|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
[Ed. note: Seeking names for this column. All the best have a name (e.g. 32 Thoughts).]
Max Martin Injury Update
Defenseman Max Martin was injured in the Stars' game in Colorado last Wednesday on a scary play. Splitting two defenders, Martin fell to the ice and had a skate blade slice across his forearm. Coach Neil Graham called it "a significant injury" but noted that he was released from the hospital that same night and headed back to Texas on Thursday. The team expects a full recovery in due time and called up Dawson Barteaux in the meantime.
I'll fully admit to potentially jinxing the thing by asking about it, but the Texas penalty kill was clicking along at an 87.5% clip coming into the weekend. Catching up with Neil Graham on Friday, he told me that it was a long-term project that was only just coming to fruition after three years of work
"When Travis and I took over together, we felt like we needed a spark on our penalty kill. This was something that we implemented, and to be honest, I feel like we've tweaked it, we've toyed with it and now by year three, we know pretty much every scenario that's going to happen under this PK."
The rigorous PK implementation has given Texas an 82% kill even after this past weekend in San Jose where they gave up three goals on Sunday afternoon.
It's been a different look for players the first time they see the system. Nick Baptiste took "a little bit of time" last year to learn it but then eventually became an excellent killer for Texas.
"I think it actually flows more naturally, and I think guys really embrace it. Because you take a lot of the guesswork out, and yes, you're down a man but there's some predictability amongst your penalty kill partners."
The Stars have been left shorthanded the most times of anyone in the league this year, sitting with 50 PKs on their record. It's gumming up the works a bit for the Stars, who had one of their most successful outings two Thursdays ago against Rockford when there happened to be just a handful of penalties called either way. "We were built to play five on five and with speed. Special teams going either way can actually kind of slow down the pace we want to play."
On the power play, Texas is on the other side of the coin. They've moved up the charts to 23rd but still at 14% on the year. Before the series in San Jose, Texas was seventh in the league on expected goals for during their power plays, so it was something that could be fixed. The team spent Friday working on zone entries and building consistency on finishing their routes on entry before the games in California and then went a blistering 2-for-5 in the ensuing games. The 40% weekend performance bolstered their previous average but indicates how much further they have to go.
Texas returned Tye Felhaber and Anthony Louis to the lineup this weekend. Felhaber didn't have any points and was minus-3 while Louis picked up three assists and was plus-1. For Louis, it was a great response weekend after being scratched for a few games. Graham noted that Louis was just gripping the stick a bit hard and expected that he would jump right back into it, and he did. His five-game pointless streak to open the season was tied for his longest as a Star (Feb 9-26, 2020).
And by the way, Riley Tufte had a three-point weekend to take him to 5-2=7 in 10 GP. He's two points away from eclipsing his totals from all of last season's 36 game campaign (3-6=9).