25-13-3-4, 57 pts
#3 Western Conf.
21-19-4-3, 49 pts
#10 Western Conf.
January 29th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX
The Texas Stars and the Abbotsford Heat face off tonight to close out the season series between the two teams with two games in Cedar Park. The Stars dropped both of their games in British Columbia against the Heat around New Year's.
However, since those games, the Stars have a 4-0-1-0 record and have gained 9 of 10 possible points. This has been bolstered by the play of goaltender Todd Ford. Ford completed the longest shutout streak in team history with 158 minutes of shutout hockey, stopping 84 shots over three separate games. He's clearly the hot hand.
On the other side of the ice, the Heat have a 1-3-2-0 record since the Stars visited them in BC. Their starting goalie has been chased from the net in 2 of those 6 games as well. They also sent down backup goaltender Leland Irving for David Shantz from the Victoria Salmon Kings. The Heat have not played since Saturday though when they lost 5-4 to the Aeros. This could contribute to either rested play or rusty play. We'll see how they come out of the gate tonight.
The last time these teams played, the Stars were killed by bad passing, an ineffective power play, and allowing early goals. All of those issues have seemingly evaporated in the games since then. Texas is making more crisp tape-to-tape passing and is having an easier time exiting their own zone and entering at the offensive blue line.
They are clicking on the power play at a high rate as well. In the 6 games prior to the current points streak, including the two games in Abbotsford, the Stars were 2/28 on the power play over the 6 games. In the 5 games since, the Stars are 9/19 with at least one power play goal in each game. As I mentioned in the last Heat gameday preview, Abbotsford is downright delinquent, taking 25.60 PIMs per game, most in the AHL. The Stars should get ample opportunity to keep their power play streak alive, likely with the help of Perttu Lindgren who has six points in the last week (5 of them on the PP). The Heat are mid-pack on the PK on the road, so let's hope we light the lamp with the extra man a few times.
The Stars have also not allowed a first period goal in 5 games. Steady goaltending from Matt Climie and Todd Ford and a concentration on team defense has made this possible. Texas is 7-2-0-0 at home when leading after the first period. After Tuesday's game, the Stars also improved to 11-1-1-0 when leading after two periods at home. The key, no matter how trite it sounds, is to jump ahead first and then shut it down on defense. I think scoring first on the power play would be a good start to have a good night.
Tonight's game begins a 3-in-3, one of those dreaded AHL curiosities. I think the NHL would flip out if a team was required to play 3 games in 3 nights, let alone having one of those on the road. The Stars will play 17 games in the next 31 days. It's going to be fast and furious, and they will need quality goaltending to stay in the race for first place. I've almost stopped trying to predict who will start any given night, but I think Todd Ford might get the start. He would then play again in Peoria on Sunday night with Matt Climie taking tomorrow's game.
Don't forget that the Stars will be doing an autograph session tonight after the game. There will also be a silent auction going on throughout first and second periods, the items for which can be found on the Stars' website.
Stars injury/call up report:
Wilson (stomach strain), Krahn (lower body)
Peters (call up)
The timeline for Wilson and Krahn to return from their injuries still remains the same for both at mid-February to beginning of March. No word on what the organization plans to do with Todd Ford when Krahn returns.
Note: I've stopped including Brad Lukowich on the call-up report as he cleared waivers when he went up to Vancouver and will likely not be coming back to the Stars.