As those in the lower 48 (+2) stuffed themselves of yams, sweet potatoes, and deep fried turkeys, there indeed was some incredible Barons hockey amongst these festive times. The eight game home stand would come to an end, and our beloved Barons would come out on tops with a record of 5-2-1. This is quite an incredible mark considering their opponents were Western Division rivals (Chicago, Houston, Texas, San Antonio, and Milwaukee), and formidable Northern opponents (Toronto and Lake Erie). With Martin Gerber in the bigs until Nikolai Khabibulin returns to the lineup (EE-GADS!), it's all Jeff Deslauriers all the time. And big Shawn Belle heads back to the Barons lineup for the Lake Erie games this week after his stint with the Oilers.
As we have now breached the 20 game mark I find myself becoming sentimental. During the swells of Oklahoma summer heat did I envision this team to be this good? I'd like to think that I did. However, the most surprising feat to me is not how great the team has played, or how well they have challenged for the Western Division lead, but the progress of the individuals. Indeed that is why the "A" exists, to further the skill of sharpshooters like Linus Omark, daredevil net drivers like Liam Reddox, and beastly blue liners like Shawn Belle. Following this week's game recaps I've included a VERY brief commentary of the team up until this point in the season.
The Barons rounded out their eight game home stand this past week by dialing in on a Milwaukee Admirals team (Nashville Predators) after playing them a few nights before amongst a break out game of sorts for captain Ben Ondrus who accomplished something he hadn't done in over a year as he netted two goals in one game. The Ads would go down 5-2 in that Sunday game. So as they arrived on Tuesday, it was bound to be an angry sort of revenge-fest? Or was it?
The final two games of the week began the Barons five game road-trip as they traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to slay the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche) whom I sometimes forget are affiliated with the Central League Tulsa Oilers that Oklahoma City hockey fans remember dearly (Mr. Fleck, can you hear me?). In two previous meetings this year, the Barons mashed the Monsters in fine form and even earned Martin Gerber his first shutout as an OKC goaltender when he stopped 35 shots by Erie forwards on October 19th. Would the Barons be able to scare the Monsters and escape the Q with a W?
Barons Seize the Ship
The Milwaukee Admirals have lost their last three games including a Sunday night 5-2 smashup by the Barons. But it's not all about wins and losses for them. They have the fire-power, just not the tenacity of late to get it done. A great example of this is the Ad's version of Linus Omark, named, you guessed it, Linus. Linus Klasen is on my "must watch list" of players in the AHL. He resembles Linus Omark in so many ways that it feels wrong. He hangs on to the puck a long time, makes insanely interesting passes, and scores in bunches when firing on all cylinders.
In net for the Barons was Jeff Deslauriers, who's trying to remain consistent as he becomes more comofortable with the team. For the Admirals it was BC native and Colgate grad Mark Dekanich who is the tender that carries the load for this Milwaukee team.
The story of the game quickly became the power play. Coming in to this matchup the Admirals were 0-21 with a man advantage, and they were looking to squelch that quickly. However, it was not meant to be. As we have all learned over the last month or so, the Barons penalty kill is beyond exceptional, and that wouldn't fair well for the Ad's. The Barons, on the other hand, have indeed had issues of their own scoring on the power play, but have scored on the PP in six straight games. At 10:03 of period one, Linus Omark scored a power play goal after rebounding his own shot. At 11:49 of period two, Colin McDonald scored off great pointman work from Taylor Chorney and Alex Plante. Less than a minute into period three, Liam Reddox drove the net and scored to put the Barons safely up 3-0. Getting his second power play goal of the evening was Linus Omark who received a sensational pass from Brad Moran after Jeff Petry danced by a defender. At 4-0, the Barons protected the lead very well. The Admirals mustered only one goal in the final moments of the game after Jordan Bendfeld, who was called in to relieve Shawn Belle who was called up to the Oilers, fell out of position as right winger Chris Mueller rifled a shot past Deslauriers.
The Barons 3 for 7 power play total, and their 3 penalty kills was the deciding factor. The Barons would not return home to the Cox Center until December 7th, but this was certainly a nice send off.
Loch Ness? More Like Loch Less!
The Q in Cleveland never disappoints. Amongst a crowd well over 10,000 strong, the Barons performed well in a sometimes hostile environment. The Lake Erie Monsters, now playing in their seventh game in ten days were a tired bunch, but they met the Barons stride for stride...until the third period when their legs became spaghetti-like as the Barons worked them over. Fatigue killed the Monster.
