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Texas Stars Report: Tough Week Drops Stars Out of Top Spot

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Last time I dropped in at Defending Big D, we talked about the Texas Stars' tenuous hold on first place in the division.  It turns out our fears were justified.  The Texas Stars played three home games this past week and dropped all three in disappointing fashion.  The Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) and the Chicago Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers) came to town and beat up on the Stars, who were outscored on the week 11-4.

After the jump, we'll take a look at each game in particular and talk about the biggest news affecting the Texas Stars this week: the trade of Ivan Vishnevskiy.  You probably didn't even realize it, but Dallas received a goaltender and gave up a defenseman and a pick.  The Texas Stars didn't get anything back to replace the top scoring defenseman on the team.  To make it worse, he was immediately assigned to the Thrashers farm team, the Wolves.  Let's just put it gently to say that in two games against Texas this week, he was plus-6.  Sigh... more after the jump including my analysis of the trade from the Texas Stars perspective.

Franchise Movement Rumblings
(HDH blog link)

This week saw the beginning of the franchise affiliation carousel that occurs every year in the AHL.  Teams announce they will close their doors, move to another city, or simply change the NHL team they are affiliated with.  The Texas Stars are particularly interested in these movements because they are looking to buy a permanent AHL franchise as I have mentioned in the past.

This week, the Edmonton Oilers announced they will be activating their dormant AHL franchise and moving it to Oklahoma City.  This leaves the Springfield (MA) Falcons without an affiliate.  Also, the Albany River Rats franchise (Carolina Hurricanes)  was purchased by the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL.  The Checkers are going to move up to the AHL.  Carolina had expressed a desire to have their affiliate closer to the parent team.  Now, there are rumblings of the Falcons and the Ducks and the Wolf Pack (New York Rangers) or the Portland Pirates (Buffalo Sabres) moving to Albany.  This is going to be an interesting summer.

Stars stomped by Grand Rapids 2-1
(HDH blog link)

This was a rough start to a rough week for sure.  The Griffins have one of the worst records in the league and had only won two of their last ten games.  It was a surefire win for a team coming off a strong performance in the shutout of Peoria last weekend.  But it was not to be so.  The Stars seemed sluggish and out of it.  They didn't scored a single power play goal on the worst PK in the league (70.7%) and couldn't muster more than the one goal in the waning seconds of the third.

Many astute hockey fans noted that Ivan Vishnevskiy was not in the lineup for the Stars that night, and I had assumed that the Stars were calling him up to Dallas due to the Fistric injury.  I was sorely disappointed when I checked by Google Reader.

Stars All-Star D Ivan Vishnevskiy traded to Atlanta
(HDH blog link)

As everyone here probably already knows, the Stars acquired Kari Lehtonen on Tuesday for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a draft pick.  The immediate reaction from Texas Stars fans was the same as Dallas Stars fans: "NO! The next Zubov is leaving us!"

But like Brandon here on Defending Big D, I took some time to think over the trade from a Texas Stars perspective.  It was the first time that the big club had moved an AHL player as part of a trade.  Vish was a fan favorite and a very good player, so fans were understandably upset.  I pontificated about the trade from a Texas Stars perspective on my blog here

The main point that I came to was that the AHL is a development league, and the team exists to serve the needs of the parent club.  While it would be nice for Texas to make the playoffs and even win a Calder Cup, the players are still there to develop and serve the needs of the Dallas Stars.  Many fans I spoke with have expressed their change in attitude toward getting too attached to players now that we've had one of the best on our team swept out from under us without any replacement or other compensation.  Such is the life of an AHL fan.

How does Dallas Stars sale affect the Texas Stars?
(HDH blog link)

There has been some measure of concern over the longevity of the Texas Stars' stay in Austin now that the Dallas Stars have been announced to be for sale.  I spoke with Texas Stars president, Rick McLaughlin, on the matter, and he had the following to say:

The Texas Stars have lengthy agreements in place with both the Dallas Stars and the City of Cedar Park. We have a great fan base here in Central Texas and we are committed to this community.

Those lengthy agreements he mentions are two-fold.  First, the Stars have a ten-year afffiliation agreement with the franchise that will transfer with any sale that happens.  Secondly, the Texas Stars have a 25-year agreement with their arena, the Cedar Park Center.  This one-two punch will keep the Texas Stars with the Dallas Stars and in Austin for the foreseeable future.

