The Texas Stars have fallen into a tie for fourth in the AHL’s Central Division. The problem is, the Milwaukee Admirals, the team tied with Texas, have a game in hand.
The two teams within one point of the Texas Stars — the Manitoba Moose and Rockford IceHogs — also have at least one game in hand. Before last night, the Stars had fallen to seventh in the Central. It’s very possible that the team ends the season back down there.
So what happened? Well, a 3-4-0 record over the past seven games likely didn’t help. There hasn’t been a truly dominant, 60-minute performance from the Stars in quite some time.
Whether that’s because of the departure of Justin Dowling and the continued absence of Joel L’Esperance (both are currently on the Dallas Stars roster), the incorporation of new young talent, or goaltending — Landon Bow had just a .880 save percentage over his past five starts — it’s a growing concern.
It’s hardest to lay the blame at the feet of the young talent. The five rookies — Ty Dellandrea, Diego Cuglietta, Joe Cecconi, Rhett Gardner and Josh Melnick — have one secondary assist in 18 combined games. Still, they haven’t played poorly.
Dellandrea looks like an exceptional talent who just hasn’t adapted to the pro game yet, and it’s hard to blame him with only three AHL games under his belt. Cecconi has been solid defensively, and is playing shorthanded minutes.
Neither would be the first choice as black aces, however. It’s almost time for those arguments to start, and it’s hard to look past the trio of Denis Gurianov, Joel Hanley, and Gavin Bayreuther, who have perhaps been the best players that are not currently in Dallas over the past seven games.
Gurianov has three goals, Hanley has two goals and two primary assists, and Bayreuther has three goals and two assists. Each have been excellent, and they offer the Texas Stars skilled players at both forward and defenseman.
Hanley can play any situation. Bayreuther can be a skilled offense-driving defenseman on a third pairing should injuries arise. Gurianov has also been better in his own end and looks dominant at times, getting breakaways in seemingly every game.
If the Texas Stars go on a losing streak, it would not be surprising to see those three get called up to Dallas sooner rather than later. After all, if Texas stumbles, it might be more important to get them practicing with the NHL roster than in meaningless games.
Still, there’s the chance and the opportunity for Texas to make a good run at the playoffs. They have four of their remaining seven games at home. One of their away games is in San Antonio, against the Rampage who are currently last in the Central.
Last year, Texas barely made it into the playoffs. They were a bubble team until the very end, then made a terrific run and made it to the Calder Cup Final. A core group of veterans remain on this team from that run, and they still have some of that magic. At times, Texas has looked great this season.
The Texas Stars also have a goaltender who can help them make that run, as well. Philippe Desrosiers has a .910 save percentage over his last two starts. His record on the season (7-11-1) isn’t amazing, but his underlying stats are the best on the team, and he should definitely be playing more. With Bow in Dallas, now would be the perfect time to see him in front of the net more often.
So if Texas fails down the stretch, that will ultimately help Dallas. Reinforcements would be on their way to Dallas, and they’re talented reinforcements at that. But if Texas goes on another run, there’s a significant chance that they can do well. The talent is there, especially on the back end. They just have to remain consistent.
The biggest test will be against the third-place Iowa Wild. Texas plays the Wild Friday and Saturday.