Somehow, someway, the Stars are holding onto first. In a week where they went 1-1-1, scored an own goal and generally had trouble putting pucks in the net, the Texas Stars are the top team in the American Hockey League at this moment.
They will retain the best record in the West for at least the next few days as a three point separation between themselves and the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) ensures it.
Coach Desjardins is making the best of a lineup held together with baling wire and perhaps a good bit of ACE bandage tape. Currently the Stars are missing Scott Glennie, Colton Sceviour and Travis Morin on injury. Sceviour and Morin represent 47 points and a combined 1.5 points per game.
"It makes a difference for sure how much you've played [together] and the confidence of guys in their positions," said Coach Desjardins. "When we get all our guys back, it definitely helps us."
Until then, Texas has been aided by the emergence of a new first line. Justin Dowling, an ECHL signing, centers Mike Hedden, an AHL only player who can play anywhere in the lineup, and Alex Chiasson, who has started to show the skill that led to his draft selection in the second round of 2009. Chiasson has 13 points in his last ten games. He is being trusted with more important minutes and showing that Coach Desjardins is right for calling on him.
He is probably going to spend the rest of the season in Texas but is on the cusp of pushing for a spot in Dallas in September.
The Texas Stars fell to the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) Saturday in Ontario thanks to a bizarre goal and overall lack of offense. Texas scored a second period goal from Luke Gazdic but also put one in their own net on a delayed penalty. Alex Chiasson's pass to the point skipped past Carl Sneep and into the vacated net for the 1-1 tie. A third period goal sealed things as Texas couldn't find the net again despite outshooting the Dogs 37-23.
Jack Campbell took the loss but certainly deserved a better fate. He had some sparkling stops on three breakaways in the game. Technically, he only allowed one of the goals. He stopped 21.
Alex Chiasson scored the Stars' first goal and had assists on the second and third as his line powered Texas to a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Marlies (Toronro Maple Leafs) Sunday afternoon. Linemate Mike Hedden had a goal and two assists as well and Justin Dowling scored his sixth of the year as the Stars bounced back from their first back-to-back losses since Christmas.
The Stars had to be in top form on their penalty kill as they stopped seven Marlies' power plays in the game. Cristopher Nilstorp got his second start since assignment from Dallas and stopped 23 of 25 in the game.
After a solid outing in Toronto, the Stars struggled to find the net at home, losing a 2-1 game in the shootout to the South Division rival Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild). The Stars scored the first goal off the stick of Patrick Nemeth but allowed a shorthanded goal and fell 3-1 in the shootout.
Texas squandered a large man-advantage opportunity early in the game. In the last meeting between these teams, Mike Hedden put a hit on Paul Mara that was not penalized in game but earned Hedden a one-game league suspension.
Just twenty seconds into the game, Mara slashed Hedden and then tried to fight him. The Texas winger wouldn't give in and Mara earned a rare 7-minute penalty, two for slashing and five for fighting. He also picked up a ten minute game misconduct.
"We struggled on the power play," said Patrick Nemeth. "I think you've got to score on a seven minute power play."
The Week Ahead
The Stars get a chance for sweet revenge on the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) this weekend at home. After much of their high-powered offense went to Edmonton when the lockout ended, the Barons have struggled. The Stars have to hope that they can get four point out of the two game weekend set Friday and Saturday.
Travis Morin briefly came back from injury but was boarded in the Rockford game and has been out since. Scott Glennie is out with a hand injury. Colton Sceviour was injured against Toronto and missed the Stars' game against Houston. Luke Gazdic missed a single game this week with an injury from blocking a shot but has come back since.