Saturday, March 15, 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars at Chicago Wolves

Texas Stars
36-17-3-5, 80 pts
#2 Western Conference
atChicago Wolves
35-18-4-2, 76 pts
#4 Western Conference
March 15th at 7:00 PM
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL

It's been a while since the Texas Stars and Chicago Wolves faced off. The change to three divisions put Chicago and Texas in different divisions and moved many of their games off each other's schedule in favor of division opponents.

Of course, the Wolves and Stars faced off in the second round of the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs with Texas winning on a Game 7 overtime goal by then-rookie Jamie Benn. In the five year history between the two, not counting that playoff series, Texas holds the overall advantage at 15-8-1-0. This season, Texas has taken the two games already played, both at the Cedar Park Center. The two clubs will finish the season series with two games this weekend in Rosemont, Illinois.

Early fair to middling results for the Wolves gave way to a mid-season renaissance that saw them vault up the standings. They are currently four points back of the Griffins with two games in hand. While the Griffins have yet to relinquish the division lead to the Wolves at any point yet this calendar year, Chicago is nipping at their heels. The Wolves are 7-2-1-0 in their last ten coming into tonight's game and have gone 23-6-4-0 since Texas beat them on December 13th at the CPC.

AHL All-Star Jake Allen has been fueling that run from between the pipes. Allen is 26-13-2 on the season with a 2.09 GAA and .925 SV%. Former Texas Star Matt Climie is 8-9-0 but is 4-2 in his last six decisions. Allen is going to be a player at the NHL level soon but a goaltending logjam in St. Louis has kept him in the minors. If the Blues can re-sign Ryan Miller after this season, it may be time to jettison Brian Elliot and let Jake Allen own the backup role in the Gateway City.

Allen's near two goals against suggests that the Wolves get it done on defense, which is true. They score 3.03 goals per game compared to Texas' 3.54. However, they also allow 2.49 per game compared to Texas' 2.77. Far and away the biggest offense force that the Wolves have to Ty Rattie. St. Louis' 32nd overall pick in the 2011 draft leads the club with 23 goals and 15 assists. The next-closest goal scorer is Dmitrij Jaskin at fifteen.

The Stars will have to be disappointed if they don't come away from this one with a clean sheet on the PK. The Wolves are the league's worst power play overall at 12.7%. Texas, meanwhile, has very quietly snuck up to #1 in the league on the road PK at 88.5%. Newcomers Kevin Henderson and Chris Culligan joined the penalty kill unit for Doug Lidster this week, while the club also lost some of its skill killers in Morin and Sceviour.

One of the big storylines for Texas will be how the lines gel together with a few more days to practice without Sceviour, Morin and Mueller in the lineup. It's hard to predict a top line but it was very encouraging to see that the play of Curtis McKenzie did not suffer for losing his standard linemates. He was just as much a force with Mueller and Stransky. That may be tested again though witht new linemates once more.

Here's my guess:
McKenzie-Jeffrey-Glennie
Hedden-Dowling-Ritchie
Ranford-Vause-Stransky
Henderson-Peters-Culligan
Watch out for the two-way play on any of those lines heavy on rookies, of course. Charlotte's game winning goal Wednesday was the first professional minus for Chris Culligan.

Stars injury/call up report:
Sceviour, Morin, Mueller, Nilstorp (callup)
Petersen (injury)

Website: chicagowolves.com
Twitter: @Chicago_Wolves
Twitter: @theshaves (Wolves PxP)

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