The Texas Stars (33-14-4-4, 74 pts, #1 Western Conference) are a little thin all over the roster. Count them up. Here is the callup and injury sheet from the Stars' game in Cleveland last Saturday:
Reilly Smith, Antoine Roussel, Cristopher Nilstorp, Matt Fraser, Jordie Benn (call up)
Scott Glennie, Patrick Nemeth, Tyler Sloan, Travis Morin, Alex Chiasson, Maxime Fortunus (injured)
Texas got Morin back on Tuesday but lost winger Luke Gazdic. This list doesn't even count Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon, who Cedar Park fans know they will never see in a Texas jersey again.
And yet this week, Texas compiled a five game win streak. They fell one game short of tying the franchise record, which was set only a month ago. Overall in the 2013 calendar year, the Texas Stars are 17-3-1-2.
So maybe it's time to ask: In first place in the West despite the turmoil, is Coach Desjardins making a case for coach of the year? It might seem a little trite to give the award to the top team, but you have to consider what's happening with the Texas Stars. After finishing worst in the West last season, they are beating the odds and winning games with ECHL callups galore.
In the Stars' game on Tuesday night, only one of the defenseman who played started the season in the AHL. Carl Sneep played a single AHL game to start the season and was then sent to Wheeling of the ECHL. One of the defensemen, Jacob Johnston, just graduated from Dalhousie University and was playing in his first game. He was plus-1 to boot.
AHL writer for the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild), Andrew J. Ferraro tweeted recently:
One of these four teams will win Calder Cup: Springfield, Texas, Charlotte or Syracuse. If [Texas] gets everyone back for the playoffs, no one is beating them in a 7-game series.
It is a very interesting thought for Stars' fans and it is encouraging to hear a divisional opponent's writers speaking highly of the club, lest its own fans and writers alike get stuck in an echo chamber.
All that being said, precisely zero teams have locked up a playoff spot, and nothing is guaranteed. Texas looks very good right now with the second best win percentage in the entire league, only recently surpassed by the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning). That Crunch club is made up mostly of the players who won the Calder Cup last year with the Norfolk Admirals, who are now affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks.
Texas has five points on their nearest follower, the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes). The Checkers are in the Stars' division and are slotted in the four spot thanks to division winner placement. The Stars need to make sure they stay above the Checkers to avoid a potential first round matchup with what is sure to be a challenging Houston Aeros squad in the five spot.
The league changed the playoff rules last year, making the first round a best-of-five series. That means getting a good first round matchup and good start are very important.
Texas and Jack Campbell won their third straight game and first ever in Rochester Wednesday by a 5-1 score over the Americans (Buffalo Sabres). The Stars scored on the power play, at even strength and shorthanded to maintain first place in the league. Tomas Vincour had two goals in the game, and Colton Sceviour picked up a shorthanded goal and an assist in the win.
Jamie Oleksiak was plus-3 on the night, and Jack Campbell added an assist on Vincour's second goal.
If you didn't believe the Stars were legit before Friday, Texas's 4-3 comeback shootout win over the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche) should make you sit up and take notice. Losing 3-1 going into the third period, goals from Francis Wathier and Jamie Oleksiak pushed the score to 3-3.
Jack Campbell stopped five in the overtime and five of six in the shootout for the win. Tom Wandell has the shootout game winner and two assists in regulation to help the team to the win.
The Stars finished up their weekend with a 4-2 win in Cleveland, stretching their win streak to five games, one short of tying the franchise record set this year at six. Jamie Oleksiak contributed two power play goals on ten total shots in the game, including the game winner. Carl Sneep picked up his first goal as a Star, and Mike Hedden had the insurance goal in the third period. Overall, Texas went two for nine on the power play as an undisciplined Lake Erie crew playing their third in three nights gave up too many man advantages.
Jack Campbell won his 13th of the season, stopping 27 of 29 in front of the largest crowd that Texas has played in front of this season at over 12,000.
Texas had a chance to tie their franchise record six game win streak Tuesday in Oklahoma City, but ultimately it was not to be. The Stars fell 3-2 in regulation to the Barons (Edmonton Oilers). Texas got goals from Colton Sceviour and William Wrenn and added 22 saves from Jack Campbell, who took only his second regulation loss of February.
The loss also ends the Stars seven game point streak. Texas stays at 74 points with the loss but does not lose any ground in the standings thanks to an idle Charlotte Checkers' squad.
The Week Ahead
The Stars start an extended home set this week with two games this weekend. The Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks) come to visit on Friday followed by the Oklahoma City Barons on Saturday. The Wolves stick around in Texas and swing back through the Cedar Park Center on Tuesday as well.
Scott Glennie is out with a hand injury. Patrick Nemeth and Tyler Sloan were both injured two weeks ago and neither went on the trip with the team. Travis Morin, previously injured, returned to the lineup this week. Alex Chiasson is out with a shoulder injury sustained in a hit by Theo Peckham. Maxime Fortunus, the Stars' captain, is out with an unspecified injury as is fourth year winger Luke Gazdic.