Stars: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

It is probably safe to say that the Milwaukee Admirals will be flying from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Cedar Park, Texas with a massive chip on their shoulder. If it’s not that when they first played the Texas Stars back at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena that they played a very flat game and were shutout 1-0. If it’s not that they lost that last game against the Manitoba Moose 6-3. It’s that explosion that came after the last game that was the culmination of many months of repressed frustration that only needed an initiator named Brendan Lemieux to cause the rage to burst loose.

What the Admirals will be off of that moment will be fascinating to watch. Is that the sign of unraveling or the moment the team gets together and really shows a fighting spirit from now until the end of the season? What I think back to is the 2011-12 season when the Rockford IceHogs triggered a bench clearing brawl on 4/1/12. The Admirals would finish the season on a run of 6-1-0-1 and make it into the Calder Cup Playoffs as the fifth seed. The playoffs are worked far differently now and the rallying point for the Admirals is to push through the gauntlet and start moving their way up into the Central Division standings. The time to channel those frustrations and emotions the right way begins this weekend against in Texas.

The Stars enter this weekend’s games with a record of 27-19-5-2 (61 points, 0.575 points percentage). They are currently seated in fourth place of the Pacific Division standings with the Ontario Reign (0.563) and San Antonio Rampage (0.547) in pursuit of that last playoff position out of the division.

After the Stars played against the Admirals in Milwaukee last Saturday they went on to play two games against the Iowa Wild at the Wells Fargo Arena. That game against the Admirals quite honestly could have gone to a shootout with the game being scoreless. There was not much doing for anyone and only a miraculous and brilliant play from Sheldon Dries prevented that. What the Stars would do off of that grinding effort would be to win 6-3 in Iowa the next day before dropping a narrow 2-1 contest in the second tilt with the Wild. They had the 1-0 lead in the first period of that final game but allowed early period goals in the second and third to lose in regulation. The Stars haven’t played since completing that three-in-three set on Monday. They current have gone 5-4-1-0 across their last 10 games.

Travis Morin continues to be a leader on and off the ice for the Stars. The 34-year old is in the middle of his eleventh pro season and ninth within the Stars organization. While the goal scoring side hasn’t quite been there for him this season he still leads the Stars in scoring this season: 46 points (7 goals, 39 assists) in 53 games. Those 39 assists for Morin lead the AHL and he is already creeping up on his scoring total from the past two seasons which saw him record 55 points in 72 games (2016-17) and 54 points in 63 games (2015-16).

Someone who wasn’t involved last time these two met that can be a factor this weekend was Jason Dickinson. He had been recalled by the Dallas Stars (NHL) right before these two first played last Saturday. It has been that kind of season for the 22-year old forward. Dickinson has played well enough in the AHL this season to split his season between both Stars. In the NHL he has played 13 games but has yet to record a point. Meanwhile he is a goal scoring machine in the AHL setting: 22 points (16 goals, 6 assists) in 34 games.

Of course, there is then the likes of Andrew O’Brien and Tyler Kelleher to check in on again. Kelleher actually hasn’t played since the last time these two met and has only played 2 games with the Stars. He had a fractured patella that sidelined him for 22 games with the Admirals just prior to being traded. O’Brien has played 5 games since being shipped to the Texas Stars and has 2 assists with a plus/minus rating of +2 and 2 penalty minutes. It is also worth noting that the other side to the coin, Mark McNeill, is fresh off scoring his first goal with the Admirals last time out. He’s had 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in 8 games since joining the Admirals.

Last weekend Mike McKenna was the man of the occasion with the 28-save shutout over the Admirals. He wasn’t tested with many quality scoring chances though and that’s said even with the Admirals earning five power-play chances in that game. McKenna has a record of 11-8-3-1 from 25 appearances this season with a 2.84 goals against average and 0.899 save percentage. That shutout against the Admirals last Saturday was his first and only on the 2017-18 season but the twenty-seventh of his AHL career.

Should McKenna not get tasked with the full run of the weekend the Admirals could see Landon Bow enter the mix in net for the Stars. Last season was his first full pro campaign and he logged more time with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL than he did with the Stars in the AHL. He has maintained his place in the AHL all 2017-18 and managed to go 15-11-2-1 from 30 appearances with a 2.87 goals against average, 0.903 save percentage, and earned his first career AHL shutout back on 1/19/18 on the road against the Moose.

What are your expectations for tonight and tomorrow night’s game against the Texas Stars? Do you think that post-game fracas against the Manitoba Moose is the sort of moment that can propel the Milwaukee Admirals forward? How do you think the Admirals react from last game and handle the Stars if things start to go South down South?

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