Austin Smith and Luke Gazdic attempt to connect on a pass against Peoria this week. (Credit: Nathan Kerley)
It's all downhill from here for the Texas Stars (30-38-2-2, 64 pts, #15 Western Conference). With just four games left on the schedule, the season is officially reaching its end this week. Texas will have its full roster of Clear Day players for the final four games, including recently assigned Tomas Vincour, and all of their ATO signees as well.
In a rough season, the key at the end is to find positives to build on for next season, not only for Texas but positives that will trickle up to Dallas. First among these is one that Dallas fans have bemoaned for much of the season: the power play.
Coach Jeff Pyle's power play was a revelation in Texas early. The Stars were clicking along at 30% in the first few months of the season, eventually cooling down to 19.0% currently with 61 goals, ranking 9th in the league. Pyle was renowned for his power play ability in Gwinnett. It is clear that he has a knack for the man-up situation, but a combination of depleted player base and the league learning his tricks depressed that number as the season wore on.
Second, I think several players had breakout seasons. Matt Fraser is the most obvious with eye-popping numbers. Fraser has 36 goals on the season, leading the AHL as a rookie. He needs to work on his defensive game, but it's a great start.
The entire line of Colton Sceviour, Francis Wathier and Scott Glennie put together a great back-half of the season. As I documented here, I believe Sceviour has earned a spot in the NHL with his play this season. Many of the same arguments could be made for Francis Wathier, but he has age working against him. Scott Glennie has added physicality to his skill set thanks to being paired with the two through the season.
Finally, the early indications of the ATO signee play have all been good. That is something to build on. The biggest question that remains is what changes around them. Regarding that, Texas Stars president Rick McLaughlin was recently quoted, "We look forward to seeing the new crop of Texas Stars players to help turn things around in 2012-13."
Discussions about whom are ones we will surely have here and on 100degreehockey.com as the months wear on.
More on the Stars two games this week and the final week of the season inside...
The Stars were outshot, outmuscled and ultimately outscored in this one against the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) on Wednesday night. The Griffins' Joakim Andersson potted a hat trick against the Stars, and Francis Pare had an assist on each tally. The Stars got goals from Shawn Weller and Matt Fraser in the game. Jack Campbell had 30 saves on 34 shots.
The Stars allowed a 17-6 shot differential in the first period but only trailed by one after the first. Texas needs to clamp down on defense to give themselves a fighting chance in the remaining periods.
Despite the Stars' best efforts early in the game, the Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) showed that playoff teams know how to close out games Thursday in Illinois. Peoria got on the board first, but Texas tied things up in the second. However, a two-goal third period from the Rivs doomed Texas's chances at their 31st win on the season. Jack Campbell had 35 saves on 38 shots. Matt Fraser pushed his AHL leading goal total to 36 with two goals in the game as well.
The Week Ahead
Texas closes out the season this week with a busy schedule of four games. First, they will take on the Midwest Division-leading Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks) at home on Tuesday. The season will end with a weekend three-in-three against West Division competitors. Texas travels to the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) on Friday, closes out the home schedule on Saturday against the OKC Barons (Edmonton Oilers) and then finishes off the season on the road Sunday against the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild)