The Texas Stars (3-1-1-0, 7 pts, #7 Western Conference) had a pretty mediocre week. After going 3-0 to start the season, they dropped two in a row to the Oklahoma City Barons. They got a point in a frenetic overtime effort on Saturday, which was the first time the Texas Stars or the Cedar Park Center crowd experienced the AHL's new 3-on-3 overtime.
To review, the AHL made several changes to overtime this year. The American League has long been a testing ground for new rules that could one day roll up to the NHL. The shootout, the trapezoid, and hybrid icing were all play tested in the AHL before going to the NHL.
The same as the NHL, the AHL added a dry scrape before OT and had the teams swap ends for the long change. The AHL went further, extending OT to seven minutes and dropping the manpower to 3-on-3 at the first whistle after three minutes elapsed in the period. The Stars got to OT in preseason but didn't make it to 3-on-3. Last Saturday, they did.
I will say that it was a lot of open ice. That much is obvious. The Stars opted for two forwards and a defenseman because Coach Laxdal felt, "Our forwards were creating a lot of energy and we taxed our defenseman in the third." The result was a very messy looking battle. Brett Ritchie manned the point for a while as Maxime Fortunus went down low on a play. At one point, all three Barons were fanned out with one at the point and one at the top of each circle and no one at the net. The game ended, as you might have guessed, on a 2-on-1.
Part of this weirdness is definitely the coaches and players not being familiar with the 3-on-3 situation. I'm sure the first coach to pull his goalie and play 6-on-5 didn't have a huge book of strategies outlined. That's part of the point of testing this in the AHL. Coaches can work on strategies and players can get used to how to react to them.
Travis Morin, who had a hat trick and an assist, didn't mince words in his postgame interview.
"Three on three is a goofy situation on the ice. I am not a fan of it, but whatever."
Regardless of how it looks on the ice early on, the good news is that it's working. If the goal was to reduce shootouts, it has done that. AHL reporter Bob Howard ran the numbers. As you can see, it's striking.
Through 77 games, we have just two in the shootout, as opposed to 16 last year. So if you don't like the shootout, maybe you'll hate 3-on-3 overtime less? Well, at least that's the hope.
The Texas Stars could not overcome a three-goal second period from the Oklahoma City Barons and suffered their first loss on the young season. The final score was 5-3 for the home team.
Texas was plagued by ill-timed penalties that broke up momentum and gave the Barons two power play goals. Jack Campbell took his first loss of the season, giving up five goals on 26 shots. Goal scorers for the Stars in the contest included defensemen Cameron Gaunce and John Klingberg. Travis Morin picked up his 200th AHL assist and 300th AHL point in the loss.
The game showed that Jason Williams and Iiro Pakarinen are going to be tough competitors for the Barons this season. OKC will play Texas a total of twelve times this season.
The Stars mini-series against the Barons is not turning out as well as last year's playoff matchup. Through three games, OKC has taken two of the contests and lit up the Stars offensively in the process. Despite a four point night from their leading scorer, Travis Morin, including a hat trick, the Stars ended up on the wrong side of a 6-5 OT score after trailing by three in the third period.
"It's tough to lose it when you expend a lot of energy in the third period to get back from a 5-2 deficit," said Coach Derek Laxdal. "You have to give the guys credit. That's a big point you didn't have going into the third period."
By the end of the first period, the Stars were down by two. At the end of the second, it was a three goal margin. Yet still the club found itself in overtime thanks to the efforts of vets Travis Morin and Greg Rallo.
"We obviously weren't happy with the first two periods," said Morin. "We wanted to push the pace and the tempo and throw everything at them."
A shift at forward to put Derek Hulak on a line with Morin and Brendan Ranford immediately bore fruit. Hulak had the primary assist on two goals in the first five minutes to set the difference at just one.
"When it gets down to one goal there in the last few minutes, that's the time to send everything really. We were doing whatever we could to try to get two points."
Greg Rallo tucked it under the crossbar from the left wing side with just 1.9 seconds left in regulation.
After the dry scrape, the Stars and Barons made it to 3-on-3 OT for the first time this season. It was Matt Ford of OKC scoring there on a 2-on-1 play for the win.
Coach Laxdal summarized the game saying that his club needed to tighten up defensively and get better on special teams.
The Week Ahead
The Stars play tonight against the Barons once more. They'll hop on a jet plane and head over to Cleveland for two games against the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche) on Friday and Saturday.
Defenseman William Wrenn and forward Greg Rallo both returned from injury this past weekend.