Morning Skate: Texas Stars looking to continue offensive surge against Stockton

The Texas Stars and Stockton Heat will battle for the second time this season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The Texas Stars and Stockton Heat will battle for the second time this season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — The Texas Stars’ offense hasn’t been stifled very often this season.

Texas is averaging a league-high 4.25 goals per game and have scored at least five goals in six of their 12 games.

The one team that put the Stars at a standstill? Tonight’s opponent the Stockton Heat, who will visit the Cedar Park Center tonight at 7:00 p.m.

A little more than three weeks ago Stockton ousted Texas 1-0. The Stars fired 36 shots, but couldn’t beat Stockton’s Jon Gillies.

“Those games happen sometimes,” Stars defenseman Stephen Johns said. “I thought we played well, 1-0 games are fun to play in. It’s tight, you can’t make a mistake, and I’m expecting the same type of game tonight.”

Stockton hasn’t won a game since Gillies whitewashed Texas on Oct. 21. The Heat have struggled offensively and have only scored 19 goals this season — the second-lowest in the AHL (surprisingly, the Grand Rapids Griffins are last with just 18 goals).

The Heat have been good defensively and limit opponents to 2.88 goals per game, and both victories have come in the form of shutouts by Gillies.

And unfortunately for Stockton, Gillies is injured and is out with a lower-body injury. Calgary did acquire Kevin Poulin in a trade to help out their AHL affiliate, and the newest Stockton goaltender allowed four goals on 34 shots.

Of course, the Stars aren’t taking the Heat lightly.

“They’re a well-coached, aggressive physical team,” Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “They got some good skill up front. They played last night in San Antonio, so we’ve got to be at our best here.”

Texas will field the same lineup it used in a 6-3 victory against San Antonio on Wednesday, and Jack Campbell will make his second straight start in goal.

Travis Morin missed the morning skate Saturday after the birth of his third son, Bradley Michael Morin, on Friday night. Morin will still be in the lineup this evening.

Projected lineup:
Justin Dowling-Travis Morin-Brendan Ranford
Jason Dickinson-Devin Shore-Matej Stransky
Derek Hulak-Gemel Smith-Greg Rallo
Emil Molin-Cory Kane-Branden Troock

Esa Lindell-Stephen Johns
Ludwig Bystrom-Julius Honka
Patrik Nemeth-Jesse Blacker

Jack Campbell

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.

Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage grouped with California teams in Pacific Division next season

The Texas Stars are going to get a first-hand look at AHL hockey in California next season.

Texas and the San Antonio Rampage will join the five new California-based teams (Bakersfield Condors, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, and Stockton Heat) in the Pacific Division, the AHL announced today.

The league will be switching to four divisions next seasons, which will be as follows:

Western Conference
Central Division
Charlotte Checkers (CAR)
Chicago Wolves (STL)
Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Iowa Wild (MIN)
Lake Erie Monsters (CBJ)
Manitoba Moose (WPG)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)

Pacific Division
Bakersfield Condors (EDM)
Ontario Reign (LA)
San Antonio Rampage (COL)
San Diego Gulls (ANA)
San Jose Barracuda (SJ)
Stockton Heat (CGY)
Texas Stars (DAL)

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Hershey Bears (WSH)
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (PHI)
Portland Pirates (FLA)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
Springfield Falcons (ARI)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

North Division
Albany Devils (NJ)
Binghamton Senators (OTT)
Rochester Americans (BUF)
St. John’s IceCaps (MTL)
Syracuse Crunch (TB)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)
Utica Comets (VAN)

The new playoff format has not been finalized yet. That will be voted upon at the AHL board of governors meeting July 6-9.