Texas falls flat against Wolves 4-1
(HDH blog link)

Coming into Friday's game, the Stars were in 1st place in the West Division and the Wolves 3rd.  However, the Wolves had won 16 of 22 coming into the game and their goaltender, Peter Mannino, had won seven straight games.  Friday's game only continued the trend.

The Stars scored just 19 seconds into the game on a great mind-meld play between Travis Morin and Greg Rallo.  From there on out, it was all Wolves.  Todd Ford let four goals in and took the loss, his third straight.  There were not a lot of positives to note in the game.  The Stars got outshot 35-16 and the Wolves just came out with more fight, more willing to finish their checks and go into the dirty areas. 

Additionally, Ivan Vishnevskiy played his first game for the Wolves in his old barn.  Vish was plus-3 with an assist in the game.  He was paired with Chris Chelios.  Just for comparison's sake, Chris Chelios is 26 years his senior and had already won a Stanley Cup with Montreal before Vish was even born.

All Chicago Wolves games are on local TV in Chicago, so there are YouTube clips of the highlights, which I've embedded on my blog.

Stars fall to 4th place with tough 5-2 loss to Wolves
(HDH blog link)

Todd Ford, Texas's backup goaltender, again got the start in net on Saturday.  Matt Climie, who is under contract to Dallas, did not dress for the game as he was feeling under the weather and apparently spent much of Friday and Saturday vomiting.  Texas signed goaltender Chris Whitley of the CHL's Allen Americans to a professional tryout contract (PTO) to ride the pine for a night backing up Ford.

Texas had a lot more fight in their game on Saturday than on Friday.  There was energy on the ice, and Texas managed to only trail Chicago by one, 3-2, to end the second.  Texas had some bad stats working against them at that point though.  The Stars have never won a game in which they trailed at the second intermission (0-12-1-1), and Chicago has never lost a game they led at the second intermission (18-0-0-0).  Just like the night before, fans might as well have packed up and left after two.

Spencer Machacek and Jason Krog scored in the final frame to seal the Stars' fate at 5-2.  With the loss and a Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) win, the Stars dropped from first to fourth place in one week.  Also, they only managed to pick up two of a possible ten points on their home stand.

A Note about Stars Game Attendance

For those who think hockey can't be successful in the south (surely those in Dallas know this isn't true), I submit the following for your approval: The Texas Stars rank #10 in the league in average nightly attendance.  In fact, all three of the Texas franchises, Texas, Houston (Minnesota Wild) and San Antonio (Phoenix Coyotes) rank in the top 13 of the league.  Check out the data on the AHL's website.  I think the numbers speak for themselves.

Who's Hot

It's always hard to say who is 'hot' when the team is mired in a 1-5-0 record in their last six games.  Since the departure of Vishnevskiy, Andrew Hutchinson and Maxime Fortunus have been paired up on defense.  Despite the losing record over the past week, you certainly can't pin it on either of them.  Maxime was even in plus-minus on the week with a goal and ten shots.  Hutchinson was plus-1 with two assists and five shots.  Now the Stars just need their other lines to step up and dominate like their top line.

Who's Not

Again, it's easy to choose who's 'not' when you're losing.  I think one of the big negatives this week was the goaltending of Todd Ford.  Ford started his stint in the AHL at 4-0-0-1 in January.  Since, Ford is 0-4-0-0 in February.  The shine is definitely off the apple.  And now, Matt Climie is inexplicably out of the lineup.  Richard Bachman has been called up to replace Chris Whitley and will travel with the team on their road trip this coming week.

Additionally, the Morin-Rallo-Sceviour line, which had been tearing it up previously, only combined for one goal on the week.  They have to get better play from their top line to consistently win.

The Week Ahead

The AHL continues play through the Olympic break and Texas will be heading out to Canada to begin their week.  The Stars will play the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) on Tuesday night.  The Bulldogs lead the Western Conference and North Division by a healthy margin and will be a tough road contest for them.  Then, they travel to New York to take on the Syracuse Crunch (Columbus Blue Jackets) and then back to Canada for a Friday night game against the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs).  The week is finished out with a matinee Sunday game against the Grand Rapids Griffins.  All of the teams over the next week are out of division teams.

Injury Report

LW Landon Wilson could be back beginning this week, but it could be as late as the beginning of March.
G Brent Krahn is targeting a return at the end of the February from his lower body injury.

You can always follow the Texas Stars by reading my blog at HundredDegreeHockey.com or following me on Twitter @100degreehockey.