Despite being at thirteenth in the conference, the Texas Stars (23-25-2-2, 50 pts, #13 Western Conference) are on the upswing right now. Previous mired in last place, the Stars found a way to beat the white-hot San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) not once but twice this past weekend to brighten their chances at a playoff berth. Important games against divisional foes, all in the top eight of the conference, lie ahead in the next few weeks. The Stars' next five are against the division and fourteen of the remaining twenty-four overall.
The Stars are thin on extra bodies at the moment with the callup of Ryan Garbutt and injuries to Stephen Schultz and Dan Spang. Schultz's injury was particularly graphic, as he received a high hit from Bracken Kearns and left the ice bleeding from his eye. Even with callups, the Stars only have twelve healthy forwards and six healthy defensemen right now. And yet they are finding ways to win.
"Everybody contributed," said Pyle. "It was a really great weekend."
More inside on the injury report and each game breakdown...
Coming in on a two game losing streak, Texas needed a good start and a good game against the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche) to set the ship right. The first period saw three goals against as that "Here we go again" feeling set in on the Stars' bench. Texas decided to make it interesting in the second period though, scoring three straight (Francis Wathier, Colton Sceviour, Scott Glennie) in just five minutes to even things up at three. However, living up to the consistently inconsistent moniker, Texas allowed Patrick Rissmiller's eventual game winner just 45 seconds into the third period. Tyler Beskorowany had a good, if disappointing, game with a baffling 40 saves on 44 shots.
Texas needed extra time to do it but finally broke out of their three game losing streak with a physical 5-4 shootout win in Cedar Park on Friday. "We wanted to do everything we could to get out of the slump tonight," said Coach Pyle. "We played a full sixty tonight." Texas got goals from Stephen Schultz, Wathier and two from Matt Fraser, including two power play tallies. Angelo Esposito and Travis Morin picked up two assists each. "Esposito's played well since he got here," said Pyle. "He made a great play on the power play and snaps the puck pretty well."
Tyler Beskorowany picked up a good confidence win as well, allowing four goals on 32 shots but stopping all five in the shootout. Among four fights in the first period, the big story in the game was the aforementioned injury to Schultz, who broke his wrist and is surely under watch for a concussion after receiving a high hit to the head. Bracken Kearns has yet to receive his 'sentence' for the incident but is suspended until further notice.
Texas needed four points on the weekend to stay in the playoff chase, and they got all four thanks to Saturday's 4-2 win over the Rampage. Coach Pyle already has the team in playoff mode. "This is our playoffs. We did everything possible to win. That effort has to be from twenty guys every single night."
Texas got goals from Maxime Fortunus, Sceviour, Fraser and Mike Hedden in the game and rallied from a 2-1 lead to score three unanswered in the third period. "We're a desperate hockey team right now and that's when we're most dangerous," said game winning goal scorer, Matt Fraser. "We really feel like we have a team that can make some noise."
Minor Roster Shuffle
With Spang's injury, Texas signed Matt Case from the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads to a PTO. Texas also picked up Scott Campbell from the Las Vegas Wranglers on short notice to deal with the Schultz injury. As previously mentioned, even with the additions, the Stars only have twelve healthy forwards and six healthy defensemen.
The Week Ahead
Texas travels to Oklahoma City to take on the conference leading Barons (Edmonton Oilers), who recently lost their top tender to the NHL. David LeNeveu, their backup, is second only to the callup, Yann Danis, in league goaltending rank. It's a game of interchangeable parts in net for OKC. Texas returns home for an important two game set against the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild), who are feeling the effects of injuries with their parent club. Often touted as the ECHL's Aeros by Houston media, they have found ways to win but injuries are catching up to them. This is a great chance for Texas to catch them off guard.
Injuries abounded in Cedar Park this week. In addition to Ray Sawada and Hubert Labrie, both out long term with previous injuries, Texas added Dan Spang and Stephen Schultz to the walking wounded. Spang was injured in the Lake Erie game and could return for OKC, if not Houston this weekend, according to Coach Pyle. Broken wrist heal time is usually 4-6 weeks, so Schultz is out for some time. Labrie could return in the coming week as well.