CEDAR PARK, Texas – The Texas Stars come into the weekend set on ending a four-game losing streak, while the rival San Antonio Rampage enter last in the American Hockey League. Something has to give this weekend in central Texas.
The Stars started the season well, posting a record of 4-1-1-1 through seven games, but the recent skid has caused their record slip to 4-5-1-1. As a result, they’ve fallen to seventh in the Central, one spot ahead of the Rampage. Rival San Antonio enters losers of eight of its last ten, and with a record of 3-10-0-0 on the season.
Defense has been a major issue for Texas, and that stems from a rash of injuries at both the AHL and NHL level. With Gavin Bayreuther injured for Texas, and several Dallas d-men on the shelf, the pickings in Cedar Park are dwindling. This continued Friday morning, as Joel Hanley was called up to Dallas to replace superstar defenseman John Klingberg, who was injured in Dallas’ game Thursday night.
This could lead to a defender or two being called up from the ECHL Idaho Steelheads, but I will leave the speculation for another piece. Until then, it just bears mentioning that the injury bug has played a big part in the defensive struggles of the Texas Stars early in the 2018-19 campaign.
Texas ranks 25th in the AHL in goals allowed, at 3.73 goals a game, and have only held the opposition under three goals twice in 11 games this season. This has put a lot of pressure on not only the Texas goaltenders, but also the Texas offense. The Stars consistently score three goals a game (3.27/game, 17th in AHL), but when you give up almost four a game, that isn’t enough. Texas will need to come together as a defensive unit to tighten coverage in the slot and limit quality chances on goal.
Fortunately for the Stars, they are not facing a lethal offense this weekend against the Rampage. In fact, San Antonio currently sits dead-last in the league, scoring a paltry 2.00 goals per game. Facing a struggling offense could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Stars, but it is very risky to rely too much on prior stats in a rivalry match-up such as the I-35 series.
Take last season for example. Texas finished second in the Pacific Division, and went on to win the West, but struggled against San Antonio. Despite finishing last in the division, the Rampage posted a 9-4-1-0 record against the Stars in 2017-18. Thanks to taking four of the defeats beyond 60 minutes, the Stars had a 5-5-2-2 record against the Rampage. The point is, throw the stat sheet out when rivals clash.
When the Stars hit the ice Saturday, they will do so with a roster which has undergone several changes this week. The Hanley move has been mentioned, but it was just the latest in a week of moves in the Stars organization.
The moves started on Monday, as a pair of goalies and a pair of forwards swapped places between Cedar Park and Boise. Two rookies, netminder Colton Point and forward Tony Calderone, were sent to Boise, Idaho, while the more experienced pair of goalie Philippe Desrosiers and forward Elgin Pearce made the trip to Cedar Park.
This move will help solidify the Texas tandem in net, with Desrosiers having already spent small portions of three seasons at the AHL level. Especially with the struggles defensively, having two experienced netminders is a big deal for Texas. Point, meanwhile, will benefit from getting starting minutes in Boise. He needs the chance to gain confidence and experience as a pro, and it was going to be hard for him to get that in Cedar Park.
The moves continued Thursday, as Dallas called up Denis Gurianov from Texas and sent Justin Dowling back to Cedar Park. Gurianov currently leads the Stars in both points, 12, and goals, six, and has certainly earned his first opportunity in the world’s top hockey league. Dowling had played seven games with Texas to start the season, posting six points (2G, 4A) in those games. He is, of course, a name known well to fans of the Texas Stars, with 2018-19 being Dowling’s seventh year in the Stars system.
All that remains now is to drop the puck and see how the changes will impact the play on the ice. We will get our first look Saturday at 7 p.m. CT inside the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, as the Stars and Rampage do battle for the first time this season. The two rivals will then head south down I-35 for a Sunday afternoon matinee at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, with face off set for 3 p.m. CT.
The Stars will be wearing special Stars and Stripes jerseys for Military Appreciation Night on Saturday, and the jerseys will be available for auction through The Sin Bin’s partner, Dash Auction. Information on how you can bid on one of the unique jerseys can be found here.