The last time we checked in with the Barons they were beginning an eight game home stand that had the potential to wield precious standings points quite early in the season. The West Division teams of the AHL appear to be playing a game of "last man standing" in the standings as the teams have pushed and shoved each other off the top several times in the last month. Since playing in Hamilton on national television, the Barons have won six of their last seven games including the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Linus Omark's 5 game outburst that many Oilers and Barons fans alike had been waiting to see.
The Barons got a smidge of a break this week as they played a Tuesday night and Friday night set of games that both featured early start times (the latter as a result of the OKC Thunder playing across the street). The two opponents were familiar faces in the Cox Center. The surging San Antonio Rampage led by the Ohio State grad (I'm a biased Buckeye) Mathieu Beaudoin are a whisker away from leading the West Division. The Chicago Wolves, on the other hand, are struggling to get to .500 on the year as they have taken some punishment on the road along the way. There seems to be an ongoing theme within the Barons locker room, one that pertains to consistency and focus; the teams two biggest hurdles throughout the first month of the AHL season. Would they rise to the occasion and gain some ground in the West Division on this short weekend?
Ramp It Up
The San Antonio Rampage (Phoenix Coyotes) are a beastly, in the trenches, type of team. Not necessarily mean, but certainly gutsy. The goal scoring tandem of Mathiew Beaudoin and Alexandre Picarde make for a tough matchup defensively for the Barons. The team is coached by Ray Edwards, a familiar face to Oklahoma City hockey fans as he is the former head coach of the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League. For the Barons, coming into the tilt versus the Rampage Linus Omark is tied with Portland's rookie sensation Luke Adam for goals on the season. Shawn Belle, Ryan O'Marra, and Alexandre Giroux all have over ten assists on the year which places all three in the top twenty in the league.
Right out of the gate, everyone's favorite 'rehaber' Jean-Francois Jacques took a low, glove-side shot on visiting goaltender Al Montoya after assists from Teemu Hartikainen as well a newly healthy Jake Taylor. At the 4:00 mark, following a 5 on 3 advantage, Alexandre Picarde would go glove side on starting Barons goaltender, Jeff Deslauriers to make it 1-1. Two minutes later, the Barons would turn the puck over in neutral ice, as Rampage's Jed Ortemeyer sailed towards the puck and again abused JDD's glove side making it 2-1. Towards the end of period one Gregory Stewart would get his first goal of the season on a mighty wrist shot. As the period ended it was Barons 2, Rampage 2.
The second period began with a glimmer of excitement as Teemu Hartikainen tapped in a rebound following a Liam Reddox strong drive to the net. However, the 3-2 lead for the Barons only last briefly as Brett Maclean scored on Deslauriers blocker side. The second period featured far too many turnovers, penalties, and mental mistakes. The period ended 3-3, but the momentum was clearly in favor of the Rampage.
The third period continued the Barons penalty and turnover troubles. Matthew Beaudoin again scored on Deslauriers glove-side as did Maxime Goncharav's blue line blast. The Barons now found themselves in a 5-3 hole and unable to dig out. With around a minute remaining in period three, Deslauriers was pulled and the extra attacker for the Barons came on. The Rampage's Andrew Ebbett sealed the deal with an empty netter as the Barons would hiccup their way to a 6-3 beating.
Jacques would play strong enough to get the third start of the game, but the lame goaltending by Deslauriers, and the souring of the defensive core were just to large an obstacle to overcome on Tuesday night.
Howl Are You Doing?
The Chicago Wolves and Oklahoma City Barons have split their last two meetings with both teams losing at home. The Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers) feature a slew of Alberta natives including Lethbridge's own Spencer Machacek who has back-to-back twenty goal seasons and is always on the radar of the Thrasher's big wigs. Getting the rare start for the Wolves was Peter Mannino who typically backs up Edward Pasquale who has carried the team through the first month of the season. However, the night would not go the way of the Wolf, but rather be a tremendous performance by Liam Reddox who had really amped up his game a few notches earlier in the week against the San Antonio Rampage.
Steadily, Martin Gerber has become a consistent net-minder for the Barons with a record of 9-4 with three of those losses being the first three games of the season. His importance to the Barons success has been underestimated of late. The .911 save percentage as well as the nearly 400 shots he's faced further highlight the on/off defensive play by young blue liners. He'd get the start in net against Chicago, and once again demonstrate his significance on this team.
