At its best, the Texas Stars' (28-15-2-3, 61 pts, No. 4 Western Conference) home record was a dazzling 16-2-0-1. It was best in the league by a country mile, and the Stars had won 12 in a row to boot. Two weeks ago, that streak ended with the losses to Grand Rapids and San Antonio. This past week, the troubling trend continued with two losses to the division cellar-dwelling Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers).
Sure, the Stars picked up a nice blowout win against a very tough division-leading Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) club. However, they followed that by dropping back-to-back games against the Barons by a combined score of 12-6. On the week overall, they scored as many as they let in thanks to the 6-0 shellacking they gave to Toronto.
The usually sparkling power play was abysmal in the losses on the homestand. Overall it was 8-for-41 (19.5 percent), but the key was when those goals were scored. Seven of them came in the wins and just one in the losses. Texas was 7-for-20 on the power play in wins and 1-for-21 in the losses. The club knows that it needs to do more at even strength. Coach Willie Desjardins has been talking about it for a few months now, knowing that the day would come where the power play cooled off and the team would need more from 5-on-5 play. Today appears to be that day.
Further, the penalty kill also struggled. Texas stopped 19 of 28 opponent power plays in the homestand (67.9 percent). That's far below their previous mark of 87.7 percent and pulls their overall number down to 84.7 percent.
Reflecting on the homestand, Jamie Oleksiak said, "You cant take any game lightly. We had a really good first half of the year and got a little bit too confident."
Desjardins summed it up, "If you're going to be a playoff team, there's a lot of things we have to do better."
The Toronto Marlies brought a physical game, but Texas brought all the goals as the Stars burned up the Marlies by a final of 6-0. Maxime Fortunus earned first star honors with two goals and an assist in the game. Chris Mueller joined him on the score sheet with two goals of his own late in the contest.
"We knew it was a first place game, so there would be a lot of emotions in it," said Curtis McKenzie, who scored a goal in the game. "They're a big tough team. We tried to stay to our discipline. That's not really our identity."
McKenzie also added a fight among a combined 94 penalty minutes for the two clubs, each first place in their respective divisions.
"It was a close game early," added Desjardins, referring to the 1-0 score after one. "They've played three in three, which is a tough thing to do. We had lots of advantages but even with those, they are a tough team and they play you hard."
Fortunus agreed, "We knew that coming into a three-in-three they weren't going to fall down and let us walk all over them."
The power play got back to business as usual with a 3-for-11 performance, bringing their mark over the last three games to 4-for-24. It's still not where they have been historically on the season, but it's a good start against the top team in the North Division.
The win also insured that Texas didn't lose three in a row at home, which would clearly fly in the face of their stated goal to improve their play at home this season.
"We've been saying since the beginning of the season that we wanted to win at home. It's our turf and we have to get all the points we can at home."
Cristopher Nilstorp was one of several Stars to return from injury in the game. The Swedish goalie put up a 19-save shutout performance.
It was a game to forget for the Texas Stars on Sunday in Cedar Park as the Oklahoma City Barons came to town and put up seven on the home club. The 7-4 loss came less than 24 hours after the Stars put up a 6-0 rout of the third place Toronto Marlies.
"That seems to be a common trend with us right now," said Ryan Button, who had a goal in the game. "It happened in Charlotte; we got spanked pretty good the night after playing a good game. Same thing tonight. For whatever reason we didn't have it tonight. That's unacceptable."
The Stars never had the lead and tied the game several times only to give up a Barons' goal less than a minute later. Former Texas goalie and tonight's starter for OKC, Richard Bachman, was encouraged to see that response from his skaters.
"That's huge for me and the group right now. At the beginning of the year, we would get back on our heels after a goal. It's good to see us respond after a goal."
The Stars had trouble stringing together more than one pass and getting out of their own zone on the breakout. Ryan Button agreed and extended the point.
"We didn't play Texas Stars hockey for sixty minutes. We played it in spurts, and we were really good in those spurts. When we were just slapping the puck around, that's not Texas Stars hockey. We won't succeed if we play that way."
Desjardins had a more blunt assessment of the night, "They just beat us tonight. They were the better team, and they beat us. We have to find ways to be better."
Looking to close out their homestand on an up note, the Texas Stars fell tonight to the OKC Barons by a score of 5-2. The loss put their homestand record at 3-4 with wins against some of the best in the conference and losses against some of the worst.
Oleksiak and Travis Morin were the Stars' goal scorers in the contest. Morin's 27th tally of the season tied his own franchise record for points in a season at 66. It was one of only a few bright spots in the game.
"I don't think we played well enough," said Desjardins. "OKC played well, they didn't give us a lot. Our special teams weren't good enough the past few games and that's the difference between winning and losing."
Barons head coach Todd Nelson was impressed by his teams' effort on the PK and PP in the two games.
"Special teams were huge. The power play created a few goals. We did a good job on the PK against the best power play in the league."
The Stars had a chance to move into first place in the conference with a win but will instead fall to fourth in the conference as Abbotsford passes them for first in the West Division.
"It's a tough loss to swallow," said Oleksiak. "The work ethic was there, but we couldn't execute. We have to bury those chances and get out of this funk."
Josh Robinson took the loss, stopping 27 of 31 shots against. Richard Bachman got the win, stopping 35 of 37.
The Week Ahead
Texas sets out on the road to play two games before the All-Star Break. Both will be against the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames) in British Columbia. The Heat just passed Texas for first in the division, so it will be a tight battle and a chance for Texas to reclaim the lead.
Still injured for Texas:
- Jack Campbell - Tendonitis in the knee with no timetable
- Patrik Nemeth - foot surgery in late December that had a timetable of 4-6 weeks. He should be back soon.
- Toby Petersen - 'upper body' issue requiring surgery, out 6-8 weeks.
- Taylor Vause - currently on crutches and with a boot on his left foot, no timetable for return