AHL Weekly: Stars shine on in West


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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Boosted primarily by a stingy defense and outstanding goaltending, the Texas Stars advanced all the way to the 2010 Calder Cup Finals in their inaugural season. As the stretch drive of the 2010-11 campaign approaches, the Stars are beginning to kick into gear as they attempt to defend their conference title.

Texas swept three road games in as many days last weekend, taking one-goal victories in Grand Rapids, Chicago and Milwaukee to improve to 9-4-0-1 in its last 14 contests. At 32-19-3-3 (70 points) overall and with a 26-13-1-2 mark against division foes, the Stars are just one point off the lead in the West with seven weeks to go. The 2010-11 Stars lost several big names from last year’s Calder Cup runners-up, but many other key contributors returned to Cedar Park.

Gone from the front line are Mathieu Beaudoin, Warren Peters and captain Landon Wilson, but several returning forwards have kept the Stars’ core together. Greg Rallo broke out with a 19-goal, 44-point season in 2009-10, and his team-leading 17 goals (including six game-winners) and 36 points in 57 games this year are on track to set career highs again. Travis Morin (13-21-34) and Colton Sceviour (11-18-29) were mainstays for Texas last season, appearing in all 104 regular-season and playoff games for the Stars; both had appeared in every game this year as well until recently earning their first NHL recalls to Dallas. Francis Wathier set career highs in goals (19), assists (21) and points (40) last season, and his 14 goals this year are good for second on the Texas roster. Fellow returnees Aaron Gagnon (11-7-18) and Raymond Sawada (7-10-17) have also helped Texas’ offense and seen action for the big club in 2010-11.

New faces up front include rookies Ondrej Roman (6-12-18), Sean Backman (6-10-16), Tomas Vincour (5-7-12) and Cody Chupp (4-8-12). Three of Roman’s six goals have come on the power play, and Backman halted a lengthy goal-scoring drought with the game-winning tally in Sunday’s 2-1 victory at Milwaukee. Vincour earned his first NHL call-up on Feb. 6 and has played six games for Dallas to date, while Chupp is in his first pro season after appearing in nine regular-season and two postseason contests for Texas last spring. Mathieu Tousignant (8-10-18) and Luke Gazdic (7-7-14) are making an impact in their first full AHL seasons, and former AHL All-Star Brandon Segal has 5-4-9 in 19 games since being assigned from Dallas.

Helping to fill the void left by the exits of former AHL All-Stars Andrew Hutchinson, Garrett Stafford and Dan Jancevski on defense, former second-round draft pick Dan Spang has risen to a share of third on the club in scoring and is closing in on a career high with 29 points (8-21-29) to go along with a team-best plus-14 rating in 54 games. Brad Lukowich, a 653-game NHL veteran, has put up 23 points (2-21-23), his greatest offensive output in 12 years. Danish defenseman Philip Larsen (2-14-16) has appeared in six games up top with Dallas, and Maxime Fortunus (2-18-20) has matched a career high in assists.

Richard Bachman has posted 21 wins – tied for third in the AHL and matching the departed Matt Climie’s win total from 2009-10. Bachman also ranks sixth in the league in both goals-against average (2.17) and save percentage (.927). Another injury-riddled season has limited Brent Krahn (6-6-0) to 12 appearances, and 2008 second-round draft pick Tyler Beskorowany has stepped in to go 5-4-0 (2.46, .930, 1 SO) in nine outings.

It’s a busy week ahead for the Stars, who wrap up an eight-game road trip with stops in Peoria (Wednesday), Houston (Friday) and San Antonio (Saturday) before returning home to battle Oklahoma City on Sunday.

CLEAR DAY PERIOD SET … The AHL’s Clear Day deadline, when all 30 teams must submit their 22-man Clear Day lists, is set for Monday, Mar. 7, at 3 p.m. ET. Only those players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension. Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts, but only once their respective junior or college seasons are complete.

MINK SINKS ICEHOGS … Peoria forward Graham Mink tied a career high with four goals in Monday’s 6-3 win at Rockford, scoring three times on the power play and once at even strength to take over the club lead with 18 goals (18-21-39) in 50 games overall. It was the second four-goal effort of Mink’s AHL career; he first accomplished the feat as a 22-year-old rookie with the Portland Pirates on Mar. 16, 2002, in an 11-4 win over Quebec. In between, Mink has racked up more than 200 AHL goals and won a pair of Calder Cups in Hershey.

