|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars plan to play two games in Manitoba this weekend. This time, it's not COVID affecting the schedule but instead winter weather. With roads (and surely the airport too) expected to be snarled all day today, the Texas Stars depart for also snowy Winnipeg, where the high temperature today is -5. But before looking too much into the coming games, Texas has to be pleased with their most recent road trip and pair of home games.
"Even the last game [a 3-2 loss to Laval], we played the right way in terms of our compete and intensity," said head coach Neil Graham when reached by phone Tuesday. "That's something we've been harping on. We just lost some of our composure in terms of discipline."
The sequence that saw Texas earn a 4-2-1-1 record was certainly highlighted by the team's 2-1 OT victory in Chicago. The Wolves lead the division, winning nearly three in every four games. Texas had had no luck against the club coming into that match, earning just one point when the two met in December. That series included a 7-2 and an 8-4 loss as well.
"I think that was a mental block too [with] how good of a team they are and what they've done so far. We weren't thrilled with how it went when they came to our arena. It was a big moment for our guys to just know they could do it. And I think that was a great way to end a road trip."
Overall, the team found its footing and things that they had been preaching as a staff finally 'clicked'. It's a good feeling for the team and the staff as their work is validated and showing results.
One factor in the trip was some consistent goaltending out of Matt Jurusik while Anton Khudobin was in Dallas or on the taxi squad. Now that Khudobin has returned, there will be a competition for those backup starts. Jurusik proved himself, nailing it from "the fundamentals of compete, second effort and intensity."
Graham also called out Nick Caamano and Rhett Gardner as having a great turnaround trip. Caamano had a slow statistical start to the season but was in on goals early in the trip. Gardner was in and out of the lineup to Dallas but still showed up on gameday ready to play. On some of those, he was arriving mid-afternoon without a morning skate and still able to put in a full sixty effort.
Speaking of traveling, Alexey Lipanov is in Texas now but may or may not make the trip. As of Tuesday, the team was still sorting out his travel. As Lipanov is a Russian national and Texas's next trip is to Canada, there were a few kinks to iron out.
Looking at the standings might make you feel the situation for Texas is dire, but a deeper dive should give hope to any Stars fan hoping for a postseason trip. Texas has to make it to 72 games played and has only skated 33 of those so far. It certainly means that the next three months will be insanely busy as far as games played, but it also means that Texas has as many as eight games on the teams in front of them in the standings. If they can continue their winning ways, there are easy paths to the postseason from here.
"It's too daunting when you start looking too far ahead of yourself. So we have a crazy amount of games coming up. Our focus has to be on the first one."
That 'first one' is the first of four against Manitoba, second in the division, in a home and home format just like a playoff series. Those games next week are reschedules for COVID postponements in late December. The coaching staff wouldn't let onto any plans about cycling player through to keep legs fresh as the team plays six games in eight days. More than anything, they're expecting more player movement (as always in the AHL) and don't want to make bets on player availability in Game 1 that could fall apart by Game 3.
Texas plays in Manitoba on Friday night at 7 PM, if they can get there.