|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
It's been a hot minute here since I got a chance to catch up with Texas Stars head coach Neil Graham, having chatted with Everett Sheen for the last weekly. The Stars were out of the country for the past week playing road games in Manitoba and Laval and dropped three of the four.
This weekend will open up the longest home stand of the season for Texas. It may honestly be the longest home stand in team history. Stretching 11 games, the Stars won't play outside Texas again until January 15th, over a month from now.
"It's unique," said Graham when reached by phone Wednesday afternoon. "You don't see that a lot. But we'll have our fair share of travel in the new year, so we've got to take advantage of being home."
Texas has hovered right around that .500 mark all season, never going more than two games above or below dead-even on the season. At this point, Graham says that the coaching staff has instilled all the Xs and Os knowledge that is necessary to be successful, but that it's small in-game, in-shift actions from the player that help to dictate the team's success.
"We execute it well in practice, but we have to remember it's not going to be black and white and perfect. In a game scenario, the other team is trying to break down your structure. They're trying to push back physically, and they're trying to win the game. We have to do a better job of adjusting inside of a game, recognizing different situations, and still playing to our strengths, which is size and speed."
We chatted a bit more about where those adjustments and changes need to come and settled on "between the ears" of the players individually. On the fly, mental adjustments in the moment will make or break the individual moments in a game.
"We have to dig in on each play harder. Where it may be easy to swing off and know there's extra layers of support behind you, why not dig in on the first line of defense and maybe start turning the puck over? Why let it get to the blue line? Why let it get to the red line? We have to dig in harder in each area the ice."
The Stars have had six of their last eight games go to extra time, either shootouts or OT. Part of that is those little moments in the game.
"We have to find a way to close those games out in regulation without changing our identity or panicking. The opponent's recognizing there's not as much time on the clock. They're making a push. They're trying to create offense. We have to be comfortable in those uncomfortable situations."
The team focused on relaxing and trusting the structure they already have in place this week in practice.
Also this week in practice, the Stars welcomed a new netminder: Ben Bishop. The Dallas Stars top goaltender hasn't started a game since August 2020 and joined Texas on a conditioning assignment this week. He'll start on Thursday night.
"Everyone seems to be excited to come [Thursday]," Graham added wryly.
The plan thereafter is fluid based on how Bishop feels in Thursday's game. With a day off before Saturday's game, Bishop could play again if that's the right move for his recovery. AHL conditioning stint rules indicate assignments cannot last longer than 14 days.
Bishop is clearly excited to be playing again. He was the first guy to the rink for practice this week with Texas and has been incredibly upbeat and positive in the room and on the ice. Adam Scheel and Colton Point have been soaking all of it up as the three work together with goalie coach Ryan Daniels to prepare for the weekend's games.
Finally, some injury and absence updates. Jordan Kawaguchi is day-to-day and could play this weekend. Graham says he is "trending upward" on his recovery. Andreas Borgman is not with the team currently as he is on personal leave.
Texas plays Chicago tonight at 7 PM.