Mike Hedden and Justin Dowling celebrate one of Dowling's three goals on Saturday - Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars
With a Saturday victory over San Antonio pushing them into first place, Texas is sitting pretty at the All-Star Break. However, it's about to get a whole lot tougher.
Coach Desjardins is definitely pleased with where his Texas Stars sit at the end of January. After a season that saw the club miss the playoffs and finish second to last in the league, being in first place at the All-Star Break is a nice accomplishment.
"It's nice to be in first. That was our goal: to make the playoffs. The more points you can get the better because their hard to come by after [the Break]. That certainly doesn't guarantee anything, but it's good to have those points."
The Stars aren't going to take any time to rest on their laurels. This is a club that has a top power play, but a near league worst penalty kill. They have been scoring a lot of goals recently but have also been allowing a few more than they'd like.
"There's lots of things to improve. It's so much harder to win after the All-Star Break. The lockout had a lot of guys shuffling around, and teams haven't gotten things back together a little bit. Just like we aren't totally in sync, other teams aren't either. Teams will start getting back in sync here."
The Stars had just two games this week, a home-and-home with the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers) in which they earned three of four points. Matt Fraser and Jamie Oleksiak played key roles in the Western Conference sweep of the All-Star Skills Competition and Game. Fraser is on a nine game points streak. Meanwhile, Texas added a defenseman to the fold via trade.
The Dallas Stars traded a conditional seventh round pick for defenseman Carl Sneep, formerly of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins). Jason Iacona of Chirps from Center Ice, a Pens blog, had this to say about Sneep: "[He is a] third year guy, not a liability by any means. He was just shuffled out of the system by the lockout / pedigree first year D-men. He was injured last season, upper body, and that plagued him this season getting shuffled out. He was temporarily sent to Wheeling to get games."
Sneep must play 10 NHL games for the Dallas Stars for the seventh round pick to be traded, otherwise the trade is essentially 'free': Sneep for nothing.
The biggest news out of this trade is that it happened at all. Texas needed something to maintain their success, and Dallas made a move to help them out. That is a sign of a healthy ownership group in Big D and a health relationship between Texas GM Scott White and Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
Case in point, if you look back to last year, San Antonio got Jon Matsumoto thanks to a trade by the Panthers. That trade had no benefit to Florida but they made it to help their farm club. With solvent ownership, GM Joe can follow Dale Tallon's example and make the right moves to help both Dallas and Texas. Success now from the farm club ensures that the prospect in the system grow and mature in a winning environment.
Sixty minutes would not be enough for these two clubs as has been the case so many times in the past. On Friday, it was San Antonio coming out on top. Tyler Sloan collected his first goal of the season, but a power play tally from Jon Rheault in the OT period sealed the deal for San Antonio's first win over Texas this season. With the single point earned, Texas maintained its first place ranking in the Western Conference for the time being.
Richard Bachman had 25 saves on 27 shots. Matt Fraser extended his scoring streak to eight games with an assist in the second.
Justin Dowling scored his first professional hat trick to power the Stars 4-1 victory over the San Antonio Rampage tonight in front of a sellout crowd.
"The bounces were all going my way tonight. I gotta give all the credit to my linemates. We've really been clicking.," said Dowling. "The crowd was going wild, and the fans were behind us."
The final game before the All-Star Break for both teams saw Texas jump out to a two goal lead off even-strength goals from Dowling in the first. San Antonio cut the lead in the second, but Dowling answered on the power play to complete the trick.
"[Dowling's line] is a good line," said Desjardins. "Alex Chiasson has played really well for us and has stepped up since the end of the lockout for us as a leader. Mike Hedden scored 19 goals in this league last year. He's talent and can play well. They seem like a good fit."
Matt Fraser won the accuracy shooting competition on Sunday and had a goal in Monday's All-Star Game as the Western Conference swept both events for a second straight year. Jamie Oleksiak was game-high plus-3 and had an assist on the game-winning goal.
Fraser's goal came early in the first period off a breakaway pass from Milwaukee Admiral Victor Bartley (Nashville Predators). The second-year All-Star tucked it just inside the left post past first period East tender Niklas Svedberg.
Late in the game, the East captain and captain of the hometown Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins), Trent Whitfield, tied things up at six all. Down to the final twelve seconds, The Toronto Marlies's Ryan Hamilton (Toronto Maple Leafs) would complete his All-Star hat trick to win the game 7-6. Oleksiak was out for the final shift and generated the scoring attempt with the keep at the blue line and pass to the OKC Barons' MarkArcobello (Edmonton Oilers).
In the previous evening's Skills Competition, Matt Fraser won the accuracy competition for the West, knocking out four targets in five attempts. Jamie Oleksiak, who shot for the West in the hardest shot competition, did not have any shots recorded as he missed the net in both attempts.
The Week Ahead
Texas has two games coming up this week, a relatively quiet seven days. On Friday, the Stars will travel to Houston to take on the Aeros (Minnesota Wild). They will return home on Tuesday to play the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks).
The Stars are still without Travis Morin, Francis Wathier and Scott Glennie. Glennie is out with a hand injury. Wathier and Morin's injuries are unspecified, but there is no timetable for their returns.