Still seeking the conference and league crowns, things just kept rolling for the Texas Stars (45-17-3-6, 99 pts, 1st Western Conference) this weekend with two wins to extend their winning streak to nine. The current streak shatters their prior record of six, set earlier this season.
Everything has been clicking for the Stars' during the streak. They have allowed just 13 goals in those nine games. They have scored 38. They are 29-for-31 on the penalty kill (93.5 percent) and 6-for-38 on the power play (15.8 percent). The league's leading scorer, Travis Morin, has collected seven points during the streak and hasn't even been the biggest story for the team. That mantle has been passed for the moment to the line centered by Dallas' newest signee, Justin Dowling.
Dowling, Brett Ritchie and Mike Hedden have played together all season, one of the few unbroken lines through the year. They each been hot at different times up util now, when they are all catching on fire at the same time.
All three players extended point streaks in Sunday's win. Ritchie picked up points in his seventh straight game. He has seven goals and six assists in that time. That includes a franchise-record four goal performance on Friday. It was the tenth hat trick in franchise history but the first four goal game.
Mike Hedden and Justin Dowling put their own streaks at six and five games, respectively, in the win. Additionally, Dowling and Hedden moved to plus-19 and plus-18 on the season. Dowling's total ties him with Patrik Nemeth for the team lead.
New signees all getting ice time
Coach Willie Desjardins has always had a philosophy that the best players play, regardless of any other factors. That clearly showed through this week as the Texas Stars iced a lineup on Sunday featuring Radek Faksa, Alex Guptill and John Klingberg.
Faksa centered a line with fellow countryman Matej Stransky. Guptill played on the wing on Sunday and Kevin Henderson on Friday. Guptill got time on the top line on Friday but was replaced by Derek Hulak on Sunday. John Klingberg played on Sunday and recorded four PIMs. He was also on the ice for the Stars' power play goal, immediately getting a shot on the best power play in the league.
Media, coaches and players alike turned in their ballots for the AHL's end-of-year awards this week. Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie and Willie Desjardins are expected to be among the top vote getters. Morin is on pace to win the John B. Sollenberger Trophy (most points) with a current total of 81. Colton Sceviour is surprisingly still in 2nd place in the league in goals (32). Zach Boychuk recently passed him (35) and will likely be the winner of the Willie Marshall Award (most goals).
Morin is likely in the running for the Les Cunningham Award as MVP. Curtis McKenzie will get strong consideration as the Rookie of the Year (Dudley "Red" Garrett Memorial Award). He probably makes a stronger case than Ryan Strome, who hasn't played a game in the AHL since the Olympic break ended. Jack Campbell is the Texas Stars' nominee for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, given to a community service oriented player.
Finally, Texas is on pace to seal up the Kilpatrick Trophy, the AHL's equivalent of the President's Trophy. They are on pace for 106 points, which would eclipse their previous season best by seven points. Texas had 99 points in their inaugural season, their current best.
Ritchie set a Stars' franchise record with a four-goal night and pushed Texas to its record eighth straight win. Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden picked up three assists each, and Dowling added a goal of his own in the 5-1 romp over the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche).
"Everybody has those games where things open up a bit and it feels like you have more time out there," said Ritchie. "Our line was flying all night so you really felt like something good was going to happen."
Campbell got the win with a lot of run support. He still only allowed a single goal, saving 29 of 30 against.
Looking for their ninth straight win, it was more of the same out of the lineup of Mike Hedden, Justin Dowling and Brett Ritchie tonight against the Lake Erie Monsters. That line combined for five points on the night in a 4-1 victory.
The win also pushed Texas to 99 points on the season, tying a franchise record set in the inaugural season. It put them one point ahead of the Manchester Monarchs for the league lead with five games to go and one in hand over the Monarchs.
Cristopher Nilstorp picked up first star honors with 30 saves on 31 shots in the contest. Almost as an afterthought, Travis Morin picked up his 81st point of the year. Texas was an impressive 8-for-8 on the penalty kill.
The Week Ahead
Texas has a four-day layoff this week before launching into a three-in-three all against the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers). Texas will host the Rampage on Friday and then go to San Antonio on Saturday and Sunday. After this week, only two games remain on the schedule, one home and one away.
Toby Petersen could return this week.