The 2-0 start enjoyed by the Texas Stars two weeks ago has evaporated and the young club now finds itself below .500 for the first time (3-4-0) after dropping a 4-2 decision to the Oklahoma City Barons Sunday afternoon at Cox Convention Center despite Matt Fraser's first of the year.
The Barons have benefited from the NHL lockout more than most other AHL teams with the Oilers having a young, talented core of players still on entry level deals and assignable at the AHL level. As a result their roster includes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, Taylor Fedun and more. It's a list unlike any other at the American level in name recognizability.
As a result the Barons take the ice for their power play sets with an air of the Oilers league leading power play (or was for most of the season, it wound up third in the NHL) of a year ago, and it was that unit that made the Stars pay once again today.
The Stars entered the day with the worst penalty kill in the AHL, and surrendered two man-advantage tallies to Justin Schultz to drop their mark on the season to just 17 of 27 killed (62.9%). Things aren't much better on the flip side with the power play now 3 for 30 (10%) on the year, though their first power play set yesterday produced a bevy of dangerous chances. They just couldn't get a bounce.
Meanwhile the head-scratching scratches continue for Coach Desjardins bunch continue with Scott Glennie sitting out yet another one. Alex Chiasson also sat as they dressed seven defensemen and just eleven forwards. Chiasson was scratched last weekend with a reported case of the flu after having scored his first goal of the year, and hasn't seen action in three games since.
Austin Smith, meanwhile, plays on for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. It's been a surprising way to start the year, particularly with Colton Sceviour out with a broken hand. Smith, Chiasson and Glennie represent what Dallas fans expected to be the three most noteworthy offensive prospects on the roster (when it was assumed Vincour and Eakin would be with the big club) and it seems none of them can get on the ice for Desjardins right now.
Lucky for the Texas Stars they do have Cody Eakin and Tomas Vincour right now, because they're carrying things offensively right now. Early in yesterday's game in particular they generated chances at will in the offensive zone. Eakin would add his fourth of the year in a losing cause, and it's clear those two have it going on right now. Reilly Smith, in the limited action I've seen this year, has looked increasingly effective beside the two, but just a little short of significant offensive contribution.
In goal Christopher Nihsltorp was victimized by a bad turnover, a sloppy line change, and an ineffective penalty kill yesterday, but would probably like to have two of the three he allowed back for a second chance. He's better than that and he will be. Jack Campbell entered in relief stopping six of seven shots he faced. It was the third time in four games the Stars replaced their starting net-minder.
It's a young team with a new head coach. They're looking for consistency, they're trying to see what they can get from their roster, and they're apparently teaching some off-ice lessons to guys who aren't playing right now. It's a work in process. Though they were doubled up by one of the better teams in the league yesterday, they out-played their opposition at even strength and out-shot them 29-19 when it was all said and done. Things will get better. It's just a question of how long it will take.