The Texas Stars sit at 5-6-0-1 through 12 games, good for 13th place in the Western Conference, just four points behind 8th place with as many as three games in hand on teams above them. After losing seven of eight they now ride a three game point streak (2-0-0-1) into the weekend and are looking to building some momentum.
The Stars have been struggling, despite Cody Eakin and Tomas Vincour's best efforts, to find the net consistently at just 2.25 goals per game. Their -10 goal differential on the year is the second worst in the West after Peoria (at -22, ouch).
Job number one, however, has been to fix the special teams which have been among the league's very worst, statistically. They enjoy that three-game point streak because they've done just that. According to Mark Stepneski at Stars Insider Edge Texas is 15 of 16 on the penalty kill over their last three contests, and 4 of 16 (25%) on the power play.
Power play goals such as Matt Fraser's Thursday night...
Tonight they find the (mysteriously in the Western Conference...) Charlotte Checkers visiting the Cedar Park Center for the second time already this young season. Texas won the first matchup in a shootout after making a two goal comeback in the third period thanks to a short-handed tally from Cody Eakin and a blast from Cam Barker. The Checkers were out-played in the contest but used their power play to build a lead. Staying out of the box continues to be key for the young team.
The mystery of where Scott Glennie was and why has been settled with the forward playing in the last four contests, notching his first goal Thursday night as you saw in those highlights. He's being used in a fourth-line role along side Luke Gazdic and Antoine Roussel, though how many minutes is anyone's guess as the AHL doesn't offer time-on-ice stats.
Taylor Vause received the early favor of the coaching staff while Glennie and Austin Smith sat out but has started to see some scratches after failing to accumulate a single point to go along with his -8 rating in seven games played. Vause and Mike Hedden have been supplanted by Glennie and a now healthy Colton Sceviour, who is vital to the team's success and leadership.
The cavalcade of forwards on the roster makes decisions (and continuity) tough on Desjardins, and as Stephen notes at Hundred Degree Hockey, no one will be given preferential treatment...
However, it's a numbers game. It was set to be a hard year for players like Hedden and Vause once the lockout started. The good news for those two players is that Desjardins plans to rotate them into the lineup ahead of Austin Smith.
"We have a few guys up who aren't in the lineup. It's hard to bring someone in [A. Smith] and sit the guys that have been with you all year [Hedden, Vause]. Austin looks better and is getting his confidence. The other guys will probably get a chance first though."
Again, there is no regard for pedigree or draft status from Desjardins, and that's probably a very good thing. Scott Glennie, who potted his first of the year last night, sat for eight games this season. If the first round draft pick can take a seat for under-performing, Austin Smith is definitely going to have to show that he has earned his ice in practice to bump out one of the players already in. [More at Hundred Degree Hockey]
So musical chairs will continue, with Austin Smith wondering when he'll get a chance to become accustomed to the American League. Meanwhile Alex Chiasson sits on his lone tally in eight games played with a -1 rating on the year. Like both Smiths and Glennie, his much anticipated addition of offense at this level is yet to be seen as adjustment periods continue.
Success in hockey, it is often said, is built from the net out. Christopher Nilstorp's second consecutive win Thursday night was the first time all season long that Texas has started the same netminder in back to back contests. "3 in 3's" and the AHL's busy weekends make it harder to stick with one guy for a significant stretch of time, but consistency in net and a clear "number one" could go a long way in stabilizing this young team's season as the games start coming at a quicker pace and the competition heats up.
You can watch the Texas Stars online tonight via ahllive.com (for about six bucks) if you're as desperate for hockey as some of us are. They'll also be available for your viewing pleasure the Wednesday and Friday surrounding Thanksgiving next week.