Morning Skate: Texas Stars ready for defensive battle with Stockton Heat

Esa Lindell carries the puck up ice last week against San Antonio. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Esa Lindell carries the puck up ice last week against San Antonio. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — The Texas Stars offensive output has, understandably, grabbed league-wide attention this week.

The Stars are averaging an AHL-best six goals per game, have the reigning AHL Player of the Week on the roster, and are grabbing top billing in one AHL power ranking after the offensive output in the midwest.

But, the defense has been just as good. And it’s a talking point heading into tonight’s game with the Stockton Heat.

After allowing four goals and 37 shots on opening night, Texas allowed seven goals in the past three games. It’s a combination of stingy play on the blue line and solid goaltending.

“First of all, goalies have been great,” Ludwig Bystrom said after the morning skate Wednesday. “Other than that, we’ve been working on pretty good box outs and letting the goalie take the shot clean. No rebounds either. We’ve been working pretty tight as a group in the defensive zone to limit chances.”

Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell have been the building block of that defensive front and, through four games, have been one of the AHL’s top shutdown pairings.

Lindell is quietly a plus-7 with his defense-first attitude. Johns is a slightly more noticeable plus-6 with his physical presence.

“I like playing with him,” Lindell said. “He’s a big D-man. He’s good with puck, I think he’s good all-around … that helps me a lot.”

Maxime Lagace’s play has also helped the Stars defense, and he’ll make his third straight start tonight.

The 22-year-old won both starts this past weekend against Rockford and turned away 59 of 63 shots.

“It’s a great mark of confidence from my coach,” Lagace said. “Just looking forward to keep it going.”

It’s another step for Lagace as he continues to raise his stock on the Stars franchise depth chart.

“I came pretty much out of nowhere,” Lagace said. “Last year I worked pretty hard. Had a great goalie coach where I’ve been, great summer. It’s amazing how things are going right now.”

There’s only a small sample size on Stockton — the Heat have played two games — but Stars coach Derek Laxdal said he’s expecting the team to mirror it’s NHL parent club, which features speed through the neutral zone and stingy defense.

Projected lineup:

Brendan Ranford-Travis Morin-Remie Elie
Jason Dickinson-Devin Shore-Greg Rallo
Derek Hulak-Gemel Smith-Matej Stransky
Cole Ully-Cory Kane-Branden Troock

Esa Lindell-Stephen Johns
Ludwig Bystrom-Julius Honka
Jesse Blacker-Brennan Evans

Maxime Lagace

— Justin Dowling is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

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