Stars: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)
(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

Normally, I don’t feel the need to re-hash Scouting the Enemy when the Milwaukee Admirals play the same opponent in back-to-back games. I’m going to make an exception here for two reasons: (1) a lot of great things are happening right now for the Admirals that deserves mentioning and (2) yet another great member of the Texas Stars media battalion has taken the time to chat with Admirals Roundtable!

~Cleaning Up With Consistency~

Let’s start with some talk specifically aimed at the Admirals because things have been on the up-and-up as of late. After their 2-0 shutout on Wednesday night the Admirals moved into first place of the Central Division and are only trailing the Ontario Reign for the best record in the Western Conference.

If you look around in the Central Division you start to appreciate the level of consistency that the Admirals have been playing with of late. While the games haven’t always been the prettiest they’re still finding ways to haul points in. The same can’t be said with the Rockford IceHogs. Ever since my visit to watch the Admirals play in Rockford, where they lost 5-2, the IceHogs have gone a very cold 2-5-1-0 from their last eight-games. In that span they are averaging just 1.6 goals per game. For comparison’s sake the Admirals have averaged 3.0 goals per game from their last eight-games.

The Griffins, who went on yet another ten-plus game winning streak, have proceeded to drop two straight road games to the San Antonio Rampage. You know how the Admirals seem to struggle against those lower tier teams such as the Iowa Wild and Manitoba Moose? The Griffins, for all their might, lost all four-games against the Rampage in regulation this season. The Rampage are in the basement of the Pacific Division and are the fourth worst team based on points percentage in the AHL. Yet, the Griffins haven’t taken a single point from them this season and were shutout by the Rampage for 171:56 of ice time during the season series. That’s almost beyond belief.

In the Admirals last eleven-games they have gone 8-2-0-1. They are on a three-game winning streak and have a five-game point streak. As we near the end of the month of March the Admirals Roundtable Admiral of the Month award awaits with several candidates. Let’s review shall we:

Kevin Fiala, 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists)… Pontus Åberg, 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists)… Max Görtz, 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists)… Matt White, 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists)… Taylor Aronson, 7 points (0 goals, 7 assists)… Stefan Elliott, 6 points (1 goals, 5 assists)… Juuse Saros, 7 starts (0-0-0-0 record, 1.69 goals against average, 0.931 save percentage, 2 shutouts)… Marek Mazanec, 5 starts (2-2-0-1 record, 1.78 goals against average, 0.931 save percentage).

Impressive list isn’t it? That’s all said and done by numbers without giving the serious pat on the back of performances from the likes of Cody Bass, Corey Potter, Jimmy Oligny, Félix Girard, Frédérick Gaudreau, Vladislav Kamenev, Adam Payerl, and Max Reinhart who have all been doing incredible jobs. Bass has been every part the leader on and off the ice you’d hope for. Potter arrived from his trade out of the Arizona Coyotes organization and immediately fit in as a solid two-way defenseman. Girard’s work, will it doesn’t show up in individual statistics, goes a long way to place the Admirals penalty kill team in the upper echelon of the AHL’s best this season.

The Admirals run of twelve straight playoff seasons ended last year when the Admirals had a record of 33-28-8-7 (81 points, 0.533 points percentage) to finish in dead last of the then Midwest Division and eleventh on the Western Conference standings. The Admirals current record is 41-21-3-1 (86 points, 0.652 points percentage). That point total is only one-point shy of last season’s cutoff from the Chicago Wolves who ended the season with 87 points. The turn-around from last season to this season has been outstanding.

~Texas Stars~

The Texas Stars enter tonight’s game with a record of 35-23-6-3 (79 points). Their 0.590 points percentage has them sitting in third place of the Pacific Division where they trail the Ontario Reign (0.698) and San Diego Gulls (0.603).

With the crucial fourth place in the Pacific Division being a flex point for the fifth place in the Central Division possibly able to supersede a lower points percentage seed in the Pacific the current placement of the Stars is where they would hope to fall no lower than. The San Jose Barracuda’s current 0.552 points percentage wouldn’t be good enough to surpass the Charlotte Checkers current position… and the difference, if the season ended today, would be decided by 0.001.

~Q&A with Sean Shapiro~

As noted, the Stars have some of my favorite media members in the AHL. We spoke with Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey to preview Wednesday’s game. Now we get another good bloke to preview tonight’s game. Sean Shapiro is a freelance journalist whose work can be found in many great places such as Austin American-Statesman, Hockey’s Future, The Hockey News, and Wrong Side of the Red Line. If the name sounds familiar that’s thanks to a lot of the amazing photographs that you see out of Admirals road games against the Stars because he is married to the talented Christina Shapiro. Before this becomes a new column called Scouting the Friends let’s hear from Sean about what’s what in Texas.

Admirals Roundtable: Wednesday’s game was not your typical Texas Stars home game. It was only the second time all season the Stars were shutout at home. What did you make of the contest and what was it the Admirals did so well to stifle that hot Stars offense?

Sean Shapiro: Wednesday’s game was a weird one. Neither team really had a good rhythm and both teams looked sluggish. Milwaukee, however, figured it out and played a nice, gritty road game. They went hard to the net and won the battles in key areas (the corners, the slot, etc.).

