Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Barons Hand Texas Stars Seventh Straight Loss

Overtime contest sets new record for franchise losing streak

Mike Dalhuisen squares off with Kale Kessy (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly with just ten minutes left in the Texas Stars contest against the Barons tonight. Texas was looking to break up a six game losing skid and was in good position to do so, leading 2-0 on the Barons with nine minutes left.

Coach Laxdal did not mince words postgame after the Stars allowed three unanswered goals, lost 3-2 in overtime, and stretched their losing streak to a franchise-worst seven games.

"We get up 2-0 in our building we have to be able to seal the game."

Laxdal was happy with the effort from his veteran netminder and the two forwards who scored but had no problem calling out some of the players who are not finding the scoresheet early on in this season. Bottom six scoring continues to be a problem as the top five scorers have more than half the club's goals.

"Let's be honest," said Laxdal. "We aren't a high offense team. When we get a high quality scoring chance, we have to make sure they count."

Though Texas should never have gotten to overtime after leading by two, Laxdal did note that the game-winning goal by Jordan Oesterle was a "distinct kicking motion" after he reviewed it on video. He added, "It should have been a disallowed goal. Obviously they didn't review it, and we can't do anything about it now."

Captain Maxime Fortunus, who played his 650th AHL game tonight, commented, "It's one of those plays where when you're in a slump things will happen in a game. Playing good in a game is not good enough. We have to be sharp for 60 minutes. It's being mentally ready. A lot of times in a slump you play to avoid making mistakes."

Texas had chances to open the scoring in the first period but could not capitalize on multiple power plays. Coach laxdal called out his power play unit after the game for being unwilling to adapt to his systems:

"[I'm] happy with the penalty killing and disappointed with the power play. We have a group of players that want to stick to the same system, and they don't want to be willing to try anything else. We have to be open to have a different look on the power play. We had some shots tonight, but teams are going to pre-scout you and we have to be willing to make the adjustment."

The Stars appeared ready in the second period as they outshot the Barons 17-9 in the frame and opened the scoring on a beautiful goal by Justin Dowling. The center swooped in left to right across a crowded slot and did a toe-drag backhand against the grain on Brossoit for the 1-0 lead.

In the third, Travis Morin scored his team-leading eighth off a brilliant pass from Brendan Ranford. The young winger was crushed on the boards but still managed to get the puck away to Morin, who beat Brossoit glove-side high.

Within a few minutes, the score was tied. Andrew Miller scored on a cram play at the net to make it 2-1. Then Iiro Pakrinen beat Rynnas on a far post shot that chipped the paint and made it 2-2.

The overtime goal was a fluky one as Jordan Oesterle got credit for the shot that slipped by the left pad of Rynnas with just under three minutes left in the OT frame.

Texas drops below .500 for the first time this season and will face this same Barons squad on Friday.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
McKenzie, Jokipakka (call up)
Root, Troock, Karlsson (scratched)
Ritchie (lower body)

Coach Laxdal on using Mike Dalhuisen, a defenseman, at forward: "You have to earn your ice time, and we feel Dalhuisen has. He brings a physical presence and spark there."

Tonight's attendance was 5,187.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Oklahoma City - November 26 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Oklahoma City Barons

Texas Stars
6-6-4-0, 16 pts
#10 Western Conference
v.Oklahoma City Barons
8-4-2-2, 20 pts
#7 Western Conference
November 26th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Break the streak. That's what the Stars must do tonight. To avoid setting a new franchise record for worst losing streak in team history, they must win. Get the "W" however it may come. Desperation time is here, and this group will need to dig deep to put itself back where it belongs in the playoff picture.

The good news for Texas is that reinforcements are here. Jussi Rynnas and Kevin Henderson both practiced yesterday after missing this weekend's games. Brett Ritchie is close on a lower body injury he suffered in Grand Rapids. And finally, Curtis McKenzie has been assigned from Dallas.

On the other side of the puck, Oklahoma City has had a great November. After starting the month at 2-2-2-0, they've gone 6-2-0-2, picking up points in 8 of 10 and maintaining a .700 points percentage. Texas has a .389 points percentage over the same span.

While former Star Richard Bachman has been the workhorse in net, Laurent Brossoit is also performing well, if not better. He has a higher save percentage and a lower goal against than Bachman but just hasn't gotten the run support. Brossoit is 2-3-0 while Bachman is 4-1-3.

This could be a dangerous game for the Stars or the Barons on special teams. Both teams sport top power plays and bottom penalty kills. The Barons are ranked second on the PP overall and top on the road at 32.1%.

