The Texas Stars are on the brink of elimination.
By the time they hit the road for a pair of games against the Carolina Checkers this weekend, their playoff hopes might be dashed. The Stars have made the postseason six of the seven years they’ve been in existence and head coach Derek Laxdal has never missed the playoffs after a full season behind the bench.
Texas dropped two of three home games against the Stockton Heat before going on a three-game road trip and losing once to the Rockford IceHogs and splitting a two-game set at the Milwaukee Admirals.
“We’re on a lifeline,” Laxdal said. “I liked the way we played in the three games (against Stockton). They’re a heavy team that plays hard and forecheck hard. I like the way our goalie played all three games. There are some goals you’d like to have back, but their goalie wins some too.”
The San Jose Barracuda and San Diego Gulls have already clinched the top two spots in the Pacific Division and the Ontario Reign are just five points away from clinching the third spot.
The Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Heat are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot from the division with a .548 percentage points and the Stars are 10 points behind the pair with .479 percentage points.
While the final score has failed to have much consistency, one facet of the game has greatly improved over the last half of the season. After spending the first half of the season near the bottom of the league on the power play, the Stars have rebounded slightly to sit 27th in the league at 14.9 percent.
“This whole season being up and down, we’ve tried a lot of different things,” defender Julius Honka said. “We’ve kind of found that perfect line to do whatever it takes to get the power play goal. It’s good to see this time of year where the power play is going.”
The power play has been even more of a struggle and Texas has the worst penalty kill in the league, killing off just 74.8 percent of its penalties. The recent trip to Milwaukee wasn’t kind to the penalty killing stat as the Stars went 0-for-10 over the two games.
“The young kids are getting on the penalty kill and the power play,” Laxdal said. “That’s part of the job is how much we can develop them. It’s not going to be dysfunctional, but it might cause some lack of chemistry at certain times.”
Some players that Laxdal wouldn’t normally put on the power play have been making strides, including forward Denis Gurianov (10 goals, 15 assists) and rookie defender Gavin Bayreuther, who has scored a goal and an assist since being signed right out of college and has been paired with Honka.
“He hasn’t been here that long so we try and tell him the stuff to do sometimes,” Honka said. “As the games go by, he’s starting to feel more comfortable here. The connection we have right now is pretty good right now and we’re trying to build on that.”
After the two-game set in Carolina, the Stars finish the season with three games against the San Antonio Rampage. The teams face off next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the H-E-B Center and end the year with a Friday game in San Antonio and a Saturday night game in Cedar Park.
One thing that is stirrup for grabs is the goal leader on the Stars. Matej Stransky leads the way with 24 goals, Brandon DeFazio has 22 goals and Travis Morin has tallied 21 times. Morin leads the team with 54 points, eight more than DeFazio.
“I’m trying to get in front of the net and score some dirty goals because we were struggling to score goals for a while,” Stransky said. “It’s not a competition. He’s got like 10 more points than me so I can’t say anything.”