Texas Stars Report: Quality of Competition Rising

Texas celebrates Brett Ritchie's goal in San Antonio. - Darren Abate

After a month of playing playoff bubble and outright non-playoff teams, Texas will get a real challenge this weekend against top-ranked Abbotsford.

It's been a blustery past two weeks for the Texas Stars (21-10-2-3, 47 pts, No. 4 Western Conference), who were already being whipped about by injuries in Dallas, as they added a few more of their own to the mix.

Most notably, after playing in one game, Jack Campbell is back on the injured reserve. It seems to be some residual soreness and issues from his earlier knee injury. Cristopher Nilstorp has gotten steadier after early year issues, going 6-1-1 since December 1. He was 4-8-1 in the preceding two months. Campbell, of course, was on a collision course with the No. 1 label for the Texas Stars. He's 5-0-0 with a 1.40 goals against average. If he can stay healthy, he'll keep that No. 1 job. Until then, it's good that Nilstorp has picked up his game.

As mentioned last week though, the quality of competition has been low. Texas has played just one team in the top eight of the conference since December 1. Predictably, they were 10-2-0-1 in that stretch. Now the team looks ahead to the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames), who are No. 1 1 in the West Division and were recently No. 1 in the Conference. It's a good chance for the Stars to measure themselves against the best in the league. Their last 'big tilt' was against the reigning Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) in November. Texas lost both games and allowed five goals in each.

Signing Derek Meech, the 'Veteran Rule' and Dominoes

It was initially reported on Friday and confirmed on Monday that Texas had signed Derek Meech to an AHL deal. The veteran of 144 NHL and 356 AHL games had started the season in the KHL but left his club due to health concerns. With those now resolved apparently, he looks to rejoin the North American game in Cedar Park. His number of games qualifies him as a veteran and triggers the veteran rule for Texas.

If you are unfamiliar with the veteran rule and want to brush up, read more here. At its core, the veteran rule ensures that the AHL remains a development league by limiting the number of veteran players allowed to dress for any one game. The limit is six players with 260 games or more of NHL, AHL, IHL and European Elite league experience (one of whom must have less than 320 games). If it's still confusing, read the explanation I linked above.

Seven players qualify as veterans on the Texas Stars currently: Toby Petersen, Maxime Fortunus, Derek Meech, Francis Wathier, Chris Mueller, Colton Sceviour, and Travis Morin.

In summary, what this means is that one of the players listed will have to sit every night in order to satisfy the veteran rule. Usually when this happens in the league, the scratch is rotated among a few players. Right now it's a non-issue with the injury of Toby Petersen. Of course, if Sceviour is called up, this is also a moot point.

However, when Petersen returns and Sceviour is in the lineup, someone has to sit. Coach Willie Desjardins is rather unlikely, you'd think, to healthy scratch Sceviour, Morin or Mueller. That leaves Petersen, Wathier, Meech and Fortunus. Given the unsteadiness on the blue line due to injury that led to this signing in the first place, my bet is on an alternating scratch for Wathier and Petersen.

With Meech signed and Gaunce perhaps assigned, Texas will probably release Russ Sinkewich and assign either Hubert Labrie or Ryan Button to the ECHL.

Curtis McKenzie Named December Rookie of the Month

League recognition continues to roll in for the season Texas is having. Curtis McKenzie was named the December CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month after posting 12 points in just 11 games. McKenzie's 29 points are good for 12th overall in league scoring and second among rookies. His point total would make him the leading scorer on 23 of 30 AHL teams. Obviously his linemates have helped (Morin and Sceviour) but he has a nose for the net and his work on the power play has been excellent (six power play goals of 11 total).

McKenzie is the fifth player in Stars' history named as a monthly award winner by the AHL. He is the second this season. Linemate Travis Morin was October's player of the month.

Stars' Comeback Effort Squandered in 3-2 Shootout Loss

The Stars had to come from behind on the 27th in San Antonio, trailing 2-1 in the third period, to earn a single point with a shootout loss to the Rampage (Florida Panthers). Ryan Button scored the game-tying goal with 100 seconds left in regulation. Brett Ritchie scored the Stars' opening goal.