It was a torrid first period for the Barons, and for one player in particular. Liam Reddox has been a driving force behind the offense of late. He drives the net, and creates offensive opportunities like no one else on this team. It's no wonder that the Oilogosphere is so high on this guy. Reddox stole the puck on a short handed opportunity in the first period, made a quick move, and beat Mannino to earn his second short-handed goal of the season. Colin McDonald would score to end the first period while Alexandre Giroux and Brad Moran assisted. It was the rare first period that an opposing goal didn't put the Barons down early. Reddox played well, but the first period was won by Martin Gerber as he stopped sixteen shots.
Liam Reddox would widen the margin towards victory by scoring at the 5:53 mark of the second period after some great stick work by Linus Omark. JF Jacques still in "take it easy" mode wasn't taking it easy as he squared off with 6' 7" 240lb. Boris Valabak that brought Jacques down to the ice. After a quick trip to the dressing room, he returned unscathed, and 100%. The Wolves wouldn't lay down quietly as Spencer Machacek would score twice to close the gap on the Barons. Still leading 3-2, but heading into the third period, I began to wonder if the Barons had traded their first period
The third period borrowed from the dominance of the first. Chris Vande Velde, Brad Moran, and finally Shawn Belle all scored to nail the coffin closed on the Wolves. Gerber made 35 stops on the night which earned him the third star of the game as well as his 7th consecutive win. However, it was Liam Reddox who won the night. His work in front of the net tipped the scales in the Barons favor and earned them the important "W".
News & Notations
It was a strange week of games for the Barons as they played Tuesday night and early on Friday night followed by no Saturday or Sunday games. Following Saturday's game, the Barons would not play again until Friday evening against the Texas Stars. This long "layover" of sorts allowed the players to take in an Oklahoma Sooners football game in Norman. However, they'll jump right back into practice Monday or Tuesday.
Following Saturday night's game, fans were encouraged to head to the ice to take part in a "Win A Turkey" promotion put forth by a local grocery chain. Each fan was given the opportunity to shoot the puck on an empty net to win a voucher for a free turkey. Perfect for the Thanksgiving season. I'm aware of only two that actually made it into the net, much to the disappointment of Canadians everywhere. Hey, we're from Oklahoma. Not much ice here.
With the dangerously painful play of the big team of late, there has been much chatter about call-ups, call-downs, and everything in between. High on that list of chatter are two guys that I've grown to love; Liam Reddox and Shawn Belle. Both fill two very different roles on the team, but both find ways to help their team win. Will this be an answer for the Oilers problems? Absolutely not, but the time for a Baron on the Oilers roster is fast approaching.
As mentioned earlier, Jacques has been playing strong over his conditioning stint which has now been completed. His back seems fine , and he certainly has tested its strength in fights and hard hits around the boards. He's a great cog in the Barons wheel, but has he ever been anything more than a great AHLer?
The Charlotte Checkers and Oklahoma City Barons played the most games to open the 2010-2011 season. Now, as the Barons get a breather the rest of the Wester Conference will catch up. As of today, the Barons find themselves tied for second place in the Western Division behind the San Antonio Rampage and the Milwaukee Admirals. League wide they are tied for fifth place. Quite remarkable for those that endured the Springfield days.
The Barons continue to have the best penalty kill in the AHL at .909%. Away from home ice they are even better at .939%. The powerplay is another story. At 102 man advantages to start the season they have only netted 17 goals along with allowing three short handers.
Shawn Belle continues to lead all defenseman with 2 goals, 13 assists, and 21 penalty minutes. Equally, he is doing a decent job on the powerplay as 6 of those assists have come at a man advantage.
What about some other Barons? Phillippe Cornet continues to battle with an undisclosed injury, but is expected to return on Friday's game against the Texas Stars. Alex Plante has been silenced of late after sharing a lead in fighting minutes for the first month of the season. Milan Kytnar continues to improve, but struggles to get the ceterman minutes over O'Marra, Moran, and Vande Velde. Johan Motin, Taylor Chorney, and Jeff Petry all got good workouts defending on the powerplay, especially in Tuesday's game.
November 19th : Texas Stars at Oklahoma City Barons
November 21st : Milwaukee Admirals at Oklahoma City Barons
November 23rd : Milwaukee Admirals at Oklahoma City Barons