Texas Stars Report: A Grand Tour of the Northeast

via alt.coxnewsweb.com

Texas spent the entire week out on the road, visiting four cities in six nights.  The team's northeastern swing featured stops in Hamilton, ON; Syracuse, NY; Toronto, ON; and Grand Rapids, MI.  All travel accomplished, of course, in the AHL's lap of luxury: the charter bus.

The Stars had a tough week, and much like the parent club, lost games they shouldn't have and won games they shouldn't have.  Overall, the Stars went 2-2-0-0 on the week and still hold a playoff spot moving into next week.  But things are getting tighter and the Stars have to start gaining more points to keep hold on a chance at the Calder Cup.  More after the jump...

Wathier back to Texas, Bachman called up, Neal sent down
(HDH blog link)

With the Olympic break upon us, it doesn't make much sense for called-up players to sit twiddling their thumbs for two weeks waiting for games to come.  So, on Sunday/Monday of this week, the AHL transaction wire was all abuzz with teams moving their call-ups down to the AHL.  This included Francis Wathier of the Texas Stars.  Michael Neal, James Neal's younger brother, was moved from the AHL to the ECHL with Wathier's return.

The Stars also made some goalie moves.  Matt Climie came down with a strep-like infection over the weekend and the Stars signed Chris Whitley of the CHL's Allen Americans to a professional tryout contract on an emergency basis.  Whitley was released on Sunday, and the Stars called up Richard Bachman from the Steelheads of the ECHL.

One interesting thing to note about roster moves and injuries in the AHL is the lack of a roster size limit.  There is no limit on the number of players that you can have on your roster in the AHL.  There, of course, is a limit to the number you can dress for a game.  This leads to interesting situations for a reporter of AHL news.  Because there is no roster limit, there is no injured reserve.  Players who are hurt just don't play.  There is no special "bucket" that they go in when they are hurt.  Because there is no injured reserve, there are no injury reports.  This means all the information I have on injuries is thanks to personal correspondence with the team.

Stars potent offense, strong defense power 5-0 win in Hamilton
(HDH blog link)

Coming off a disappointing home stand where the Stars only collected two of a possible ten points, Texas went on the road to face the best team in the West Conference, the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens).  Richard Bachman got the start in net.  Texas would score first fourteen minutes into the first and never look back.  Ten different Stars collected points in the game, including Warren Peters (1-1-2), Ray Sawada (0-2-2), Andrew Hutchinson (1-2-3), and Mathieu Beaudoin (1-1-2) with multi-point nights.  The Stars managed to outshoot the Bulldogs, a rare occurrence for this Stars team.  The team was three for eight on the power play and had a four goal second period.  The Stars are a second period team, nearly doubling up their opponents in the second on the season.

The game was a good indicator of how Texas operates when everything is going right.  Minimize shots, score on the PP, solid goaltending, and team scoring.  Special note that the Stars' Garrett Stafford was on the ice for all five goals of the night.

Bachman leads Texas to 3-1 win over Syracuse
(HDH blog link)

The Stars jumped on the bus (the glamor of the AHL) and rode to Syracuse immediately after Tuesday's game against Hamilton.  Richard Bachman got the start again in net for the Stars against the Syracuse Crunch (Columbus Blue Jackets).  The Stars had their chances in the first but came out with a clean sheet for both teams.  In the first, Stars enforcer, Luke Gazdic, faced off with the Crunch's Jon Mirasty.  Mirasty laughed and smiled maniacally through the whole fight.  It was a strange sight to see.

Matheiu Beaudoin broke the scoreless tie 13 minutes into the second on a rebound chance from a Garrett Stafford shot.  The Crunch evened the score at 7:42 of the third period with a series of nice passes culminating in a shot from the left point that beat Bachman.  To that point, Bachman had 134:58 of shutout time, second on the record books for the Stars behind Todd Ford's 150+ minutes of shutout time earlier in the season.

Texas scored again less than 3 minutes later on some great work by Aaron Gagnon, who snuck one under the crossbar on David Lalande.  Texas held up and added an empty-netter from team-leading scorer Greg Rallo.  Rallo is not signed to any NHL team, and I think he's worth a look, for the record.

The Crunch's home arena, the War Memorial at Oncenter, was used for the filming of the famous hockey movie Slap Shot.  The neutral zone in the arena is shorter than regulation, which makes it interesting for teams that play neutral zone trap games.  The Toronto Marlies, the next team Texas played in the week, has a Christian Hanson on their roster.  He is, no joke, the son of Dave Hanson, who played one of the Hanson brothers in Slap Shot.

Texas Stars sign defenseman Graham to PTO
(HDH blog link)

With Vishnevskiy's departure last week, the Stars were only using six defensemen.  I suppose they were not confident enough in their players in Idaho to bring one of them up when Trevor Ludwig went down with an as-of-yet undisclosed issue.  Also, it might have been easier to fly someone in from the East Coast than from Idaho.

The Stars signed Ethan Graham to a professional tryout contract to shore up the blue line.  Graham has played for the Norfolk Admirals (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators).  Most recently, he has played for the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL.