Texas fell to 0-3 in shootouts this season with Cristopher Nilstorp only stopping two of four. Jacob Markstrom stopped all four in the skills competition portion.

Texas Blasts Rampage 5-2, Wins Franchise-Record 7th Straight Home Game

Colton Sceviour wasted no time getting himself re-established in the American Hockey League. After getting sent down to Texas just that afternoon in a rather cloak-and-dagger type assignment, Sceviour scored two goals, had an assist and a fight. With the second goal, he became the first player in the AHL with twenty goals on the season.

"I don't think I've ever been the leading goal scorer in a league before," said Sceviour.

News of his assignment to Texas was closely guarded until near gametime, releasing at 5:20 PM, in hopes of catching the Rampage off-guard.

"I did a full practice this morning [in Dallas]," said Sceviour, who had been in Dallas for the past three weeks. "I packed my stuff up and drove directly from Frisco to the rink. I haven't been home yet, so it's been a long day."

Desjardins thinks the NHL time has done Sceviour well. He added honestly, "I do think his shot was a little better, but you don't get a better shot over a week."

Sceviour and his linemates did a lot of damage in the game, combining for three goals and six assists. Most of that work was done in the second period, as Texas put up four goals in the middle frame. The power play had three overall.

Travis Morin put more distance between himself and Sceviour in the league point scoring lead with a goal and two assists to stay in #1 overall in the league at 39. Sceviour has 33. Nilstorp had 22 saves on 24 shots against him, starting back-to-back games after injury to Jack Campbell.

The win set a franchise record for home winning streak at seven. The crowd of 6,082 got into it, putting on a good show for the TV audience with cheers and jeers alike for the home team and referee crew, respectively.

Mueller Nets Hat Trick as Texas Scores Five Unanswered to Beat OKC 6-5 in OT

Usually after five goals against and a goalie change, it's time to pack it in and hope for a better outing next time. On New Year's Eve, the Stars flipped the script. Trailing 5-1 just past the halfway point of the game and having allowed two shorthanded goals, Texas scored five unanswered goals and allowed just seven shots against them to turn around and win 6-5 in overtime in Oklahoma City (Edmonton Oilers).

Mueller was the shiny penny in this one, scoring a hat trick that included the game-tying goal with just over a minute left in regulation. Mueller has been doing his scoring quietly this season, ranking third on the team in scoring despite fifteen goals and seventeen assists. He would rank first on all but three other teams in the league.

Colon Sceviour had a goal and an assist. Travis Morin had two assists, and Mike Hedden and Taylor Peters had a goal each.

Two Each from Morin, Hedden Give Texas 5-3 Comeback Win

After going down 3-1 early in the second, the Stars put up four unanswered tallies including two from Mike Hedden to win 5-3 in Charlotte last Thursday. Travis Morin also had two goals in the game to extend his league scoring lead to 43 points. The Stars went two for two on the power play, increasing their already league-leading power play percentage to 30.3 percent.

Cristopher Nilstorp got the start and stopped 29 of 32.

Stars Cannot Muster Third Period Rally, Fall 4-3 in Charlotte

The Texas Stars' third period luck finally ran out. For the third night in a row, the Stars came into the final period needing to come from behind to win. On Friday, they couldn't come away with the win, falling 4-3 to the Checkers in Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes).

Special teams were a big storyline in the game as Texas scored twice on the power play early but couldn't find the tying tally late on the man-advantage to take it to overtime. Charlotte scored one shorthanded but also potted a power play goal of their own. Travis Morin had a three point night while Colton Sceviour set a career high for goals scored at 22 with one tally on the night. He also added an assist. Russ Sinkewich rounded out the Texas scoring with his first AHL goal.

The Week Ahead

The Stars have a short homestand, welcoming in some teams from far-flung destinations. The Heat come to town on Friday. On Saturday, the Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks) visit the Cedar Park Center for their only game in Austin this regular season. Finally, the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) will tilt against the Stars on Wednesday.

Injury Report

Patrik Nemeth had foot surgery for a stress fracture and is out for the foreseeable future. Scott Glennie is practicing in a red no-contact jersey after injuring his shoulder a few weeks back. Jack Campbell is still out and was not practicing earlier this week. Toby Petersen is also out and not practicing.

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