|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
UPDATE: Texas Stars have recalled defenseman Ondrej Vala from Idaho.
The Texas Stars went 0-2 on the usually friendly H-E-B Center ice two weeks ago and look for redemption against the Grand Rapids Griffins this weekend. GR has won both of their road games so far this season, topping Chicago 8-5 to open things and Rockford 4-2 last weekend. Grand Rapids took the season series last year 5-3 and owns a 13-7-1-1 record against Texas over the last five years.
Will the Stars get the power play going?
SM: This question was in the preview last weekend, and it’s still here. The Stars organization is not faring well on the power play. Texas itself is 1/20 (5%) but has a stout PK (90%) to bolster the special teams imbalance. Grand Rapids has the worst PK in the league right now, albeit with limited sample size, at four goals on eleven chances.
RP: On paper the Stars have had a very intriguing mix of players on both their PP units, even without some important pieces due to call-ups. Personally, I like Tanner Kero in the Travis Morin role along one half-wall while Jason Robertson sets up on the right circle for the one timer. With Gavin Bayreuther running point for a solid group of scorers there should be more output than what they’re getting. My inclination is that head coach Derek Laxdal is going to stay patient with those groups knowing that it will click at some point. The additions of two players down from Dallas will bring even more punch to the man advantage. Speaking of whom...
What is the impact of Nick Caamano and Joel L’Esperance returning to the lineup?
RP: Good on Nick Caamano for catching plenty of eyeballs, working into a role, and scoring his first goal in the NHL. The difference for him in the AHL, of course, is that he’s going to be relied on as a top six winger that can play a two hundred foot game. He showed some major flashes of that kind of play last season, but I’m expecting an even bigger year from the sophomore. Joel L’Esperance is what the Texas club really needs right now. He’s an important net-front presence in the offensive zone and will bring proper alignment to the team’s center depth.
SM: Complete sidenote, but big hat tip to Rhett Gardner for his staying power in the NHL lineup. I guess Jake Oettinger’s got the apartment to himself for a little while longer at least. Back to the point though, Ryan is right. Caamano has to play a different game in the AHL, but he’s already done the hardest thing for most successful AHLers: transitioning a top six game in the A to a bottom-six game in the NHL. Caamano had fine but not stellar numbers in his rookie season (12-12=24 in 73 GP), but he really needs to continue a breakout here in order to top the callup charts consistently. He, L’Esperance and Gardner will be the top callup possibilities with Mascherin, Kero and maybe Robertson late in the season all nipping at their heels. The competition can only be a good thing for the Texas Stars.
What will happen at Saturday’s first ever jersey retirement ceremony in team history?
RP: Morin’s jersey will probably be flying solo for a long, long time. How rare is it that such an impact player sticks with one AHL club for ten seasons and means that much to a minor league team? This is really going to be something special for the hockey fans in Central Texas.
SM: I’ve had the good fortune to watch almost every game that Travis Morin has played in a Texas Stars sweater. No one else has ever worn the number 23, and now no one else ever will. The way Morin came into the team and the way he persisted through ten years of its history is a tale of grabbing opportunity when it’s presented and making the most of it. From a professional tryout that even Travis himself wasn’t convinced would go much of anywhere to getting his jersey put in the rafters 10 years on, it’s been an amazing journey and one that the fans will have the chance to share in writing the last chapter of on Saturday night at the first intermission.
Injuries and callups:
Gardner, Hanley (callup)