It marked the second four-goal performance by a Peoria skater in 2010-11; Derek Nesbitt torched San Antonio four times in a 7-4 triumph on Jan. 5. Seven AHL players have recorded four or more goals in a game this season – Mink, Nesbitt, Chicago’s Nigel Dawes (Jan. 5), Syracuse’s Trevor Smith (Jan. 2), Houston’s Casey Wellman (Dec. 10), Lake Erie’s Patrick Rissmiller (Dec. 3) and Oklahoma City’s Linus Omark (five goals on Nov. 7) – the most in a season since 2005-06 when 10 players scored at least four goals in a game.

PENGUINS SOLDIER ON … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton continues to sit atop the AHL standings with 42 wins in 57 games (42-15-0-0, 84 points), and the Penguins enter the new week on a 7-1-0-0 run despite recently playing with each of their top seven scorers – Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling, Eric Tangradi, Ryan Craig, Tim Wallace and Joe Vitale – on NHL recall to Pittsburgh.

Top goaltender Brad Thiessen (24-5-0, 1.77, .930) returned from injury on Feb. 7 and has surrendered just four goals on 164 shots in seven games since (.976), posting six victories and three shutouts, while a pair of newcomers to the lineup have carried the load offensively. Ben Street arrived on Feb. 3 and has racked up 8-2-10 in an eight-game span, and former second-round draft pick and fellow rookie Keven Veilleux recorded a point in five out of six games (2-4-6) from Feb. 7-18. Chris Collins, who totaled just three points in a 14-game stretch between Jan. 8 and Feb. 7, has broken out 1-5-6 in his last six games to boost the Penguins’ attack.

ETC. … Through Monday’s action, the Western Conference’s top six teams – Milwaukee (71 points), Houston (71), Texas (70), Peoria (69), San Antonio (68) and Oklahoma City (67) – all come from the potent West Division… Milwaukee rookie Roman Josi has a point in 13 straight games (5-9-14), tied for the longest scoring streak in the AHL this season and the longest by an AHL defenseman since Josef Boumedienne had a 16-game run for Hershey in 2007-08… Peoria’s T.J. Hensick, who is up to fifth in the AHL scoring race (17-38-55), has registered at least one point in 37 of his 46 AHL games this season… Charlotte’s Zac Dalpe leads the rookie scoring race with 38 points (17-21-38) despite playing only 39 games, and two other rookies – Portland’s Luke Adam (17-18-35 in 35 GP) and Toronto’s Nazem Kadri (13-20-33 in 33 GP) – have averaged a point per game to remain in the hunt… Reebok/AHL Player of the Week David Ullstrom of Bridgeport had gone 21 straight games without a goal before racking up six in a three-game span last week… Milwaukee rookie goaltender Jeremy Smith stopped 58 of 59 shots (.983) in a pair of divisional wins last weekend… On Sunday, Grand Rapids rookie Jordan Pearce became the first Griffins goaltender to start four games in a five-night span since Jimmy Howard did so from Apr. 11-15, 2007; Pearce finished with two wins and two shootout losses in the four-game stretch… Playing just the third and fourth AHL games of his career, Oklahoma City’s Mark Arcobello scored in both ends of the Barons’ two-game weekend sweep of Abbotsford… Bryan Helmer became the seventh player in AHL history to reach 1,000 regular-season games played when the Barons visited Abbotsford in Calgary on Friday night… Acquired from the Sharks on Feb. 9, Steve Zalewski scored with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation to give Albany a wild 5-4 win over Worcester on Friday… On Saturday at Adirondack, Matt Pistilli scored Charlotte’s fourth goal of the season with its goaltender pulled for an extra attacker… The Phantoms have played nine shootouts in their last 23 games, including four straight from Jan. 2-8 and three in a row this past weekend… Binghamton extended its season-high winning streak to six with home triumphs over Charlotte and Albany despite playing both games with only 16 skaters due to a rash of call-ups to parent-club Ottawa… Providence defeated Connecticut, 5-4 in a shootout, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Saturday night – the second AHL game ever played outdoors.