|(Credit: Texas Stars)|
Through the scheduling quirks of the COVID season, Cleveland once again appears on the schedule matrix for Texas. The clubs had been regular foes through the Stars' first decade, but now the two teams haven't played since 2017-18.
Cleveland comes into the matchup a flat 0.500 on the season so far, starting out cold but winning three of their last four to get to even. A single game on their schedule has been delayed due to protocol but otherwise they've played a full, but limited, complement of games. The Monsters are one of many teams playing even fewer games than Texas's 38. Cleveland will play just 28 this season.
That condensed schedule for Texas is really coming to bite them in the coming 24 days. Thanks to reschedules from earlier in the season, the Stars will play seven games in the coming ten days and 15 in the next 24 overall. Absurdly, that insane stretch is bracketed by a seven-day break at the beginning and a ten-day break at the end. You can talk all you want about just playing the games in front of you but this is a physical sport and unfortunately the injuries will be piling up by the end of the sequence.
Even right now, there are injuries. Colin Markison has been out since February 13th. Riley Damiani missed the last game and was "day-to-day" at last notation. How many more will pile up? It's not a matter of if, but when.
On Cleveland's roster, there are a few familiar faces among top scorers including Tyler Sikura, recently of the IceHogs, and Dillon Simpson, previously of the Condors. The most familiar face is Gavin Bayreuther, who left the Stars organization in free agency this summer. He has been back and forth between Cleveland and the Blue Jackets taxi squad, but he has not played a game yet in the NHL this year. In five games in Cleveland, he's got three assists.
In net, Cleveland has Brad Thiessen taking the most starts. Thiessen was a rookie the same season that Texas debuted in the league (2009). He has seen limited starts in recent years but has a good pedigree, winning the AHL's goalie of the year in 2011, an AHL All-Star nod and a Calder Cup with the then-Lake Erie Monsters in 2016. He just turned 35 last week and has a 1-3-1 record with a .894 SV%. Also in net is Finnish youngster Matiss Kivlenieks, who has three games to his name, winning all three with a 0.938 SV%.