It was not a shiny penny week for the Texas Stars (4-2-2, 8pts, 7th Western Conference). The defending champs went 1-1-1 against competition that they probably should have had at least four if not all six points against. The Stars needed overtime to beat the Barons (Edmonton Oilers) on Wednesday and then dropped both weekend contests against a below-.500 Lake Erie Monsters club (Colorado Avalanche).
So what's eating this club in the early going?
The one thing that is not a problem is goal scoring. Texas can score in bunches and is. They average 3.25 goals for per game on the season and that includes a 1-0 win against Utica a few weeks ago. The issue is the leaky defensive effort the team has put up. The Stars are bottom six in goals against, allowing a whopping 3.50 goals per game.
Coach Derek Laxdal is the first to admit that defensive play is not where he wants it to be. He pointed out that his team's defensive zone coverage has "a lot of work to do." Then he went a step further.
"You've gotta look at goaltending," said Laxdal. "We're giving up under 25 [shots]. We shouldn't give up more than 2 goals at home."
Indeed, Jack Campbell and Jussi Rynnas have a combined save percentage of .884. The high scoring offense is masking their troubles in net.
The team is not allowing an exorbitant number of shots, just 29.25 per contest. One thing that is absolutely not helping is the penalty kill. Texas is at 77.8% on the season, bottom five in the league and quite atypical.
One aspect of last year's team that could be part of the change is the personnel shift on defense. Gone are big bodied defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, replaced by offensive minded Julius Honka and John Klingberg. Those two players are more ready to jump in the rush than the other two and certainly less likely to use the body to muscle out a forward and lower shot quality and quantity.
It's a work in progress, but it is looking more and more like the Stars are going to be working hard to ensure they stay in the playoff picture this season with all of the talented teams in the West.
Another overtime game against the Barons saw a different result for the home team Texas Stars as they triumphed in the extra session by a 5-4 mark tonight in Cedar Park. In the back-and-forth game, the Stars did not hold a lead until the final goal of the game in overtime, coming back from three separate deficits to match the Barons and tie the game.
"You can't take anything away from OKC," said Coach Laxdal. "They are a great team and have great team speed. They can strike pretty quick."
In the end, it was Justin Dowling with a quick strike to end things in the overtime period. Texas found itself on the power play to start overtime and cashed in for their third PPG on six opportunities in the contest.
"Obviously there was a lot of room out there," said Dowling. "We were trying to keep the puck moving and try to get it on net. Klingberg probably could have shot that. He had the whole lane, but he made a great pass."
The Stars got behind early tonight, allowing a 5-on-3 power play goal just two minutes into the contest, and never really recovered. Lake Erie was up 4-0 by the five minute mark of the second period and that was really all they needed. Maxime Fortunus and Derek Meech scored from the backend for Texas, but an empty net goal for Lake Erie made it a 5-2 final. Jussi Rynnas stopped 16 of 20 shots before getting replaced by Jack Campbell, who stopped all 12 he faced.
Another early deficit for Texas ended up putting them behind the eight ball all night. Lake Erie scored two goals in the first five minutes of the game. The Stars overcame the slow start thanks to a late 6-on-5 goal by Brett Ritchie but fell in overtime on a shot that beat Jack Campbell gloveside high.
Derek Meech had three assists in the game, his 400th in the AHL. John Klingberg picked up a goal and an assist. Jack Campbell got the start and stopped 20 of 24 shots.
The Week Ahead
The Stars will play the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) tonight, their first matchup since Texas ended their season in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Stars will then hit the road and play a pair in Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes)
None currently. Mike Dalhuisen and Branden Troock have been assigned to Idaho due to the return of Sergei Gonchar and Valeri Nichushkin up the chain, respectively.