November 10, 2012

Deep in the Heart of Hockey: Aucoin leading way for Marlies

By Kirk Luedeke

Keith Aucoin, the Marlies' leading scorer, had two helpers in a  win over Texas Friday. (Getty Images)

Texas Stars vs. Toronto Marlies (AHL)
November 9, 2012 | Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Toronto 3, Texas 0

The Texas Stars’ scoring woes continued Friday, as they were blanked at home by the Toronto Marlies after outshooting the visitors by a 31-17 margin. Leo Komarov scored the game-winner at 14:01 of the opening period, hitting the short side a split second before the net was knocked off its moorings. According to Stars captain Maxime Fortunus, the goal was not reviewed because referee Jamie Koharski determined that a Texas player was responsible. Komarov scored a power play goal at 15:20 of the second period, benefiting from a puck that skipped off Fortunus’ skate and right to him in front of the net where he was alone and uncovered for his fourth tally of the season. Toronto captain Ryan Hamilton closed out the scoring at 13:04 of the final frame with another power play strike. Hamilton got behind the Texas defense and then made an effective deke for his fourth goal of the year.

Goaltender Jussi Rynnas making just his third start of the season, moved his record to 3-0 with 31 saves and his second shutout. Swedish netminder Christopher Nilstorp got the start for Texas and made 14 stops, as the Stars goalies continued to struggle with making key saves even when their club owns a territorial advantage.

New England connections:


- Jamie Oleksiak, D: Spent one season at Northeastern University before the Dallas Stars made him their top pick in 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Oleksiak played the 2011-12 season in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit and Niagara Ice Dogs (where he was Dougie Hamilton’s teammate) before turning pro with the Stars. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound native of Ontario scored his first professional goal, the game-winner, in a 3-1 victory over the Milwaukee Admirals Oct. 24.

Game observations: This was a quiet game for Oleksiak, along with the rest of his mates. His raw physical abilities are impressive to behold, but as a young player, he is prone to running around and trying to do too much. He was on the ice for the one even strength goal and took the net off its moorings, but did not have much in the way of standout plays at either end.

- Alex Chiasson, RW: Quebec native spent the last three seasons at Boston University after being the Stars’ second choice, 38th overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. After 15 goals and 46 points in 38 games for the Terriers last season, Chiasson (pictured right) signed with Dallas. He played nine AHL games with the Texas Stars in 2011-12, posting a 1-4-5 line. Chiasson has one goal in four games this season.

Game observations: An average skater, Chiasson is most effective when he goes to the front of the net and uses his natural offensive instincts and slick hands to make things happen. He made some quality plays in the offensive end, but struggled to gain separation in the open ice. The Toronto defense used the body on him effectively, consistently taking away his time and space.

Stars Notes: Defenseman Patrik Nemeth was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking when he drew blood on LW Jerry D’Amigo in the second period. Komarov made the Stars pay, tallying with 13 seconds left in the first penalty, forcing Texas to have to spend an additional; 2:13 a man short.

The Stars are currently in last place in the Western Conference (15th) with a 3-6 record. Their 16 goals are a league-low, tied with the Albany Devils. The team with the most offense in the AHL is the Charlotte Checkers with 50 goals, but with four more games than the Stars and Devils. The Stars’ 30 goals against puts them in the middle of the pack.

Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate)

- Keith Aucoin, C: Originally from Waltham, Mass., the veteran Aucoin just turned 34 and is getting long in the tooth but remains a productive AHL player. The all-time leading scorer at Norwich University (D-3) was at one time a Bruins farmhand before getting his first real NHL shot with the Carolina Hurricanes. In the Washington Capitals system since 2008, Aucoin spent parts of each of the last four seasons in and out of the Caps NHL lineup. In nine games with the Marlies prior to the Texas match, Aucoin had one goal and eight points.

Game observations: Neither big nor fast, Aucoin is one of those players who defies conventional scouting thought. The puck seems to follow him around the ice and with his high-end vision and soft hands, he posted two more assists to maintain his team scoring lead with 10 points. Forward Joe Colborne observed after the game that Aucoin commands the respect of the higher skilled players on the Marlies for the way he is able to make plays with very little to work with and for his professionalism and passion for the game. The wily veteran has seen plenty of action in the minors and has more than 100 career NHL games under his belt, so he provides the kind of experience and consistency that should carry the 2012 Calder Trophy finalists far.

