SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The midpoint of the 2018-19 season hit with a 2-1 loss in San Diego on Wednesday, but, despite the setback, the Texas Stars will enter the second segment from a strong position.
The Stars came into the game 14-3-2-1 in their last 20, but the San Diego Gulls were even hotter, coming in 11-0-1-2 in their 14. San Diego was the side that started the game flying, outshooting Texas 15-3 in a one-sided opening frame. Landon Bow was great between the pipes, but the Stars still left the first 20 down by a 2-0 count. The Stars tried to rally over the final 40, getting within one on an Erik Condra power-play goal in the second, but Gulls goalie Kevin Boyle shut the door in the third to seal a 2-1 win for the home squad.
With the loss, the Stars fell to 21-12-3-2 (47 points) on the season. Texas missed an opportunity to move into a three-way tie for second in the Central, but still sit fourth in points, and third in points percentage (.618), in a loaded division. The Stars are two points back of the Iowa Wild and Grand Rapids Griffins for second and just three back of the Chicago Wolves for first, but also only have a slim two-point edge over the Milwaukee Admirals for the last playoff spot. The advantage Texas has comes in games played, with at least two games-in-hand on teams in the rest of the division.
Recapping the First Half:
The Stars started the year 4-1-1-1, but a four-game losing streak quickly brought their record to 4-5-1-1. Texas then played .500 hockey for a couple of weeks, bringing the record to 7-8-1-1 after losing the first two of a three-game weekend set against the San Antonio Rampage on November 23 and 24. Since then, the Stars have not lost consecutive games again and have gone 14-4-2-1 to put themselves right in the middle of the chase for the Central crown.
Texas was hampered by injuries and call-ups to blueliners early on, as the Stars system as a whole was rocked by a depleted defensive unit. The Stars surrendered 58 goals over the first 17 contests, a bloated average of 3.41 goals against per game. This led to a plethora of fast-paced and high-scoring contests, with the high-powered Texas offense keeping the squad treading water in the standings.
Over the past 21 outings, however, the defensive unit has stabilized, which has led to Texas shooting up the standings. The Stars have allowed just 55 goals over that stretch (2.61/game), with 20 of those 55 goals coming in just four of the games. In the other 17, the Stars have allowed just 2.05 goals a night. Texas now ranks 12th in the American Hockey League in team defense, allowing 2.97 goals per game overall. The play of Bow in net has given the defense a steady foundation from which to work, as he has gone 10-3-2-1, with a 2.32 goals against average and a .917 save percentage over the recent run of success.
The offense has been lethal for the Stars through 38 games, posting 137 goals for an average of 3.61 per game (fourth in AHL). The Stars scored three or more times in 31 of 38 games, giving Bow and the defense more than enough goal support to work with. The power play has been the straw that stirs the drink for Texas, clicking at a rate of 25.5%, second in the league behind only Syracuse.
Standout Performers Through 38 Games:
- Erik Condra: The 32-year-old veteran has had a major impact in his first season in Cedar Park, leading the club with 36 points (15G, 21A) in 33 games played. He came to Texas after spending parts of eight of the last nine seasons in the NHL and has already made one trip up to Dallas this season. He had picked up a point in 20 of 24 outings prior to his six-game stint with the big club and got right back in the swing of things with a goal in his first game back with Texas on Wednesday.
- Joel L’Esperance: The rookie out of Michigan Tech University made a name with Stars fans by scoring two huge goals after joining the team late last season and has been an absolute force in his first full year as a pro. He leads all AHL rookies and is second amongst all players, with 22 goals on the campaign. His 35 points, meanwhile, rank third among first-year players and 20th overall. He has been the leader of the lethal Texas power play as well, as his nine goals with the man advantage are tied for second in the league.
- Denis Gurianov: The third-year pro out of Russia has had a breakout year for Texas, with his 31 points (11G, 20A) through 29 games played, just three off of his career high, set last season. He already has a career-high 20 assists in the books as well. He can also tickle the twine himself, posting a league-best six-game goal-scoring streak between October 12 and 26. He has played 11 games at the NHL level this season, posting three points and scoring his first career goal in the world’s best league.
- Adam Mascherin: The 20-year-old rookie came to Texas after a standout career with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and has continued to produce in a big way as a pro. He sits fourth amongst AHL rookies in both points, 28, and goals, 14. He has been clutch for Texas as well, as his four game-winning goals rank second amongst rookies and tied for fifth overall. He isn’t a one-way player, either, as his plus/minus rating of plus-13 leads the Stars.
- Ben Gleason: Gleason is another rookie who came to the Stars after being a star in the OHL, splitting his four-year run between the London Knights and Hamilton Bulldogs. He has been a rock on the blueline for Texas all season, but especially during the injury-plagued start to the campaign. He is among the AHL’s defensive-scoring leaders, sitting tied for 11th with 24 points (5G, 19A) in 35 games. His impressive play has already led to him being noticed by Dallas, as he has played four games and contributed an assist at the NHL level.
- Landon Bow: Playing his third year in the Dallas system overall, Bow has excelled in his first year as the full-time AHL starter. He is 16-6-4 with Texas this season, posting a goals against average of 2.54, which is tied for ninth in the league, and a save percentage of .907. His 16 wins are tied for second, and he is second in minutes as well, having played 1556:54. He also made his first NHL appearance this year, stopping all 14 shots he faced in 31 minutes of relief action against the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 21.
Looking Ahead to the Second Half:
The Stars now set their sights on the second half of the schedule, securing a playoff spot and, potentially, a divisional title. They will need to pick up their play away from home in order to ensure success, as 21 of the final 38 will be away from Cedar Park. Texas is just 6-8-2-1 away from home, while it is a sparkling 15-4-1-1 inside the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park.
The Stars will also need to secure points when playing against Pacific foes, as they are just 2-4 against their former divisional rivals with eight games still on the schedule. The good news? Thirty of the remaining games are against fellow Central squads and Texas has the best record of any Central team within the division with a mark of 19-8-3-2. The Stars will look for this to help them edge the competition at the finish line, as they play their final 25 games within the division.
With the defense rounding into shape, Bow playing well between the pipes, and the offense clicking at a high rate, this Texas team looks set for big things going forward. Nothing is certain in a division as tough as the Central, but the Stars look to be standing in a strong position as the second half looms.
Who’s Up Next:
The Stars now get set for the remainder of their five-game Pacific Division trip, which still has four games left to go. Up next, Texas will be in San Jose for a showdown with the Pacific-leading Barracuda, with faceoff scheduled for 9:00 p.m. CT on Friday. The Barracuda come in with a stellar record of 22-8-1-3 and with the West’s best points percentage (.706%). San Jose won the only previous meeting with Texas this season, a 6-1 decision in Cedar Park on October 27.
The Stars will then head north to Stockton for a clash against the Heat, with the puck dropping on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. CT. The Heat are sixth in the Pacific at 16-19-3-0. This will be the first matchup of the season between the two, Texas was 2-3-1-0 against Stockton a year ago.
Texas will then wrap the trip up with a pair of games in the desert against the talented Tucson Roadrunners. Game times are set for 5:05 p.m. CT on Monday evening and 8:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday night. The Roadrunners come in 20-10-3-1, one point behind the scorching Gulls for second in the Pacific, but with two games still in hand. This is the first meeting of the year between Texas and Tucson; Texas was 1-1-2-0 in the regular season a year ago, before eliminating Tucson in five games in the second round of the postseason.
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