I wouldn’t say it was anything special. Rather, I would say it was smart. Milwaukee took away Texas speed at the blue line and the Stars didn’t adjust.

AR: It’s certainly not helpful having someone like Travis Morin out with injury at the moment. How big of a loss has that been for the Stars and how have some of the depth players filled in during his absence?

SS: It’s been a huge loss for Texas, particularly on the power play. For those who aren’t aware, Travis Morin is arguably the top player in the AHL and multiple coaches have pointed out he runs a power play better than any other forward in the league.

For Texas, the bigger disappointment has been the lack of younger players seizing opportunities. While Jason Dickinson has done a nice job filling in as the top defensive center, others haven’t filled his old roles. This has created a ton of inconsistency for the Stars. Some days they’re a deep, fast team that rolls four lines — that’s when they’re at their best. Other times, like the past three games, Texas has been a one or two line team and you can’t win games that way.

AR: Jack Campbell had such a large amount of hype surrounding him due to his performances at World Juniors and in junior hockey. Why hasn’t he been able to match his eleventh overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft and is his time with the Stars organization potentially over after this season?

SS: Jack Campbell’s time with the Dallas Stars will likely come to an end, and it all comes down to his mental game. The former first-round pick has all the talent in the world and he’s a world-class human being, but he just hasn’t been able to put it together or stay healthy in his professional career.

The biggest indicator for me is body language. When Campbell is on his game and he’s not going to be beat, you can tell by looking at him. On the flip side, when Campbell has been beaten you can tell from the stands. That sends the wrong message to his team and those are the times he tends to struggle. He also let’s up bad goals at bad times, which you never want with a goalie.

AR: How have Julius Honka and Esa Lindell progressed this season and do you see them as NHL regulars next season?

SS: Lindell has made better strides and is closer to NHL ready than Honka at the moment. He munches big minutes and he played well earlier this season in four NHL games. Honka still looks young at times and needs to mature before making the next step.

Honka likes to push the offense and he can. But he needs to learn when to make the simple play and not make a risky decision. I think last week a 6-5 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins was a perfect example of Honka’s season. There were 11 goals scored and Honka was on the ice for eight of them — four for, four against.

AR: What have been some of the surprising storylines that have taken place for the Stars this season?

SS: By far the biggest story line and most surprising has been Maxime Lagacé‘s ascension to the top of the goalie depth chart. After last season Lagacé was a complete after thought and was expected to serve as the back-up in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads. But, here we are in late March and he’s one of the top rookie goalies in the AHL (Juuse Saros being the other).

In addition to Lagacé, I think the other surprising story line is what could have been with Devin Shore. The rookie forward lit up the AHL and was the player of the month in October before his season was cut short thanks to a shoulder injury. He still leads the AHL in shooting percentage, I would have loved to see what a full year of his progress would look like.

AR: The playoff picture is miles away before it becomes clear. That almost comes thanks to that Pacific Division of your’s with those California teams and their limited schedule. Do the Stars stay afloat in the hunt for a playoff spot or do they fall into the diabolical fourth seed in the Pacific where the fifth placed team in the Central can succeed them?

SS: I think they stay in the playoff hunt and finish third in the Pacific and play the San Diego Gulls in the first round. I then see Charlotte taking the crossover spot from either San Jose or Bakersfield (forcing Ontario to open the season on the other coast in a 2-3 format).

AR: Last and most important question. Which incarnation of the Doctor is your favorite and why? (Hint. The correct answer is David Tennant because he’s David Tennant.)

SS: David Tennant and Matt Smith are a close first and second in my book, with Tennant taking top spot. I don’t really have a good reason why, it just comes down to a feel and Tennant was the Doctor when I really started to find my groove with the show when it was introduced to me by my wife — my wife refuses to pick a favorite “she likes them all.”

(Peter Capaldi has grown on me. I personally like the bit about sonic sunglasses.)

I’ll leave you with this parting thought. Have you ever seen David Tennant and Dallas Eakins in the same place at the same time? How do we know the Doctor isn’t coaching the San Diego Gulls? Traveling through time and space would explain why they have less games…

~Le Fin~

Alright, I have one thing to add to that interview. I never thought someone could put me off the Tenth Doctor but a Dallas Eakins separated at birth comparison just did it. Christopher Eccleston. I’m a Ninth Doctor fan now. Nine was fantastic.

Expectations for tonight’s game? How important will it be for the Milwaukee Admirals to not get caught out by looking a game ahead, with a big showdown against the Grand Rapids Griffins looming for Tuesday night in Milwaukee, and focus on the job at hand tonight? This is still the same Stars team that can rifle in upwards of four-goals a game on home ice. Can the defense continue to hold the Stars offense down?

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.

2 thoughts on “Stars: Scouting the Enemy”

  1. Steve: I’ve reached out via email to that account twice now to let them know for whatever reason their mobile keeps spamming comments with every page view. I just delete them as fast as I can get to them and am hoping at some point that issue fixes itself rather than having to ban someone who isn’t actually doing something with bad will or intent. I doubt they even are aware they are doing that when it happens. :/

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