

And when you look at it, there aren't a lot of non-overager players on this roster who aren't going to be here next season. You're basically looking at the '95's and '96's who are committed to start playing college hockey this upcoming fall. I only count 3 players on the current roster who fall into that category.

Yeti said...

Anon at 11:39am,

I understood the rule that it was offside once the puck crosses the blueline, not when it crosses the goal line. If I'm wrong, it wouldn't be the first time.

Anonymous said...

@ Yeti-
My point exactly.
I never expected us to take the league by storm this year either, The optimist in me DID think we might have an outside shot at the playoffs, but that was always a longshot in my mind.
With all the talented young players we'll have coming back next year + the upcoming draft, (not to mention players from previous drafts like Ethan Frank, Terry?, Floodstrand?, Wyse?) the future looks bright already. A couple of well placed trades in the near future could make it even brighter.

Anonymous said...

The rule is the offside player has to clear the zone AHEAD of the puck entering the zone,...i.e. crossing the blue line....not the goal line.
the offside player can straddle the blue line.