Stars Drop Two in Tucson, Falling to Fourth Place in the Central

(Credit: Tucson Roadrunners)

[Editor's Note: It's Spring Break and vacation got in the way of this weekend's reports. Here's something of a different flavor summarizing the two games at once.]

In Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, a book that this author did not read in high school but still got a near-perfect score on the test for thanks to SparkNotes (sorry, Ms. Lux), one character asks another how he went bankrupt. The reply is simple and curt and applies to much in life.

"Gradually, then suddenly."

It seems as though the same could be said about how the Texas Stars tumbled out of first place in the division. Just after Christmas, the Stars had pole position in the division. Neil Graham was named coach of the AHL's Central Division All-Stars. They had a four point cushion on second place in the division.

I had thought at the beginning of the season that this was a playoff play-in team. Something in the 4th or 5th place range. I felt so off in my prediction that I penned a piece on December 27th eating crow on the prediction.

It turns out the story wasn't over yet. I added in the article that the Stars "would need a pretty drastic turn of fate for multiple teams to fall to the play-in spot."

Well... here's what's happened since that point.

  • The Stars, rocked by injuries and now recalls, have gone 10-18-1-1 in 2024.
  • The Admirals famously went on a 19-game winning streak and hold a 21-7 record in the same span.
  • The Griffins had a lengthy home winning streak that gave them a 17-4-4-3 record in that time.
  • The IceHogs are 9-1 in their last 10 with a 16-9-2-1 record since Jan 1.
  • The Moose are sneaking into the conversation with an 8-2 record in the last ten.
All of those teams have at least two games in hand on Texas. Milwaukee has three.

For the Stars, this is put up or shut up time. Realistically, it's been that way for a while but taking just four of a possible 16 points in the month of March is really driving it home.

Logan Stankoven is not coming back, and Mavrik Bourque cannot be the entire offense. Defensive bodies are back online with Bayreuther in and White back from injury. Bichsel could rejoin soon as well. Not an excuse. As Scott White likes to say, this time of year, there are no rookies anymore. These players have a year of experience almost.

Finally, the goaltending has been subpar. The tandem of Matt Murray and Remi Poirier has a .901 SV%, which is barely above the minimum expected of a professional goalie at any level. Among qualified goalies, both rank in the bottom half of the league in save percentage. Before Christmas, the offense papered over those problems. Now, the 3.31 goals against/game is sticking out like a sore thumb.

Honestly, it's giving 2011-12.

For those who might forget, that was the debut season for Matt Fraser, who was just a few goals off the league's top mark for the stat that season. Travis Morin was a firecracker on offense with assists galore. They scored a lot, but they also got scored on a lot. To wit, they won the season opener 7-0 against Oklahoma City and then lost to them a week later 10-1. They also had 9-4 and 8-4 losses in the season.

I say that it's giving 2011-12, but I must remind that it isn't 2011-12. This is a playoff team. It may not be with as much conviction as it was in December, but it is.

The games this weekend did not go Texas' way. The Stars saw a 4-1 score pass them by on Saturday with Mavrik Bourque scoring the only goal. And on Sunday, they were tied 1-1 early only to see Tucson blast by them 5-1 before they clawed a few back. The final there was 6-3.

So now they continue their Pacific road trip in Coachella Valley on Wednesday, hoping for a better fate and trying not to do too much standings watching in the meantime.