Texas Stars Report: Heading Out On The Road

COLUMBUS OH - DECEMBER 6: Ethan Moreau #19 of the Columbus Blue Jackets attempts to beat Tom Wandell #23 of the Dallas Stars and Aaron Gagnon #11 of the Dallas Stars to a loose puck during the second period on December 6 2010 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Texas (13-8-1-1, 6th place in the West) finds themselves in a strange position just past the quarter point of the season.  Despite holding a 7-2-2 record over their last 11 games , thereby gaining at least a point in 9 of their last 11, they sit in 6th place in the 8 team West Division.  

A closer analysis of the rankings shows that Texas has at least two games in hand against every team above them in the standings, and they are ranked 5th in the division in points percentage.  If we extrapolate all that out to an 80 game season, Texas would make the playoffs, albeit in a convoluted fashion.

Texas's division has 8 teams while the North Division has 7.  If the 5th place team in the West Division has more points at the end of the season than the 4th place team in the North Division, then the 5th place team jumps over to the North Division and steals the 4th place team's playoff spot.  This happened last year in the East Conference.

The West Division is very competitive this year and I imagine this situation will be triggered.  For the record, Texas has a better points percentage than the #2 team in the North.  It's dog-eat-dog in the West, and Texas had a week full of divisional rivalries.

Meanwhile, as I'm sure all readers of this site are aware, the callup carousel has been affecting the Texas Stars as well with three players currently with Dallas. 

Stars Rock Barons in Their First Visit to CPC 5-2
(HDH blog link)

The newest team in the West Division, the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) made their first trip to the Cedar Park Center this past week and were sent home unhappy. "It wasn't the prettiest two points tonight," said Francis Wathier, who had a goal in the game, "But it got the job done."

The Barons opened the scoring in the first but were quickly answered with goals from resident pugilist Luke Gazdic and leading scorer Travis Morin.  Texas closed the period out at 3-1 after a breakaway goal from Mathieu Tousignant at the end of a Texas penalty kill.  Texas chased Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers from the net for the second period.

Texas's lead was cut in half by Liam Reddox at the halfway point of the second period.  The growing maturity of this Texas team showed as the team tightened up and generated a goal off the stick of Colton Sceviour to push the lead back to two goals. Francis Wathier collected a goal on a well-executed forecheck by rookie Sean Backman to close the scoring at 5-2.

Richard Bachman turned aside 29 of 31 shots on the night and earned first star honors yet again. The rookie graciously deflected praise onto his teammates, "They're clearing a lot of pucks for me and letting me see it so they're making my job pretty easy back there actually."

More coverage inside of the rest of the week's game, the week ahead, and what's eating the Texas power play.

San Antonio Wins In Shootout 2-1
(HDH blog link)

After a three day layoff, Texas took the ice against yet another West division opponent, the San Antonio Rampage (Phoenix Coyotes).  The Rampage have been stymied against the Stars. Despite their division leading .740 points percentage, they came into the game with an 0-2-1 record against Texas.  Former Star Matt Climie has started all 4 games against Texas, including last week's.

The low scoring game saw a total of 58 shots between the two teams but only two goals.  Texas opened the scoring first with Fabian Brunnstrom potting his 5th of the season on the power play with assists from Philip Larsen and Travis Morin.  San Antonio answered before the end of the period but that would end the scoring for regulation and OT.

Texas seemed to have the momentum all game and had plenty of chances that just missed. Of the missed chances, captain Lukowich pointed out: "We didn't capitalize when we had opportunities."  Texas went to the shootout and never quite got their footing in the skills competition, failing to register a goal. Richard Bachman pointed to the importance of making that first save in the shootout to get that momentum. "We'll be better in the shootout [as we learn more]," said Bachman.

Texas Gains Point Against Houston in 4-3 OT Loss
(HDH blog link)

The Texas and Dallas Stars both faced against members of the Minnesota Wild franchise on Saturday night as Texas squared off with the Houston Aeros.  Both games, interestingly, ended 4-3 in OT.  Sadly for Texas, the result for the farm club did not go in the same direction as the Dallas game.

Houston scored the first two in the game and set Texas on their heels a bit.  Texas ended the first outscored 1-0 but being outshot 16-5.  They were lucky to come out only 1-0.  "It was pretty rough at the start of the game," said forward Ray Sawada. "We weren't executing our passes, plays or power play."

A power play goal from Travis Morin to end the second period put Texas back on track a bit.  In the third, Colton Sceviour notched his 3rd of the year to tie everything up at 2.  A failed clearing attempt a few minutes later would give former Star Warren Peters his 6th of the year and put Houston ahead 3-2.  

Texas fought back to make it 3 all in the last 5 minutes of the third.  Rookie Cody Chupp scored his 2nd of the year and took the game to OT.  In overtime, Texas was going great guns but Fabian Brunnstrom got called for a high-stick in the Aeros' crease. "It was a little bit of a questionable call, especially in overtime," commented Sawada. Houston scored at the end of the power play to seal the deal and gain the extra standings point.

Special Teams

Texas is about to go out on the road and their special teams are going to continue to be an important part of their offense.  Some of the Stars' main PP contributors have been called up to Dallas this week, however.  Aaron Gagnon, Francis Wathier and Philip Larsen, who all work on the power play and penalty kill, have been recalled for at least Tuesday's game against the Manitoba Moose (Vancouver Canucks).  Texas's league-worst road power play will get its first chance to improve Wednesday night against the last-place Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks).

The Week Ahead

Texas plays five games this week, striking out on a four game road stand after Tuesday's home game against the Manitoba Moose.  Wednesday will take them to Rockford, Illinois, for their second matchup this year against the IceHogs.  The road trip continues with a three-in-three this weekend against Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) on Friday and Sunday and a trip to Milwaukee to face the Admirals (Nashville Predators) on Saturday.  Unless they're taking a ferry across Lake Michigan, that's a 5 hour bus trip each way.

Who's Hot

Before the call up to Dallas, Larsen was having a week with 0-2-2 and plus-3 rating.  Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour also did well this week, going 2-1-3 and 2-0-2 respectively.  Rookie Sean Backman showed some of his skill as well this week, getting a chance to play on a line with Gagnon and Wathier and adding scoring touch to a line with Cody Chupp and Luke Gazdic.  Backman setup two pretty goals on the week and finished even.  He's a guy to watch for as we move forward.

Who's Not

Texas needs a pickup in defensive scoring.  Contributors from last year including Brad Lukowich, Trevor Ludwig and Maxime Fortunus are all significantly short of their scoring rates from last year.  In addition, veterans Lukowich (minus-6) and Fortunus (minus-3) are both minus players on the season.

Injuries

G Brent Krahn is still on the mend from a lower body injury that is currently listed as day-to-day and has been for several weeks.  It is possible that this has become something more than a day-to-day injury.

F Scott McCulloch has been out with an unspecified injury.  The forward had been one of the top contributors to the Stars' offense in points per game before his departure.

You can always follow the Texas Stars by reading my blog at HundredDegreeHockey.com, following me on Twitter @100degreehockey, or becoming a fan on Facebook.

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