An amazing thing happens in life when you say, '"May the best man win."
Not the best contract. Not the best draft position. Just the best.
The meritocracy created by Jim Nill's best man philosophy has put Texas into pole position in the playoff race as many forwards try to outdo each other to catch the eye of the NHL squad and make their case for the next callup.
After a slow start to the season thanks to injury, Ritchie is coming along again. In just three games this week, he totaled a goal and six assists. In this month's 11 games, he's got 4-7=11. Ritchie has been called upon, as all these players have, to step up and provide scoring punch with an entire line of high-skill forwards on IR at the moment. Ritchie's success has a lot to do with the guys he is lining up with...
Left-winger on the Dickinson-Ritchie line, McKenzie is having a lot of success doing the things he's always done: mucking it up in the tough areas. He's only just under a point-per-game pace on the season and has 3-7=10 in eight games this month and 18 points in his last 14 games overall.
Mentioned last week as a shining light, Dickinson is the top line center right now for Texas. Somehow he missed out on an AHL Player of the Week award two weeks ago despite two game-winners and a shootout winner among seven points. This month, he's got 13 points in nine games and has been asked to play in more situations (PP and PK) more often with Travis Morin out.
Ranford is having an All-Star season and clearly should be included as the AHL's First Team All-Star left winger. He cooled just a touch since the All-Star Game with two points in his last five, but the body of work this year has been massively impressive. Part of the issue might be his constantly changing linemates.
A bit on the outside of the conversation in Dallas perhaps, but Matej Stransky has been doing good things for Texas all season and really picked up his game recently in response to all the injuries. Coach Laxdal has him killing penalties and playing on the power play. Three points in three games this week is an admittedly small sample size, but the trend is in the right direction.
So who's next?
Dallas tipped its hand a bit by calling up Curtis McKenzie briefly last week. However, it's pretty clear that any of the above players could get a call based on how they are playing in Texas. If I had to rank, I'd go McKenzie, Ritchie, Ranford, Dickinson, then Stransky.
In late game action, the Texas Stars extended their winning streak to six with a 6-3 effort over the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks) in California. The win ends the season series with the Gulls at 5-1-0-0 for the Stars. Brett Ritchie was the standout performer, notching a goal and three assists for a four-point night. Maxime Lagace won his 11th straight decision, a streak stretching back to November, with 42 saves on 45 shots.
Texas burst out to a two goal lead in the first on goals by Remi Elie and Matej Stransky and never trailed in the game. San Diego would pull within one several times, but the Stars always had the answer. The penalty kill was a perfect 5-for-5 on the night and the power play scored once on three opportunities.
Curtis McKenzie and Jason Dickinson continued their recent hot streaks with a goal each and two assist for McKenzie. Cole Ully scored the ultimate game winner, his second tally in the last week. He and several others are being called upon as Texas becomes thinner in scoring due to injuries and callups.
One way or the other, something had to give. Texas had won six straight games coming into Friday's contest and Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) had yet to lose to the Stars all year. The Reign came out victors, ending the Stars' win streak at six and goalie Maxime Lagace's at 11.
Through two periods, Texas held tough despite a massive shot differential of 24-11. After forty, the clubs were tied at one with Jason Dickinson's power play tally standing as the lone Texas marker.
Ontario came alive in the third period. Vincent LoVerde scored the eventual game winner just 3:46 into the frame and the Reign would add two more for the final score of 4-1.
Lagace's 31 save performance was bested by Peter Budaj's 21 save effort on 22 shots.
Texas bounced back easily Saturday evening in Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers), taking their record against the Condors to a still-perfect 5-0. The 4-2 victory was again fueled by the depth of the Stars' forward corps with Matej Stransky and Jason Dickinson scoring on the power play and Remi Elie collecting the eventual game winner.
Philippe Desrosiers earned the win, stopping 31 of 33 in his first game action in two weeks. The win brought his record to even, 5-5, on the year.
The Week Ahead
Texas has a light week with just two contests. They are both huge though as the division-leading Ontario Reign come to visit for a two game set on Friday and Saturday. Texas has yet to beat Ontario all season.
Travis Morin did not travel with the team on the road trip after sustaining a late injury in Valentine's Day's game. Greg Rallo, Justin Dowling and Devin Shore are still out.