Players to watch for the Barons include Brad Hunt. The defenseman has only played eight games this season but has a point in every one. He ranks third in defenseman scoring in the league, putting up 4-11=15. That's nearly two points per game.

Stars injury/call up report:
Jokipakka (call up)
Ritchie (lower body, questionable)

Blog: Tend the Farm
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taylor Peters, Maxime Lagace Head to the ECHL

The Texas Stars have assigned Taylor Peters and Maxime Lagace to the ECHL. Peters will head to Idaho. Lagace will mind the net in Missouri, which joined the ECHL after the CHL folded this summer.

The Peters assignment is a little puzzling. He was a solid bottom six forward last year but seems to have been jumped by several forwards in Derek Laxdal's list. The Stars have been searching for a home for Lagace for at least a month. He finds that home in Missouri.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced today they have assigned two players to the ECHL as forward Taylor Peters will be joining the team’s affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads, and goaltender Maxime Lagace will be joining the Missouri Mavericks.

Peters, 22, has posted one assist in 11 games with Texas this year. Last season, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound center tallied 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 70 games for the Stars. Prior to his pro career, Peters played parts of five seasons in the Western Hockey League for the Portland Winter Hawks.

Lagace, 21, dressed in his first two career AHL games this past weekend and made his AHL debut on Nov. 21, in the third period against the San Antonio Rampage. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound goaltender began the season in training camp with the Stars, and has been with club since being called up from the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads on Oct. 17.

Do the Texas Stars Have a Penalty Problem?

It seems like the Stars are taking more penalties this season, but is that true?
(Credit: Steven Christy)
There are definitely a number of things to look at when a team hits a six-game losing streak. One thing that has felt off this season has been penalties for this Texas Stars squad. Usually a quieter team in terms of PIMs, the Stars seem to be racking up minutes with abandon this season. Is that just perception though?

First, let's look at the raw numbers. The Stars have taken 88 penalties this season totaling 196 minutes across 16 games. They are third from the bottom in the league in this regard with only Worcester (12.12) and Providence (10.67) earning fewer PIMs per game than Texas at 12.25.

It's all a little clearer if you put it in a table. In the table below, TSH is 'times shorthanded'. This helps to account for matching minors and fights that do not affect the manpower on the ice.


As you can see from the table, the Stars are not really gooning it up out there. They are within 1% of the penalty minute per game average for the prior two seasons. The league average is 18.08 and some of the goonier teams out East average over ten minutes more per game. Texas has never been a rough team, even when players like Luke Gazdic and Francis Wathier were in their employ.

Another factor that might affect the eyeball test is the playoff comparison. The Stars are coming off a deep playoff run, where referees are known to swallow their whistles in favor of letting teams play. If you look at the numbers below and compare them to the regular season for 2013-14, you'll see that the Stars were shorthanded on average 0.4 times fewer per game in the playoffs than in the regular season. Overall, their PIMs per game went down by nearly two minutes as well.

2014 Playoffs2121710.3315th733.480.8497th110.52

* - Remember on the ranks just above that they are out of 16 and may be of dubious value since not every team played as many games as Texas did. For example, Manchester averaged 6.25 PIMs per game but didn't make it out of the first round. That's a pretty limited sample set.

So it's pretty clear that the Stars aren't taking more penalties overall. However, they do appear to be ending up shorthanded way more often than they have in the past. On average, Texas is ending up on penalty kill 0.68 more times per game this year or approximately two more PKs per three games. This may be a result of the Stars' more physical style that several players have mentioned. Coach Laxdal likes to have players finish checks and take the body much more than previous coaches did and that can lead to the occasional overzealous check. Another factor could be defensive lapses. When you end up on the wrong side of a rush up the ice, you're more likely to hook, trip or otherwise interfere with the puck carrier.

All that leads to the equalizing factor. You'll notice in the numbers that the Stars were at their franchise worst last season in terms of times shorthanded per game. It didn't really matter that much though because they were also the third best team in the league on the penalty kill. That same team that had the highest TSH in team history also had the franchise's best penalty kill percentage and allowed the fewest power play goals per game and in the aggregate.

So this points to the larger issue. While the Stars are certainly not happy with the number of TSH they have per game, the Stars really have a penalty killing problem.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Curtis McKenzie Returned from the NHL

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Winger Curtis McKenzie has been returned to the Texas Stars after a lengthy stint in the NHL. It will be a welcome arrival for Texas Stars fans as the team is mired in a six game losing streak. McKenzie's scoring touch, which earned him last year's AHL Rookie of the Year honors, will help to ignite the offense that has only scored once in its last two games.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced today forward Curtis McKenzie has been reassigned to the team from Dallas.

