Texas Stars Mailbag: New line combinations and matchups with playoffs teams

Welcome to another edition of the Texas Stars mailbag.

If you have questions about the team, a certain player, or anything else that comes to mind send them my way. I’ll be fielding questions via Twitter, the Wrong Side of the Red Line Facebook page, and via email at sean.c.shapiro@gmail.com.

Let’s see what we’ve got for this week:

Last night Curtis McKenzie was on the left wing with Travis Morin and Valeri Nichushkin, while Brett Ritchie was on a line with Derek Hulak and Justin Dowling.

With Nichushkin headed back to Dallas, I think Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal could field one of two lineups this weekend against Milwaukee

Curtis McKenzie-Travis Morin-Greg Rallo
Derek Hulak-Justin Dowling-Brett Ritchie
Brendan Ranford-Devin Shore-Branden Troock
Kevin Henderson-Gemel Smith-Scott Glennie

McKenzie-Morin-Ritchie
Ranford-Dowling-Rallo
Hulak-Shore-Troock
Henderson-Smith-Glennie

Either why, you go back to chemistry that’s worked in the past between Morin and McKenzie. Ritchie has played with McKenzie in Dallas, but he also has good past chemistry with Justin Dowling, so Laxdal could opt to keep him on the second line.

I think Laxdal also keeps Shore and Troock together, they’ve worked well since Shore arrived from Maine. Hulak could also appear on any of the top three lines, he’s a versatile player who can plug into any role in the lineup.

Ok, let’s look at Texas’ record against the top-10 teams in the Western Conference.

Utica — 1-1-2-0
Grand Rapids — 0-2-2-0
San Antonio — 3-4-1-1
Rockford — 0-3-1-0
Oklahoma City — 5-3-4-0
Milwaukee — 3-0-0-0
Chicago — 3-0-0-0
Hamilton — 1-1-0-0
Toronto — 3-0-1-0

Texas is going to make the playoffs, and is probably going to finish fifth or sixth.

Meaning the Stars will meet up with the Utica Comets, Grand Rapids Griffinds, San Antonio Rampage, or Rockford IceHogs in the first round — all teams Texas has a losing record against.

Of those four teams, Texas probably wants to avoid Grand Rapids and Rockford the most. Texas played well against Grand Rapids, but couldn’t pick up a win, while games against Rockford were decidedly in the IceHogs favor.

There a couple candidates, but I’ll go with consistency in goal.

The difference between a playoff team (which Texas is) and a championship-winning team (which Texas was) is a goalie that can make that key save when it’s needed.

Cristopher Nilstorp did that in the playoffs last season when Texas won the Calder Cup. This season that Stars haven’t gotten those key stops in clutch situations.

There could be some healthy competition between Jason Dickinson, Remi Elie, and Cole Ully for playing time on the wings.

Depending on how Texas deals with AHL free agents this off-season (Hulak, Henderson, and Rallo) all three could be staples in the lineup.

Texas will be well stacked down the center with Travis Morin, Devin Shore, Justin Dowling, and a healthy Radek Faksa. That isn’t a great sign for Mattias Janmark, who will probably have to play on the win in the AHL next season.

I liked what Lindell brought to the lineup during his five-game stint with Texas.

He used his size well, moved the puck, and didn’t look out of place — that’s probably the most important thing. It was fairly obvious to me why Finland wanted him for their World Championship roster.

It’s hard to judge Lindell’s NHL future since he did only appear in five games. It’s a small sample size, and hard to extrapolate that data over a full season.

With that being said, I think Lindell’s biggest adjustment will be adapting to the speed and style of the North American game. By his own admission, there were times he was a bit “wowed” by the speed in the AHL.

Getting that “wow factor” out of the way now might do wonders for next season, when he becomes a staple in the Texas Stars lineup.

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