After a week off, the Texas Stars (23-10-2-3, 51 pts, #2 Western Conference) had a shot at first place last Friday. They made no mistake, throttling then-division leaders, the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames), by a 5-0 mark.
Coach Willie Desjardins said, "We wanted to be ready for this weekend. We knew we'd have to play well to have a chance. We got a good start, and that's what you need."
Despite the week off, Texas was definitely ready for the Heat. Desjardins bag skated the team on Monday only to lead them off into a significant off-ice circuit training exercise. It might also be notable to mention that the team had its rookie party the night before, so certain individuals were probably a little bit worse off than others. But that's neither here nor there.
The point is that this team is doing very well, but they aren't satisfied. They won two of three on the road but were down at the start of the third period in all three. They knew they could do better. They bum-rushed the Rampage 5-2 but the captain, Maxime Fortunus, called a players-only meeting after the game, something you normally see after a 5-2 loss.
No one has said 'unfinished business', but this team is on a mission. They know that their playoff run came to an earlier than anticipated end last season against Oklahoma City. The buzzsaw that was the 2012-13 regular season Texas Stars lost its sharpness down the stretch as injuries mounted and, consequently, the overall level of play dipped. This season, Texas seems absolutely driven to make sure that doesn't happen. Sure, injuries have mounted with Patrik Nemeth, Scott Glennie, Jack Campbell, Toby Petersen, and Taylor Vause all currently on the shelf. Doesn't matter. Desjardins is getting it done with whatever he's got. The second season under a Coach of the Year has certain benefits. Everyone believes. The guys in the room are bought in and help the others, the newcomers, to believe as well.
Morin and Sceviour named as AHL All-Stars
The AHL announced their roster for next month's All-Star Classic in St. John's. Texas forwards Colton Sceviour and Travis Morin were named to the team. It is Sceviour's first time as an All-Star and Morin's second. Morin was selected in 2010-11 but did not play. He was on recall to Dallas at the time of the game, and Francis Wathier replaced him in the lineup.
The game will feature just one team of AHL players against the Farjestad BK hockey club of the Swedish Hockey League. Consequently, only twenty players were selected for the roster, exactly the number needed to dress for a game without any extra players. More players could be named as injury or call-up replacements over the next month.
Texas was one of only a few teams that got two players into the game. The others are Springfield, Manchester and Abbotsford. Fourteen teams are without a representative, including Texas's division rivals OKC, Charlotte and San Antonio.
It is interesting to note that Chris Mueller, currently fourth in league scoring, and Curtis McKenzie, ninth overall and number one among rookies league-wide, were both left off the roster due to the format change. Undoubtedly both would have been into the game without the new format.
Stats notes: Morin and Sceviour in two-man scoring race
Travis Morin had a natural hat trick on Saturday night to put him ahead of Colton Sceviour in the league goal scoring race. Colton Sceviour answered right back with his 23rd of the year to tie Morin.
After Sceviour scored the goal, Morin had a quip for him at the bench: "I told him he obviously didn't want to let me have the lead for very long there. When I tied him with my second one, I told him, 'I heard I tied the league lead with some guy'."
Morin has 23-27-50 on the season and has a ten point lead on the second-leading scorer in the league, Sceviour, at 23-17-40. Both lead the next closest goal scorer, Ben Street, by six tallies.
In addition to their franchise-record home winning streak, the Stars are also on a ten-game home point streak. They have a league-best 15-2-0-1 home mark. They are an even 8-8-2-2 on the road.
With first place in the division on the line, the Texas Stars claimed their spot at the top with a 5-0 win over the Abbotsford Heat Friday in Cedar Park. The win also extended Texas' home winning streak to a franchise-record eight games.
"Anytime you're playing a divisional game, especially for first place, they're huge points," said Justin Dowling, who had a goal in the game.
The resounding win was driven by the line of Dowling, Mike Hedden and Brett Ritchie, which combined for three goals and three assists.
"Our line's starting to buzz a bit now these last few games," Dowling added. "We're starting to get good chemistry, and it's good to have a week of practice."
After a slow start, the line has generated seventeen points in their last five games, a quarter of their total on the year. Tonight, Brett Ritchie had two goals and an assist while Justin Dowling scored his third of the year.
Cristopher Nilstorp shut out the Heat after allowing six in his last outing against the club. The win extends his record since December 1st to 7-1-1 and is his first shutout on the season.
Despite some late game goals by the Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks), Texas secured its franchise-record ninth straight home win thanks to a natural hat trick from the league's leading scorer, Travis Morin. After the Dowling, Hedden, Ritchie line led the team to victory Friday night, it was Morin's line doing all the scoring in this 5-3 win.
"We have a lot of guys capable of scoring," said Desjardins. "We're going to need that. We need all the lines going, and it's good to see different lines lead us every night."
Morin added, "You get down to the playoffs and the grind of the season, you can't count on just certain guys to score. Everyone has to contribute."
The veteran center, Morin, put in the first three of the night in succession over the first and second period while Colton Sceviour added another to make it 4-0 in the second. Two of Morin's goals were unassisted, including the shorthanded third tally. Morin's natural trick and Sceviour's goal tied the two for the league lead in goals at 23.
Utica mounted a comeback bid as Mathieu Corbeil relieved started Joe Cannata in net following Sceviour's goal.
"I think they're a team that plays hard all the time. They were like that in the first, too. We sat back [after going up 4-0], and they played with the same pace. When you sit back, teams will catch up with you."
Curtis McKenzie salted away the game with an empty net goal late in the third. Cristopher Nilstorp got the start and stopped 30 of 33 on the night.
The Week Ahead
Texas welcomes the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) to the Cedar Park Center tonight, looking to extend their home winning streak to ten. After that, they'll hit the road for some games in North Carolina against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) on Friday and Saturday. Saturday's game will start at 11 AM CST due to a Bobcats game later in the evening.
Patrik Nemeth is still on crutches after his foot injury and subsequent surgery. Jack Campbell is still bothered by his knee issues. Scott Glennie is out with a shoulder injury. Petersen and Vause are injured with undetermined issues.