Texas Stars Mailbag: Looking at the home opener and defensive pairings

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

This has been an odd week on the Texas Stars schedule.

The team played it’s first game this past Saturday, a 5-4 overtime victory, but then had six days off before playing three games in three nights this coming weekend.

That’s left extra time to analyze a game, analyze practice, and then over-analyze everything all over again with an extremely small sample size.

So, this should be an interesting mail bag, let’s dive in:

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I won’t call them favorite moments, but a pair of under-the-radar moments caught my eye in the second period of the Stars 5-4 season-opening win against San Antonio, and both involved physical play.

The first was a clean open-ice hit by Stephen Johns near the Stars blue line. He planted the San Antonio player flat on his rear on the play and it disrupted an opposing attack.

Over the past couple years Texas has had a solid defense core, but never had that one player that opposing forwards physically feared. With his 6-foot-4, 233-pound frame and willingness to throw it around, Johns could develop into that type of mental and physical threat for other Pacific Division teams.

The other play involved Radek Faksa and his surgically-repaired shoulder.

Faksa took a hard hit near the San Antonio bench, with his shoulder taking the brunt of the momentum against the glass. It could have been a moment that made Faksa more tentative, or worse, caused injury.

Instead, Faksa rolled off the hit, continued to play, and forced a San Antonio turnover. That’s a good sign.

Most improved player since last season is easily Maxime Lagace. At this point last season he was struggling in the ECHL, now he’s pushing for playing time in the AHL.

I’m not sure what you mean by the “new McKenzie.”

If you mean the young player that’s going to benefit from playing on Travis Morin’s wing, then yes.

But, in the long run Jason Dickinson is going to fill a different role than McKenzie. McKenzie’s NHL future is as a skilled defensive forward, who can shut down the opposition’s top line.

Dickinson likely translates into more of a scoring role, and a player who can contribute on one of the top two lines.

Remember, it’s one thing to score at the AHL level — like McKenzie has — it’s another to find that same time and space against NHL competition.

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It’s important to remember that defensive pairs and lines aren’t set in stone, but I thought Esa Lindell and Stephen Johns were the perfect shutdown pair against San Antonio on Saturday.

That duo played the majority of the third period and all of overtime, and I would expect them to be paired together this weekend.

That likely puts Julius Honka on a pairing with Mattias Backman, while Brennan Evans and Ludwig Bystrom will likely be the third pairing on Friday.

With three games in three nights, expect Jesse Blacker and Matt Mangene to play Saturday.

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Stephen Johns won’t make his NHL debut until next season, if Dallas’ defense core stays the same.

With eight defensemen on the NHL roster, it would require at least two injuries before a call-up was needed. And that’s created a glass ceiling for Texas blue liners — no matter how well they play, they’re not going to be immediately rewarded with a spot on the NHL roster.

If a trade is made or Dallas loses a pair of defensemen to injury, Johns is on the short list to be the first defensive call-up this season — and I’d argue he’s first on that list.

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Moving the Texas Stars Dec. 4 game in Milwaukee to Oct. 27 happened because of a scheduling conflict with the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

And Texas doesn’t get too much of a say in that, neither do the Milwaukee Admirals. The game has to be played, so the AHL found a date where Texas was in the midwest already and Milwaukee was home.

If either team had a legitimate complaint they’d find another date.

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The San Antonio Rampage were physical around Stars goalie John Muse, but I don’t think anything overly egregious was missed by the officials.

It was a physical game, referees were “letting them play,” and I think both teams adjusted to that.

Texas should also be ready for that type of game 13 more times this season. San Antonio is going to be a physical team that crashes the net, and Texas should return the favor and send bodies toward the net against the Rampage.

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