It's been a rough few weeks for the Texas Stars (20-22-1-2, 43 pts, #15 Western Conference), as they have not won a hockey game since January 21st and playoff hopes are dwindling in Cedar Park. In two games this week, Texas fell to the Aeros in Houston (Minnesota Wild) and the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) at home. The two losses put Texas on a four game skid.
Updating last week's points pace report, the Stars need forty points to stay on pace with the eighth seed in the West. With only 33 games remaining, the task is becoming more daunting by the day. The required .606 win percentage is made more difficult by the sixteen remaining games against their own division, against which Texas has a 9-15-0-2 record on the season. In the plus column, the Stars will play ten of the remaining seventeen against the North Division, which they have a 3-0 record against so far this season. If current pace holds, Texas could be the only team to miss the playoffs in the West Division.
For Coach Pyle, it boils down to two things: self-discipline and finish. Concerning Saturday's game, he opined, "We missed four or five open nets, and the power play was sloppy. We had opportunities, but we didn't have finish."
Also in Saturday's game, Texas had a rough time with unnecessary penalties: "The self discpline of shutting your mouth, doing your job and staying out of the penalty box: that's a big part of the game. That's probably the most important trait any player can have. That's where some of these guys struggle."
More inside on each game, including a rare type of goal by Travis Morin...
The Stars got the first goal, but the Aeros got all the rest on Thursday night in Houston. Ryan Garbutt scored the Stars only marker in the tilt, tipping a shot from Angelo Esposito for a 1-0 lead. A mishandled puck by Andrew Raycroft gave Casey Wellman an unassisted tally to tie things and the power play put them ahead for good in the third. An empty net goal sealed things in the closing minutes.
Andrew Raycroft stopped 32 of 34 in the loss and picked up Third Star honors.
Texas came close but ultimately fell just short of OT with the Checkers in Cedar Park. Charlotte and Texas traded goals in the first with Angelo Esposito's 3rd tally of the year. Charlotte scored the next two as Texas squandered a boarding major PP, and Garbutt made it worse by taking a roughing call to make things 4-on-4. Said Travis Morin: "Sometimes you get caught up in the moment. [When I was young,] my mom got on me about it, 'I don't pay to watch you sit in the box.' It's hard for some guys to do. It's stuff we can't afford right now when we're struggling."
Garbutt made up for that a bit with a bad angle shot to make it 3-2 late. Charlotte got another to make it 4-2 with seven minutes left. At that point, Travis Morin got the building rockin' by scoring a 3-on-5 goal, a slick wrister from the right wing circle. Morin remarked that he thought he might have scored one once before the ECHL, but never before in the AHL. The Stars pulled Raycroft with a minute left but missed the mark and fell 4-3.
The Week Ahead
The Stars play tonight and tomorrow against the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators). The two games will be Milwaukee's only visit to Cedar Park this season. The Stars will then hit the road and make their only visits to the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) on Friday and Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) on Sunday.
Mathieu Tousignant, Colton Sceviour and Brad Lukowich all returned from injury this past week. For Tousignant, it was his first game action since December 18th. He spent most of the game shaking off the rust. Hubert Labrie and Raymond Sawada continue to be out for the Stars.