The Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers) are a shell of the team they used to be by almost any stretch of the imagination. They lost their top scorers to the NHL when the lockout ended, and they've been a bubble team for playoff contention ever since. But one thing they still do well is play physically. The Texas Stars (30-13-4-4, 68 pts, #1 Western Conference) learned that all too well this weekend.
In Friday's game, the Stars lost key defensive pieces. Tyler Sloan went down first, disappearing down the tunnel in the second period and not returning. Patrick Nemeth, who has been stalwart on defense regardless of his pairing partner, was lost in the third. As the play rushed down the ice, a Barons skater gave him a high hit by the Stars' bench. He seemed a bit dazed and left down the tunnel a few whistles later.
On Saturday, it was the forwards. Travis Morin disappeared in the first but it was unclear what caused the departure. His recent injury struggles have put him in and out of the lineup. The vet center is near the top in every franchise category and just flat makes the team better when he is on the ice. That's a big loss.
A further big loss was a check to Alex Chiasson late in the third period of the game. Theo Peckham leveled the rookie winger in the Stars' zone. The play earned Peckham a five-minute major but sent Chiasson to the injured ranks with an as-of-yet undetermined shoulder issue.
Further exacerbating these issues were the injuries in Dallas and the subsequent callups and assignments. Just to keep track:
The Stars were lucky to have the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) playing a mediocre stretch of games (5-5 in the last 10) to keep them three point ahead of them for first in the West.
"We had the first, they had the second and the third was a battle," said Coach Desjardins. "We both battled, but we got a couple of breaks."
Mike Hedden was a difference maker for the Stars' as his line continued to click. Hedden had a power play and even strength tally while Justin Dowling added his seventh of the season, a power play goal, to tie things at three late. Alex Chiasson added a goal in the shootout.
"We've been getting the chance to play together and we've got good chemistry together," said Hedden.
A scoreless OT would give way to a shootout. This time, it was ten rounds. "It's a pressure situation, and it's tough to score with these goaltenders," said Desjardins.
Josh Green scored on the first shot of the shootout while Texas tied it up in the third round thanks to Alex Chiasson. It came down to Jamie Oleksiak in the bottom of the tenth round. Weary from travel from Vancouver yesterday, the rookie defenseman ended it with a puck off the pipe and in past Hovinen.
"I can't say enough about the effort," said Oleksiak. "It was a great character game. We just have to keep that momentum going."
Jack Campbell shutout the Oklahoma City Barons Saturday in his second game in as many nights while Texas scored four in front of him to support the 20 save effort. With the win, Texas moves to 68 points on the season, surpassing their point total for all of last season with 25 games still left to play.
"To surpass what we did last year doesn't really take that much," said Matt Fraser jokingly. Fraser had two power play goals on the night. "It comes down to the guys in the room. We're all on the same page. We come to the rink with our hardhats on, and we outwork teams."
After Friday's frenetic 4-3 shootout win, Texas needed no such theatrics to win this one in regulation in front of a sellout crowd. Bretton Cameron's first AHL goal was the eventual game-winner, and Justin Dowling added his eighth of the year.
"I think we were a little more prepared for them tonight," said head coach Willie Desjardins. Coach Desjardins knows the team is doing well but is not looking ahead, "We're a one game at a time team. We are taking nothing for granted."
The Week Ahead
Texas heads to New York for their only visit to the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) this season on Wednesday. The road trip continues with games on Friday and Saturday in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche). Finally, Texas wraps the trip with a pitstop in Oklahoma City on Tuesday before returning home for five games.
Already mentioned above are injuries to Travis Morin, Tyler Sloan, Patrick Nemeth and Alex Chiasson. The Stars are also without Scott Glennie.