The past week saw the Texas Stars (4-5-0-0, 8 pts, #11 Western Conf.) strike it out on the road for the longest road trip of the season. Four games over six days spanned the newly created Midwest Division, all former members of the West Division, which Texas was a part of last season. Texas split the road trip, which is really the best you can ask for from any squad on the road. The Stars won their games at the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) and Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) and lost against the Peoria Rivermen (St Louis Blues) and Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks).
With nine of a total of 76 games in the books, Texas has started to develop some notable trends. The power play was the big story this summer with the arrival of Coach Jeff Pyle and hasn't disappointed. To this point, the Stars have the best PP% in the league at 37% and have scored half of their goals on the PP (17 of 34).
However, special teams are a two-sided coin. The Stars' PK is also one of the worst in the league (25th at 75%). That isn't sustainable in the long run, especially when you add in that Texas is now averaging just under 5 minors a game (as opposed to 3 last season. That's a goal per game on the PK. Additionally, the Stars are a combined minus-48 in the young season.
The Stars are looking up, however, after beating a perennial playoff contender in the Admirals on Sunday. The game typified what the Stars want to be with a 50% power play percentage, a flawless penalty kill, and solid and confident goaltending. This team is just working to find its groove early. They seem to have all the pieces, but they just have to gel.
More inside about each game and which Dallas Stars one-way contact holder got a healthy scratch this week...
With one line already established in Fraser-Morin-Sawada, Coach Pyle continues to shuffle looking for some more offense. On Tuesday in Rockford, he found it with a lineup of Tomas Vincour, Ryan Garbutt and Mathieu Tousignant. That line combined for 6 points in the contest and helped push the Stars past Rockford 6-2.
The Stars went 3/5 on the PP in the game, which saw Matt Fraser score his 5th and 6th goals of the year. Philip Larsen collect his first goal of the year with a PP tally late in the third. Tyler Beskorowany had 33 saves on 35 shots for his first win on the year.
Overall, Texas played a good game on Thursday in Peoria. The Stars were down after 20 minutes and rallied back to tie it in the second and make a game of it. It was a good showing of how the team is coming together to work as a unit and not get frustrated by being down.
Down three in the second, Texas got goals from Tomas Vincour, Jordie Benn and Matt Fraser to tie things at three. Brett Sterling scored for the Rivs with just a few minutes left in the third (eerily similar to the Kings-Stars game that same night) and Texas could not overcome it. Richard Bachman took the loss with 28 saves on 32 shots.
Two goals from perennial AHL All-Star Darren Haydar put the Stars two games below .500 for only the second time in their history. Texas came out on the wrong side of a tight defensive game. Tomas Vincour scored his 4th of the year to get the Stars to just one back, but the equalizer wouldn't come. Beskorowany took the loss with 20 saves on 22 shots.
Texas must have had this one circled on the calendar. A road trip to the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year was a good chance to show their muscle, and that they did. In a seesaw affair that saw 5 lead changes, Texas emerged victorious. As previously mentioned, all the parts just came together: PP, PK and goaltending.
Matt Fraser scored his team-leading 8th of the year while linemates Travis Morin and Ray Sawada each potted their third. Tomas Vincour put in his 5th goal in just 8 games and Francis Wather scored an ENG to earn a three-game point streak. Richard Bachman got the win with 22 saves on 25 shots. Eric Godard was a healthy scratch in the contest, replaced in the lineup by Stephen Schultz.
The Week Ahead
Texas has a pretty slow week compared to this past one. The North Division-leading Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) come to town on Thursday. Then Texas takes a short trip down I-35 to visit their rivals, the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers).
There have been a few transactions of note this past week. Dallas Stars' contract holders Ondrej Roman and Hubert Labrie were both sent down to Idaho last Monday (10/24). I mention this simply because there have been good reports of their attitude and play on the ice in Idaho. Sometimes when an NHL contract player gets sent down to the Coast, there's a period of moping and sad-sacking. Not so with Roman and Labrie. Roman has collected two goals and an assist in his time, and Labrie is solid on D with one assist.
In other transactions news, Tyler Arnason was released from his professional tryout contract (PTO) this weekend. Arnason was signed to potentially be a devastating scoring threat after playing in Europe for the past two years. That never really developed as he never saw more than third line minutes and only scored once in seven games.
You knew this section couldn't be empty for too long. Unfortunately, Texas defenseman Maxime Fortunus is currently out with an unspecified day-to-day type injury. He took a hard check in the first shift of the game in Rockford and did not return. He will have several more days to heal up before the Stars' next game on Thursday.