- Spencer Abbott, RW: 24-year-old Hamilton, Ontario native was a much sought-after free agent last spring coming out of the University of Maine and a 21-goal, 62-point season (in 39 games). He spent four full seasons with the Black Bears, tallying 146 points in 151 career NCAA games. Abbott (pictured right) signed with Toronto and played three AHL games with the Marlies to close out the regular season, adding an assist. He was not eligible to play in the 2012 AHL playoffs, where the Marlies finished as league runner-up to the Norfolk Admirals. In two games coming into action against Texas, Abbott had two goals and three points.

Game observations: Abbott is an above average skater who is a nice fit on the top scoring line with Aucoin and Komarov. Like Aucoin, he drew assists on both Komarov goals, giving him an impressive one goal and five points in just three games this season.

- Mike Kostka, D: The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Toronto- area (Etobicoke) player skated in the Hockey East for UMass. His best season was as a senior in 2007-08, when he tallied nine goals and 21 points in 36 games for the Minutemen. He spent the first full two seasons of his pro career with the Portland Pirates and was a member of the 2012 Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals, with a 6-6-12 stats line in 18 games.

Game observations: This was a steady, unspectacular performance. He made the lead pass that sprung Hamilton for the partial breakaway and final goal by Hamilton.

- Joe Colborne, C: The 16th overall choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins spent two seasons at Denver University before signing with the B’s. However, in February of his rookie season, he was traded to Toronto as part of the package that brought Tomas Kaberle (and an eventual Stanley Cup) to Boston. In nine games with the Marlies, Colborne has managed just four assists.

Game observations: Healthy scratch. Head coach Dallas Eakins removed both Colborne and Toronto’s top pick in 2009, Nazem Kadri (also without a goal this season) from the lineup to send a message.

The post-mortem

Head coach Willie Desjardins

On the team’s scoring troubles:

“No, they’re not going in, but you have to make them go. You can’t hope that they’ll go. We had chances around the net; we just didn’t bear down, we just didn’t finish. You get streaks every once in awhile in hockey where it seems like that happens- you just gotta find a way to break it. You can’t feel- nobody’s going to break it but you- you’re the only ones who can do anything about it. We can be frustrated, we can be disappointed but it doesn’t really matter. Tomorrow’s a new night and we gotta be ready to roll.”

On if he was encouraged by the quality of the scoring chances:

“We had some good chances, we had lots of good chances. It’s frustrating -- they’re a good hockey team -- they go to the finals last year, they got a good team. We outshot them. I don’t know what the shots were, 31-17 or something at the end of the night. First period, it’s 10-4, whatever.”

On the compete level tonight:

“I thought we competed well. We still have to win the battles around the front of the net, though. We’ve got to get some of those loose ones in front of the net and score. That’s something we have to do.”

On what he’s going to tell the team about the next game against fourth place Lake Erie:

“Nothing really matters what’s happened, it’s just what’s ahead of us that counts. We can’t get down. We have to win hockey games and if you don’t win, then you get too far behind and you don’t catch up. It’s a tough game for sure. It’s a hard one to bounce back (from) but we don’t have one, we got two; we have to be good in both of them.”

Stars defenseman Maxime Fortunus

On the importance of a good start:

“I think first of all that we battled hard. That’s what we wanted coming into that game is coming out really strong and making sure we set our tempo to the game. I think we did that; we got a lot of opportunities, we got a lot of traffic on net. And let’s face it- we didn’t put the puck in the net but their goalie was good on the other side.”

On if the Stars are gripping the sticks a little tight/trying too hard to score:

“For sure you’re thinking about it and I’m pretty sure the next goal we’re gonna get is not going to be a dangle through the middle or something, so it’s probably going to be some type of garbage goal and that’s what we need. We can use every shot we can take- we gotta take them and get people in front of the net.”

On the struggling penalty kill:

“First thing we gotta stay out of the box- that’s the main thing. We’re a team who strives on being disciplined on the ice and that’s that every aspect of the game. After that, when we get penalties, which is going to happen during the game, we have to kill them. We have to out-battle them even if we got four guys on the ice, we have to out-battle them. I think they got a lucky bounce on the second one, so they’re going to get that. We’re working on it, it’s a process and we won’t get back our PK right up to 85 percent in two games, so it’s a process. We’re all working on it and it’s a team effort.”

The “Deep in the Heart of Hockey” blog returns soon with a recap of the Saturday, Nov. 10 Stars-Lake Erie Monsters game. First year coach Dean Chynoweth’s club defeated the Stars last month by a 4-0 score.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @kluedeke29.