Morning Skate: Special teams key for Texas Stars against Rampage

CEDAR PARK — The circus hasn’t completely left town yet, so the Texas Stars didn’t have a morning skate at the Cedar Park Center before heading south on I-35 for tonight’s game against the San Antonio Rampage.

Without a morning skate, there are a couple lineup questions that won’t be answered until pre-game warmups.

However, let’s start with what we do know:

— Curtis McKenzie will be in the lineup after getting called up to Dallas on Sunday and then reassigned to Texas this morning.
— Branden Troock and Kevin Henderson are out. Troock is getting closer, and skated yesterday, but isn’t expected to return to lineup until this weekend. Henderson is “day-to-day” with an upper-body injury.
— Special teams are going to be important against the Rampage.

After struggling early in the season, Texas’ penalty kill has surged in the past three months and leads the league with success rate of 87.7 percent — it’s even better on the road, where Texas has killed 90.7 percent of opponent’s power plays.

“It’s good, everybody is buying into it,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “It’s a big part of the team game, obviously if you can keep those key goals out of your net it’ll give you a chance to win every night.”

That’ll be tested against San Antonio, which has the league’s fifth-best power play and is converting on 20.6 percent of its opportunities.

Laxdal also wants to see his team approach five-on-five hockey the same way its approached the penalty kill recently.

“The big thing for us is we need to bring that same mentality from our penalty kill to our five-on-five play defensively,” Laxdal said. “We have to be willing to bring that extra five percent. Do I get that shot block? Do I get that puck out on the wall? Do I lose my mark below the goal line? It’s little things like that we’re doing on the penalty kill that we have to do more of five-on-five.”

Laxdal did indicate the team may dress seven defensemen tonight for the third straight game.

“You could see William Wrenn at forward. You could see Matt Mangene up front,” Laxdal said. “We’ve got a couple question marks on our back end, so we’ll make a decision tonight.”

Laxdal also didn’t reveal who would start in goal tonight. Right now it’s probably a coin toss between Jussi Rynnas and Jack Campbell.

Texas Stars projected lineup (with some MAJOR guesswork):
McKenzie-Morin-Rallo
Ranford-Dowling-Glennie
Hulak-Smith-Stransky
Peters-Peters-Mangene/Wrenn

Fortunus-Gaunce
Honka-Meech
Valentine-Mangene/Wrenn

Rynnas or Campbell

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