STOCKTON, CA– The Texas Stars continue their six-game road trip tonight in Stockton, and they come in knowing just how important this weekend set against the Heat is. The midway point of the season has come and gone, and as Texas enters their 39th game of the campaign they sit on the outside of the Pacific Division playoff picture. The Stars fell in a hard-fought overtime decision to start their six-game trip Wednesday night in Bakersfield, with Mike McKenna‘s stellar performance in net securing at least one point. They know they need to find a way to get that second point going forward, however, starting tonight as they begin a massive eight-point weekend in Stockton.
The Stars come into tonight’s contest with a record of 19-14-4-1 good for 43 points, and more importantly a points percentage of .566. Texas is currently out of the fourth and final playoff spot by a measly .002%, but a win tonight would allow the Stars to jump San Antonio and their points percentage of .568 (20-15-2-0). The Heat, meanwhile, have been playing well this season and sit in second in the Pacific with a record of 17-11-2-3 (39 points, .591 points percentage). With the race heating up both Texas and Stockton will be fired up for two massive games this weekend.
These divisional games are often called four-point games because you not only gain two points for yourself with a win, you cost your opponent a game in the standings without a point. To illustrate the importance take this weekend’s two-game set in Stockton. The Heat come in at .591, the Stars at .566, a difference of .025. If Texas were to win both games in regulation this weekend, however, the Stars would shoot past the Heat in the standings with a percentage of .573 to Stockton’s .557. On the other hand, if Stockton wins both they would create some serious separation between themselves and Texas, as their percentage of .614 would be .090 ahead of Texas’ .524. This will create intense and exciting games this weekend, as both teams recognize the importance of each percentage point.
Texas will need to reverse some unsettling trends if they are to gain the crucial points this weekend. While the Stars are 19-14-4-1 overall, they have gone just 9-12-4-1 against Pacific Division foes. The Pacific hasn’t been hospitable hosts either with the Stars just 3-7-3-0 on the road inside the division. Tonight is Texas’ eleventh straight game against the Pacific, and they have gone 2-4-4-0 in the previous ten. While they have done well to earn at least a point in six of the ten, two wins in ten is just not going to get the job done.
The defense and goaltending have not been great by any means, allowing 34 goals in the ten games, however, they have done enough in most of the games to keep the Stars within range to force overtime. The offense has actually been more of the problem as they have scored only 24 goals in the stretch, just 2.4 a game.
This is actually encouraging, though, as we know the firepower this Stars team puts on the ice every night. Players like Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie, Jason Dickinson (just to name a few) won’t stay quiet forever, as the Condors found out last Friday in Cedar Park. Bakersfield led 2-1 with less than 80 seconds to play, but that is when McKenzie broke through and took over the game. The Stars captain tied the game with just 1:13 on the clock, then won it for Texas with a goal 0:50 into 3-on-3 overtime. It was a great example of how hard it is to hold a player of his quality down, and how quickly they can change the outcome. The Stars are in great hands offensively, sooner or later the goals will come.
Texas has played well defensively more often than not recently, and the Stars were especially good Wednesday in Bakersfield. They did a nice job forcing play to the outside in their own end, and taking away passing lanes through the slot. This has allowed the goaltending duo of McKenna and starter Landon Bow to face more efforts from the point, and fewer point-blank chances in tight. This is how the Stars need to continue to play, and if they do so the wins will follow.
The Stars will need both their offense and defense at their best, as the schedule has reached a crucial point where we will find out a lot about this team. The Stars play ten of their next 12 against the Pacific, including three with second place Stockton, two against 4th place and rival San Antonio, and two against first place Tucson. Don’t think the two outside of the division will be a break either as the Stars play the Western Conference-leading Manitoba Moose twice in Manitoba.
The Stars will look to put a streak together and climb up the standings with this opportunity to play the teams ahead of them. You can keep up with this critical stretch of games as you can every Stars game, by following @SinBinStars on Twitter. Join us for each and every game as we live tweet the most detailed updates you can find online! Face-off for tonight’s game in Stockton is set for 9:00 P.M. CT.