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Ontario Reign vs Texas Stars: 10 Questions About Texas

Previewing tonight's upcoming match at 5:30 p.m. PT with Texas Stars writers Sean Shapiro and Stephen Meserve.

Texas Stars

I chatted with Texas Stars writers Sean Shapiro of Wrong Side of the Redline and Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey about the Dallas Stars' AHL affiliate ahead of the Reign matchup this weekend.

Some of the questions are the same because I wanted to see if they had different takes and I thought it'd be interesting to have two perspectives. First up is Stephen Meserve from 100 Degree Hockey.

Jewels from the Crown:  Who is a top prospect that has received a lot of buzz but is having a having a difficult time adjusting or just isn't having a good year?

HDH: Well, for Texas Stars fans, it's going to sound like a broken record. Jack Campbell is the 'goalie of the future' for the Dallas Stars after getting drafted in the first round in 2010. The team put big faith in him by signing John Muse to essentially play the role of AHL backup and nothing more. Campbell got injured in preseason and missed the start of the year. Now that he's back, he's 1-2 (as of this writing) with a 4.53 GAA and .860 SV%. Those are the numbers you want from a goalie in a 'prove it' year.


JFTC: How are the Stars handling the transition to the new Pacific Division? Is this division harder or about the same as the old one?

HDH: I would comment on the Pacific Division, but Texas has yet to play two of the teams that are expected to be tops at the end of the season, the Reign and Gulls. Battles with San Antonio, however, are fiercer than in prior years. The Rampage switched affiliates and brought a much more complete team to the ice this season, which is fueling their surge in the standings. Texas and San Antonio have never been competitive in the same year, having never made the playoffs in the same season in seven years. This year will probably change that.

JFTC: How far removed is this roster from the one that won the Calder Cup in 2014?

HDH: In time it might only be one season, but it's a world away and it starts at the top. Head coach Willie Desjardins and assistant Doug Lidster both vault their careers to the NHL level after the win. They're in Vancouver now. Goalie Cristopher Nilstorp returned to Sweden and won last year's SEL championship. Some of the offense is still around with Travis Morin and Justin Dowling leading the way (others such as Radek Faksa and Curtis McKenzie are expected to bounce between here and Dallas this season). The losses are more significant: Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Mueller, Mike Hedden, Maxime Fortunus, Derek Meech, Cameron Gaunce, Scott Glennie. However, this team is finding its way just fine with the injection of youth. Players like Devin Shore [no relation to Nick Shore], Jason Dickinson, Esa Lindell and Julius Honka are stepping up in the gap to make this team a playoff contender.

JFTC: What are the Stars' greatest strengths and weaknesses?

HDH: Despite being in a rut right now, the Stars are scoring a lot of goals this season. Like their parent club, the team can put the puck int he net. They average 3.80 goals per game (4th) and top the league in shots at 34.60.

They are struggling in net right now, as previously mentioned. It's the very tricky balance between winning and development for Jack Campbell in net right now. You have to give him a chance to see if he's got what it takes. At the same time, you can't let the whole team suffer for that performance and miss a chance at the playoffs.

JFTC: Ontario's roster doesn't feature many young, blue chip prospects. What do you think we'll see out of these two teams Saturday?

HDH: I'm not entirely sure at this point. The Ontario roster reminds me a lot of what the Stars had in their inaugural year. It was a team that went all the way to the Cup final but lost. That club was full of hired guns, veteran players who had no chance of making the NHL at this stage in their career or who had already seen their NHL glory days pass them by. Given the numbers we've seen from Ontario's goaltending, I think we might have a frustrated Stars' club when it comes to goal scoring.

JFTC: Any predictions for Saturday?

HDH: Really depends on Friday. If the Stars can beat Charlotte to get their confidence back, we might have a close one. If not, we could get a spiraling domino effect.

And now we turn to Sean Shapiro of Wrong Side of the Redline for his musings.

JFTC: Who is Texas's current leading scorer?

SS: Entering this weekend (Texas plays the Charlotte Checkers on Friday night) Texas has a three-way tie on top of the score sheet between Travis Morin (four goals, eight assists), Brendan Ranford (four goals, eight assists), and Devin Shore (nine goals, three assists).

Shore is the reigning AHL player of the month, but has cooled off slightly in November. Morin is the captain and face off the Texas Stars and he's been with the team since the inaugural season, he's also a former AHL MVP from two seasons ago when Texas won the Calder Cup.

JFTC: Who is Dallas's (Texas's) best/most prized prospect? How is he doing this year?

SS: Up front it's Radek Faksa and Devin Shore. Both have already spent time in the NHL this season and could be full-time NHLers next season. As mentioned before, Shore is amongst the team's scoring leaders. Faksa has only appeared in three AHL games, but he's by the team's best defensive center.

On the blue line it's well-stocked cupboard of talent.

Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell are the shutdown pairing for Texas and both are close to being NHL ready.

Julius Honka is a 19-year-old who is going through a bit of a sophomore slump, but has potential to be an elite offensive defenseman.

JFTC: Who has been playing well so far but is maybe a little snake bitten and is probably one to keep a close eye on?

SS: As a team Texas been snakebitten the past couple games. The Stars fired 47 shots in a 3-1 loss to the San Antonio Rampage this past weekend and couldn't catch a break.

I'd probably focus on Justin Dowling, who should be returning from a one-game injury hiatus this weekend. He's been having close calls, but hasn't finished effectively.

JFTC: What are the Stars' greatest strengths and weaknesses?

SS: Texas is built around team speed and there aren't many teams that can keep up with the Stars. Texas plays a four-line game and the defense likes to push the play -- it's a system just like the NHL parent club.

In 5-on-5 play Texas has been electric this season and the Stars lead the Western Conference with 57 goals.

Special teams has been the biggest weakness this season, which is bizarre with a team that has the offensive weapons like Texas. The power play is only converting 13.7 percent of the time and recently went through a stretch of the 15 straight failed conversions.

The penalty kill is sitting around 80.6 percent, which is 20th in the AHL.

Teams strive to have a 105% combined power play and penalty kill percentage, and right now Texas is sitting at 94.7.


JFTC: There is a big question mark surrounding the goaltending depth of the (Dallas) Stars. How has that played out with their AHL team?

SS: Goaltending has been a hot topic surrounding the Texas Stars this season.

Jack Campbell is in a "do or die" season to save his stock with the franchise and he's coming off a hand injury. So far it hasn't gone well for Campbell.

Since returning from injury he has a .860 save percentage and 4.53 goals against average in three games.

While Campbell was out Maxime Lagace established himself as a legitimate NHL prospect and posted a .913 save percentage in seven games before he was sent to ECHL to get more playing time.


JFTC: Any predictions for Saturday?

SS: Not going to pick a winner, but I'm predicting a close game, perhaps a bit of a playoff atmosphere.

It's also a chance to watch the past two Calder Cup Champions go head-to-head (Texas in 2014, Manchester in 2015).

Big thanks to both those guys for enlightening us a little bit about the Texas Stars. It should be a really fun game to watch this weekend. The Reign aren't known for their speed, but Stothers harps on them being a good skating team. How that will translate against a young, fast team will be interesting.

Read up on our weekend preview here and check out Sheng's #fancystats recap here.

You can follow both guys on twitter at @seanshapiro and @100degreehockey.