Stars: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Milwaukee Admirals have descended to the lovely land of Texas for a pair of games against the Texas Stars. It’s been awhile since the Admirals have played in Texas. They took two games in two nights from the San Antonio Rampage back on 1/15/16 and 1/16/16. It’s also been a good while since the Admirals last played the Stars. These two have played twice this season with both games taking place in Milwaukee and the Admirals getting the edge each outing: 10/27/15 and 12/6/15.

What’s always fun about playing against the Stars is they have one of the best AHL media communities that I get to chat with throughout the season. Stephen Meserve is the man behind 100 Degree Hockey. To get the what’s what on the Texas Stars heading into tonight’s game he was kind enough to to a little Q&A to give us all some insight prior to puck drop.

~Q&A with Stephen Meserve~

Admirals Roundtable: Heading into the last time these two teams met the Texas Stars had a 0.591 points percentage. Coming into Wednesday’s game the Stars will be a smidge better than that at a 0.598 points percentage. How have things been going for the Stars since the turn into the 2016 calendar?

Stephen Meserve. Texas has solidified its standings with pretty great play since the turn of 2016. Unfortunately, Dallas and Texas have both suffered injuries that have diminished the AHL side’s scoring capacity. Travis Morin and Greg Rallo are both out with concussions with no timetable for return. Radek Faksa and Brett Ritchie were recalled to Dallas, and Stephen Johns is there as well, presumably for good now. That crop of players is worth 4 points a game to the Stars. They’ve been relying on depth scoring more than they did earlier in the year. The line of Gemel Smith, Cole Ully, and Matt Mangene has had success in this regard. Ully has been pretty impressive in his rookie season. Despite limited time, he’s made the most of his ice, scoring 16 points in 38 games. He’s a smaller player but makes the most of his size with a wicked shot.

AR: I don’t know if there is anything that makes me laugh more when looking at the current standings than when I spy that the Stars have scored 241 goals as a team this season but also allowed 212 goals as well. You guys certainly don’t lack for entertainment do you?

SM: Well, certainly not! Texas has mostly retired its crazy track meet ways late in the season. Part of the craziness that was the early season was the inconsistency in net. Maxime Lagacé has emerged as the clear starter, and it’s likely he will start every game from here until the end of the playoffs. The penalty kill is an area that has dogged the Stars all year. Any team facing off against Texas has to make the most of those opportunities. Texas is the least penalized teams in the league. Therefore, it really is unfortunate that the PK is such a glaring issue.

AR: Speaking of entertaining, how has life in the Pacific Division treated this Stars team throughout the 2015-16 season?

SM: The Pacific is interesting to say the least. I would say I didn’t start to notice big differences in schedule until about December or so. That’s when games played started to diverge. Texas is in a battle for home-ice with the second seed but can’t catch Ontario for #1. At this point, it honestly looks like the Reign will take the division and battle whoever emerges from the unholy slugfest that will be the Central Division playoffs. All for the privilege of losing to Toronto in the final.

AR: The Stars have two names in the AHL’s Top 20 for Rookie Scoring this season: Jason Dickinson and Esa Lindell. How have your first year players progressed as this season has gone on?

SM: Lindell has made great strides. He is coming from a league of men in Finland, so the adjustment was pretty smooth for him. He’s got a knack for scoring and probably won’t be back on this squad next season. Dickinson was the last pick of the first round his draft year, acquired with the pick that came over in the Stars’ trade with Boston for Jaromír Jágr. Dickinson was a fine return, a defensively-sound center who has an amazing quickness and deft moves with the puck. He scored the prettiest goal all season in November with a beautiful individual effort to pop the puck over SA goalie Roman Will, who had come out to play the puck, catch it himself, drop it and tap it into the empty net. Kid has hands and finish. Dangerous combo. With other centers out or recalled, Dickinson is collecting top 6 minutes along with PP time.

AR: Your leading scorer at the moment is Brendan Ranford who has already eclipsed his AHL points total from a season ago. What have you liked from his game in his third professional playing season with the Stars?

SM: Ranford is still working on the defensive side of his game. He’s had a taste of the NHL and definitely wants more. Ranford, like so many players in his position, needs to ensure he is not a defensive liability at the NHL level in order to ensure a call-up. Of course, you do that by proving yourself in tough situations in the A. He will probably get a ‘prove it’ RFA deal this summer and the key will be what he does with that one season.

AR: Julius Honka is one of the top prospects for the Dallas Stars organization and he’s living up to that billing in the AHL this season. How has his sophomore season been going in your eyes and is this probably the last season of AHL hockey he partakes in?

SM: Ah, Julius Honka. Everyone loves to put him at the top of the heap and he’s certain got potential to end up there, but today is not that day. Remember that Honka only just turned 20 this season. He still has a tendency to put the world on his shoulders, skate when he should pass, or try to force a play a little too much. He is a brilliantly talented player and there is absolutely a reason why he was coveted by nearly everyone that talked with Dallas GM Jim Nill at the trade deadline. He’s just not 100% there yet. When you compare his consistency to that of Lindell, Johns, or Mattias Bäckman, it’s clear he needs more time. However, I absolutely think he’s a top callup starting next year.

AR: The last ten-games for the Stars have seen the team at a 4-3-3-0 record with some real grinding games going down. What should fans expect from the Stars for these games against the Admirals in Texas?

SM: It depends how much Coach Laxdal‘s message sinks in. The past two games against Grand Rapids, Texas was trying to get too pretty according to their coach. He wanted the club to play a more playoff style shooting game, pucks to the net, sticks and skates in close to generate traffic and bounces. It was what GRG did to the Stars. Watch to see not just the quantity of shots but the types of shots that go toward the Ads’ net. That will help tell a little bit more about how Texas is going about their game.

~Le Fin~

Thanks very much, Stephen. You can follow along with him on Twitter. You can, and should, also bookmark 100 Degree Hockey. It’s a great all-around AHL website to check in on.

Expectations for tonight’s game? After a relatively relaxed schedule these last few weeks do you think it will be nice for the Admirals to get a long bit of time on the road to rejuvenate the minds a bit? The Texas Stars score a ton of goals but also allow a boat load as well. Are we in for a track meet these two games in Texas?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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