Gameday Preview: Stars at Abbotsford Heat

Texas Stars
21-11-2-4, 48 pts
#2 Western Conf.
atAbbotsford Heat
18-16-2-3, 41 pts
#9 Western Conf.
January 8th at 9:30 PM
Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre, Abbotsford, BC

Your Texas Stars and the Abbotsford Heat face off tonight in a battle between two of the newest franchises in the AHL. Abbotsford isn't exactly 'new' in the strictest of senses, but they are new to British Columbia, having moved there from Illinois where they played at the Quad City Flames. The Heat, still the Calgary Flames primary affiliate, are the westernmost AHL franchise by two time zones. The Heat's away record of 11-10-0-2 is pretty respectable, I think, considering that fact. The Amerks, who are in their division, are over 2,100 miles away in New York. Seriously, check out the map.

But I digress; back to the game at hand. This is the first ever meeting between these two franchises. Abbotsford has won their past two and are 4-5-0-1 in the last ten. Their most recent wins came against the two other Texas-based teams when the Heat were in the Lone Star state for a road swing that did not include games against the Stars. The Stars have just broken a five game winless streak on the back of an OT goal by AHL All-Star Ivan Vishnevskiy.

I will tell you right now that if the Stars have a shot to win this game outright it's going to be because of special teams. The Abbotsford Heat are the #1 most penalized team in the AHL with 26.51 minutes per game on average. (The Stars only take 13 minutes of penalties per game, second fewest in the league.) If you're going to take a lot of penalties, you better be good at killing them off. Sadly, the Heat are not. Abbotsford has the worst home penalty kill in the league only killing 77.0% of chances against them. Texas's power play, meanwhile, is ranked #11 on the road, capitalizing on 16.2% of opportunities.

Another storyline here is shooting. The Stars have had a recent uptick in shots per game but the Heat are #7 in shots for per game at 31.85. Goaltending will have to be sharp early to make sure they don't take an early lead.

Warren Peters is out of the lineup tonight after the call-up from Dallas. Expected starter will either be Ford or Climie, with the other likely starting tomorrow in the afternoon game. Injury issues from the last game include Wilson and Stafford. We will see if either of them return for tonight's game, since again, the AHL does not release any injury information at all.

No information on Mathieu Tousignant's status after the dirty punch by McMillan in the Aeros game. I'm assuming he'll be back with the full shield a la Stephane Robidas. No word on whether the AHL has decided to further punish McMillan for the punch. From the AHL Rulebook:
"...the case shall be investigated promptly by the President who shall have full power to impose such further penalty by way of suspension or fine on the penalized player or any other player involved in the altercation."
I think this is a good chance for Texas to get a quality win on the road. Let's get 'em, Stars!