Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars at Oklahoma City Barons, Game 1

Texas Stars
48-18-3-7, 106 pts
#1 Western Conference
atOklahoma City Barons
36-29-2-9, 91 pts
#8 Western Conference
Series tied 0-0

April 23rd at 7:00 PM
Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK

Welcome to the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs. It's been a long slog to get here. Training camp in Dallas, training camp in Texas. Preseason in Dallas, preseason in Texas. For some, preseason and training camp in Idaho as well. 76 games of a regular season that saw these Texas Stars finish with a franchise-record 106 points.

League MVP, rookie of the year, division champs, conference champs, league champs. Checks all down the list.

Best home record, top five road record. Franchise record 12 game home win streak, 11 game overall winning streak, and 13 game point streak. Yup, got all those.

Alright, now take all of that and put it in the rear view mirror. Texas certainly is doing just that.

Mike Hedden (Credit: Steven Christy)
After last season's 4-1 series defeat at the hands of these same Oklahoma City Barons, the Texas Stars know that there is nothing handed to them for having the number 1 by their name in the standings. It was seemingly inexplicable for the Stars to lose out to the Barons after the season they had last year. If you want a recap of how that felt, read my Game 5 postgame from last year.

More reading on that series here and here. I think the Stars are going to need some of the things that bit them last year to turn the other way to win this series.

Injuries
Last year it turned out that five of the top six forwards were battling some sort of injury in the series. Right now with some time off over the last two weeks, it looks like Texas is mostly healthy. The health of Brett Ritchie is the biggest question mark for the club. He definitely slots in with Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden if healthy. If not, that's a 48 point player out of the lineup and one who has been red-hot at times in the year, having a seven game point streak snapped by the shutout in San Antonio two weekends ago.

This goes both ways though. Mark Arcobello has 10 goals and 18 assists on the season in just 15 games played. He hasn't suited up for the Barons since March 15th though, due to a shoulder injury. Multiple sources have reported on Twitter that Arcobello could be in for Saturday's Game 2. All the more reason for Texas to make sure they are geared up for tonight's game to pounce on a club lacking a big threat on offense. The Barons will also be missing newcomer defenseman Darnell Nurse, who will also be a possibility to return on Saturday according to Coach Nelson.

Best players being the best players
Last year Matt Fraser had zero points in the series against OKC. Chiasson had just one, an assist on the meaningless final goal of the series to make it 5-1 Barons. This season, Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie and the aforementioned Dowling, Ritchie and Hedden are the top active scorers in the season series for Texas. If they are successful, Texas is successful. If not, well, the Stars have a pretty good basis of secondary scoring. However, a series where those five players are severely limited in their offense is not one the Stars would be favored to win.

That brings up the next point...

Goaltending
Last year, Yann Danis had the Stars' number. The Stars were outscored 16-4 in the Cox Center. Cristopher Nilstorp wasn't really to blame for the score against either. Texas wasn't giving him a lot to work with on defense. Rebounds were the order of the series and blue liners were not clearing out Barons skaters or the puck.

This year, despite having nine goaltenders on the roster over the season, Coach Desjardins believes the Barons have had the 'most stable' goaltending in the league thanks to former Star Richard Bachman. In 52 games, he had a worse than usual 2.99 GAA and 0.908 SV%. However, it was his consistent effort that gave the Barons 26 of their 36 total wins on the season. Against Texas, he is 4-5 this season in nine games with a 3.11 GAA and .916 SV%.

On Texas' side, any word on the goaltending decision is locked up tighter than Fort Knox. Jack Campbell is 2-0 against the Barons this season; Nilstorp is 5-3. Campbell is 12-2-2 this season and has been otherworldly at times for the Stars. Then again, Nilstorp hasn't lost in regulation since February 17th. We probably won't know anything until tomorrow's morning skate.

Other notes
  • Starting on the road is of course less than ideal, but to a man the Stars said that those were the cards they were dealt. Their job is to show up and win the games, regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
  • Texas holds the season series advantage at 8-3-0-1. However, as I said at the top, none of that matters anymore. It's playoffs.
  • Both teams should look to stay out of the box, as OKC has the third best power play in the league. Texas is first.
  • The PK stats might favor Texas if it comes down to it though. The Stars are third best in the league overall and on the road. OKC is fourth worst at home and third worst overall. Maybe if Texas can goad overall PIMs leader Pinizzotto into taking some undisciplined penalties, that would work to their advantage.
  • Texas signed Dallas second round pick and goaltender Philippe Desrosiers to an ATO. He will play the black ace role for Campbell and Nilstorp, getting a feel for the team and giving them a break in practice. He won't play.
Stars injury/call up report:
Mueller, Jeffrey, Nemeth (call up)
Hulak, Ritchie (questionable)
Klingberg (out, hip surgery)

I'm going to remove Colton Sceviour from the call up list for good. If you want more explanation why, read this.

Website: okcbarons.com
Blog: Tend the Farm
Newspaper: NewsOK's Barons Hockey
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

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