McKenzie, 23, was most recently called up to the Dallas Stars on Nov. 8 and scored his first career NHL goal on Nov. 16, against the Chicago Blackhawks. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward has appeared in nine games overall for Dallas this season, and has tallied four points (two goals, two assists) in five AHL games for Texas.

The Golden, British Columbia native was a sixth-round selection (159th overall) for Dallas in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Texas Shutout in San Antonio as Winless Skid Hits Franchise-Record Six

Looking to get back into the win column, the Texas Stars were unsuccessful against division-leading San Antonio, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Rampage in the Alamo City. With the loss, Texas dropped to 6-6-4 on the season, 10th in the conference, and tied a franchise-record for worst losing streak at six. The Stars set the unsavory previous record at six from March 10th to 23rd of 2012. That season was the only one so far where the Stars did not make it to the postseason.

Coaches hate it when goals against come in the first or last few minutes of a period. They either put you on your heels at the start of a period, after just going over your gameplan in the locker room, or they put you in a bad situation going into the intermission. The Stars gave up one of each against San Antonio tonight.

Longtime AHL veteran, Mark Mancari, tapped in a beauty of a pass from Connor Brickley with 65 seconds left in the first period. There was nothing standing between Mancari and the net as Brickley feathered it perfectly to the right winger on the backdoor. San Antonio outshot Texas 13-9 in the frame.

To open the second period, Connor Brickley got one of his own. Greg Rallo found himself in the box on a questionable call, a minor for a broken stick. The stick broke as Rallo played the puck. He dropped the stick once he realized it was broken, but clearly didn't know it until it snapped in his hand on a poke check. The referee couldn't have known either, but he made the call nonetheless. Brickley scored his seventh of the year on that power play with just four seconds left in the advantage.

Texas would get buzzing in the late second period, but it would come to no avail. Late in the third, Drew Shore would pot an impressive empty net goal to put the Stars down 3-0. Shore could have reached out to touch the glass behind his own net but lifted it past the Stars skaters to find the net 200 feet away.

The Stars will play Oklahoma City on Wednesday to start a stretch of three games in four nights bracketing Thanksgiving.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
McKenzie, Jokipakka (call up)
Root, Wrenn (scratched)
Rynnas, Ritchie, Henderson (illness)

Tonight's attendance was 4,375.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at San Antonio - November 23 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars at San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
6-5-4-0, 16 pts
#9 Western Conference
atSan Antonio Rampage
11-6-0-0, 20 pts
#3 Western Conference
November 23rd at 4:00 PM
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

With the winless skid at five for the Texas Stars, it's time for a gut check. Sunday matinee games in San Antonio have been common over the past five years, but this one might be the most important in team history. It's high time for the Stars to show their championship attitude and right the ship with a W in the Alamo City today.

If the Stars cannot emerge victorious from the game, there's a chance they will drop to 10th in the conference by the end of the day. Hamilton, which is tied with Texas for 9th, plays #13 Toronto earlier in the day. With a point for Hamilton and none for Texas, the Bulldogs would pass the Stars. Texas would also drop to .500 on the season with a loss.

San Antonio will not give it up easily though. The team is seeking its franchise-record seventh straight win. It's a club that looks completely different than Rampage teams past. They bring quick skating, tape-to-tape passing, wicked scoring ability and solid netminding together to lead the West Division.

The flu bug will continue to keep Kevin Henderson, Brett Ritchie and Jussi Rynnas out of the lineup today, according to postgame from Friday. That means the lineup should stay basically the same as the one the Stars iced in the 7-1 drubbing the team took from San Antonio on home ice two days ago. To be fair, the appearance of the team didn't say 100% healthy on Friday night, did it? Think about how you feel when you've got a little touch of a cold. Head congestion, maybe some nausea, feeling tired all the time, etc. Now imagine that all the other people at work already called in sick and you've got to show up otherwise they can't keep the lights on. Well, that's the situation a lot of the Texas Stars lineup was in on Friday night. Now of course, imagine that instead of sitting at a desk for 8 hours, you had to compete in a professional hockey game for two and a half hours. That's not a super great recipe for success.

Stars injury/call up report:
McKenzie, Jokipakka (callup)
Ritchie, Henderson, Rynnas (illness)

After last night's performance in Dallas, I'm going to remove John Klingberg from the callup report. He's never coming back.

Blog (unofficial): Rampage with Tony U.
Blog (unofficial): Runnin' With The Herd
Twitter: @SARampage
Twitter: @DanWeissPBP (play-by-play for SA)