Texas can't mount comeback, falls to Toronto 2-1
(HDH blog link)

The Stars were in action again on Friday with the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs).  The Marlies are the only team in the AHL to be located in the same market as their parent team.  But come on, it's Toronto.  You know they have enough hockey love to support a couple of teams.

Bachman got his third straight start in net, his third game in four nights.  The story of the game was shots on goal.  Texas has a bad habit of getting drastically outshot at times and tonight's game was no exception to that occasional occurrence.  Texas got down 2-0 in the game but couldn't mount the comeback.  The Marlies outshot the Stars 18-5 in the first period alone and ended the game with a 33-22 shots advantage.

The biggest thing to note about this game is the Stars current record when trailing after two periods, 0-15-1-1.  Playoff teams find ways to win when they are behind after 40.  The Texas Stars are one of only three teams that has never won when trailing after two.  The other two teams are not playoff teams.  Texas has the points to be a playoff team, but are they?

Stars fall short again, lose to Griffins 5-4
(HDH blog link)

The Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) are not a playoff team.  In fact, they are in last place in the North Division and are the third worst team in the league.  When they play Texas, they seem to forget that though.  After Sunday's game, Texas now drops to 1-4-0-0 on the season against the Griffins.  Goalie Daniel Larsson is 4-0-0-0 against Texas.

Texas staked itself to an early 2-0 lead on an Aaron Gagnon goal and a tally by the Stars' newest player, Ethan Graham.  Grand Rapids would score the next three goals, including one by former Stars minor leaguer, Doug Janik.  As mentioned before, Texas has never won when trailing after two, as they did Sunday at 3-2.  This was no exception.  Texas tied it just 23 seconds into the third on a goal from Greg Rallo with an assist from Francis Wathier.  Grand Rapids would roar back for two goals in the period to make it 5-3.  Aaron Gagnon's second of the night with the extra man made it 5-4 with 26 seconds remaining, but the Stars couldn't close the deal.

A Look at the Playoff Picture

Playoff contention is determined a bit differently in the AHL than in the NHL.  The top 4 teams from each of the divisions are seeded into an eight team playoff in each conference.  There are some special rules for the Eastern conference, since one of their divisions has eight teams, but that doesn't concern us since Texas is a West Division West Conference team.

Currently, Texas sits in 4th place in the West at 70 points, in front of 5th place Houston by 6 points and only 1 point behind Milwaukee.  Meanwhile, the Chicago Wolves, who mauled the Stars twice two weeks ago, have been on a tear.  They have now gotten points in their last 14 games, going 12-0-0-2, for a total of 78 points.  This has obviously helped their meteoric rise from 4th in the division to a 5-point lead for first.  Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks) occupies the #2 slot at 73 points, but all of the other teams in playoff contention have three games in hand against them.

Texas faces two division foes this weekend with Houston and San Antonio both making trips to the Cedar Park Center.  Two games against Houston will be a good chance to separate from the rest of the teams in the West.

Who's Hot

There are a lot of good players this week.  Aaron Gagnon had four goals this week for the Stars.  He recently move back up the lineup to play with leading scorer Greg Rallo and grinder Scott McCulloch. 

Garrett Stafford also had a monster week.  Stafford had a +7 rating on the week with two assists.  In fact, Garrett was on the ice for twelve of Texas's thirteen goals this week.  He was paired with Trevor Ludwig for the first two games of the week and Ethan Graham for the last two.

Richard Bachman started all four games this week with Matt Climie feeling the effects of a "strep-type" viral infection and not traveling with the team.  Bachman had an extended shutout streak to start the week but was pulled in his final game of the week.  I still think his play was solid this week, and he deserves some praise for stepping up out of the ECHL to start four straight on the road for a club clinging to a playoff spot.

Who's Not

Not a lot jumps out of the page when looking at the Stars negatives.  I'm going to go non-traditional here and say that the thing that is not hot right now for the Stars is shooting.  No matter who it is, the Stars must shoot to win.  They were outshot in the two games they lost this week.  It is a problem with the Stars being a defensive team.

The Week Ahead

The Stars play four game again this week but split the week as far as home and away.  The last game of the current road trip will be against the Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) on Tuesday.  Texas comes home on Friday for the first game of a 3-in-3.  Texas faces the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) at home on Friday and in Houston on Saturday.  The week is closed up with a matinee game in Austin against the San Antonio Rampage (Phoenix Coyotes).

The games against Houston should be interesting to watch.  The last time the two teams played, Carson McMillan sucker punched the Stars' Mathieu Tousignant and received a two game suspension.  I assume he is a marked man for Friday night's game.

Saturday and Sunday's games will be broadcast on FOX Sports Southwest in the Dallas area, as part of the Lone Star Faceoff between Houston, San Antonio, and Texas.  Tune in to see the prospects of the Dallas Stars coming into your living room!

Injury Report

LW Landon Wilson is likely nearing return, at the latest at the beginning of March.
G Brent Krahn is targeting a return at the end of the February from his lower body injury.
D Trevor Ludwig is day-to-day with a lower body issue.
G Matt Climie is day-to-day with "strep-type" viral infection.

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

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