Friday, April 30, 2010

Gameday Preview: Stars at Chicago Wolves, Game 1

Texas Stars
46-27-3-4, 99 pts
#2 West Division
atChicago Wolves
49-24-1-6, 105 pts
#1 West Division
Series tied 0-0

April 30th at 7:30 PM
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL

After a week off, your Texas Stars get back into the playoff hunt tonight in Illinois again. Texas's second round matchup is against the Chicago Wolves, the regular season winners of the West Division with 105 points on the season. At one point in time, they were out of the playoffs. This blogger even made the comment that San Antonio needed to watch their back because Chicago was nipping at their heels. Looks like I was right and Chicago surged to the front of the pack.

The Wolves started out their season slow with a 3-6-0-1 record. In that 11th game, they turned it on and haven't looked back since. The Wolves bounded over everyone in the division to finish 6 points ahead of Texas, who led the division for much of the season.

The regular season between the two teams was relatively evenly matched, despite what sticks in the fan's minds. Texas was a decent 4-3-1 against the Wolves this year, but 3-1-0-0 at Chicago and 1-2-1-0 at Texas. The Cedar Park Center did not see the Stars play their best hockey against the Wolves; the Allstate Arena did. That's a great thing since the Stars must steal a game from the Wolves in Rosemont to win the series.

This matchup is an interesting one because of the styles of play. Texas plays a defensive game that focuses on an opportunistic offense. Chicago plays a real skill game. That's not to say that Chicago is a slouch on defense though, and their tender is one of the best in the league. On paper, it looks like a tough matchup because of the offensive power of the Wolves. But then you look at the Canadiens/Capitals series that just concluded. A team with solid defense and a hot goaltender completely melted the Capitals offense.

The Stars are not the same underdog that the Canadiens were in that series, but I think that some of the same rules apply: get ahead early and protect the lead once you get it. Texas has yet to allow a goal in the first or second period this playoffs and that's a recipe for success. The Stars were 35-5-1-1 when scoring first in the regular season and were a similar 35-1-1-0 when leading after the second. Meanwhile, we have documented well the Stars dismal efforts to come back after trailing in the second intermission. Texas held one of the worst records in the league when trailing after two: 1-21-1-1. The Wolves went 7-19-0-5 in the same situation.

All year, Texas's best period was the second, outscoring opponents 86-64. A solid defensive game allowed them to take advantage of bad changes and the long change in the middle frame. This has continued into the playoffs with scoring at 7-0. The good news for the Stars is that the Wolves record in the second is not so good at 5-10. The middle frame is the one to pounce on.

The goalie matchup in this series is a great one. Brent Krahn, who played for the Wolves last year, has a 3-1-0-0 record against his former team. His 1.25 GAA and .961 SV% lead all tenders in the playoffs. On the Wolves side, Peter Mannino is the man at the end of the ice. He started all seven games in their series against the Milwaukee Admirals, but did not finish all of them. Backup Drew MacIntyre took over in relief in two of those games. Mannino has a 2.89 GAA and .901 SV% in the playoffs for a 4-2 record. He played in 6 of the games against the Stars this season, accumulating only a 2-1-1 record with a 2.39 GAA and .909 SV%. Think goaltending might be a big deal in this one? I do.

On the offensive side, Texas's leading Wolf hunters were a little different than they were against the IceHogs. Aaron Gagnon leads all scorers with 9 points (1-8-9). Four players were tied at 6 points against the Wolves after Gagnon: Wathier (4-2-6 in 6 GP), Peters (3-3-6 in 7 GP), Rallo (2-4-6 in 6 GP), and Sceviour (1-5-6 in 8 GP). Francis Wathier is your goal scoring leader with 4, followed by Peters and Morin tied at 3. Travis Morin, who leads the Stars in assists in the playoffs with 7, has yet to tally a goal. If we add to this offense, the potential of Jamie Benn, who has never faced the Wolves but scored 3 goals and 3 assists against the IceHogs, then the Stars have a potent offense in their first line of Benn-Gagnon-Rallo.

Against the Stars, the Wolves are led up front by savvy AHL veteran Jason Krog. Krog was 3-8-11 in 7 GP against the Stars this year. Brett Sterling and Anthony Stewart are tied for the goal scoring lead and tied in second for points both with 4-3-7.

Stars injury/call up report:
None.

Website: chicagowolves.com
Blog (official): UnMic'd with Jason Shaver
Blog (unofficial): Call of the Wild
Message Board: Wolves Forum
Twitter: @Chicago_Wolves

1 comment:

  1. Nice preview, Stephen. Missed you on the last bus trip. Thanks again and...
    GO STARS!!!!!

    ReplyDelete

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