In what has become a common practice, Liam Reddox would score the first goal of the game short-handed after a sweet saucer pass from Ben Ondrus that hit Reddox's stick perfectly. Reddox is in a four-way tie for the most short-handers on the season. Ironically in that four-way tie lies Lake Erie's rookie center Mike Carman. The game went back and forth with Jeff Deslauriers making some great stops throughout period one. The Monsters would roar back in period two with goals from Luke Walker and leading goal scorer for the Monsters Mark Olver. The Monsters veteran goalie, John Grahame, won the period after stopping 13 high percentage shots. Grahame, one of the oldest players in the AHL at 35 is a familiar face. He's logged considerable time with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes. Down 2-1, the Barons had to step it up a notch to knock one in behind Grahame. With seven minutes left in the game, Linus Omark plowed right over Grahame to score what appeared to be the equalizing goal. Instead, the officials ruled it a no goal (thanks to lack of replay in the minors). But all was not lost as Colin McDonald stretched to reach a pass from Reddox and tapped in the tying goal.
With the Monsters gassed by the time overtime rolled around, the Barons scored quickly to win the game. Colin McDonald put home the game winner, his tenth of the season, as he received a perfect pass in front of the net from Alex Plante. Barons win, but live to face the Monsters tomorrow at high noon.
Monsters Snap Us In Three
Jeff Deslauriers seems to have found his rhythm in net for the Barons. He's won three in a row and only allowed 5 goals in 76 shots on netl. Not a bad percentage for a guy that has only played 7 games as a Baron thus far. Shawn Belle, returning to the team the night before, appeared to be struggling from a little jet lag as he had yet to contribute offensively which had become a nightly occurrence pre-call up to the Oilers. The Barons were enjoying a three game win streak, and certainly would have loved to continue that trend despite playing less than 16 hours prior to Saturday's puck drop at the Q.
Ryan Stoa is a player that had slumped for the Monsters despite his time spend with the Avalanche. He was due a good one, and a good one he had. The first period scoring began with Mark Olver who scored his second in two games, and Ryan Stoa again on the power play. The score would stay 2-0 in favor of the Monsters throughout period two. Period three the Barons came back with a Jeff Petry power play goal, his fourth of the season. Jeff Petry got into the action as he shot a pass that was deflected and rebounded by Brad Moran. The Barons and Monsters were now tied at 2 all.
The Monsters finished strong with one even strength goal and two more on the powerplay to finish of the Barons despite a goal by Colin McDonald near the end of period three. Ryan Stoa had two power play goals on the evening. Bad stat-o-the night? Jeff Deslauriers let in three goals in the final frame on only five shot attempts, and the Barons epic power play kill looked more like the team north of the border as they went 3/5 on the kill. On the other end of the ice, the Monsters swapped penalty kill skills, and only let in one goal on six chances for the Barons power play. And despite outshooting their opponent 31-18, the Barons just couldn't get it done while Monster's goaltender Trevor Cann had his game of the season. In the end, terrible penalties, bad kill play, and embarrassing goaltending ended the Barons five game road win streak. Nothing like a long trip to south Texas to think long, and hard about a bad loss which has become a rare thing for these Barons.
Highs, Lows, and Watch List
The highs for me thus far are Linus Omark with 12 goals, 5 of which came in one game. He is averaging over a point a game, and is a dazzler to watch. The $$$ line of Moran, Giroux, McDonald has been reshuffled of late, but they account for 25 of the 75 goals on the season. Teemu Hartikainen's +/- looks bad at -11 on the season, his 7 goals and 3 assists, his perfet 3-3 shootout tally, and his work around the boards is tough. Shawn Belle is admired for his strong skates, and hard shot, but his consistent play has been tops in the AHL amongst defenseman. Liam Reddox is tough to beat when driving to the net. Not reckless, but ruthless are his tears in front of the net. His 11 goals on the season are proof that he's never met a goal crease he didn't crash. Martin Gerber, through 13 games, has been dynamite. A record of 9-4 is nice coupled with a .911 average is consistently helpful. Can we have him back please?
The lows for me begin with Alexandre Giroux. How can he make two lists? Two words: Moran and McDonald. He benefits the most from great play from his linemates. However, he gives up the puck far too often, and he gets a little sleepy even more often. His lazy puck management makes me want to scream. Philippe Cornet, plagued with injury, hasn't had a chance to make a name on this team, but neither have Matt Marquardt or Gregory Stewart. The left wing heaviness of this team (including Jacques when he was around) has placed some of these guys in the back seat. Sure they contribute, but those deep liners need to man up. The Oklahoma City attendance has been dreadful. Averaging less than 4,000 per night with this team is unforgivable in my eyes. This places them 23rd in the AHL. Not good.
The faces to watch on this team are certainly on defense. Petiot and Motin have had some very interesting games of late. Nothing that the stat sheet reveals, but they've worked hard with little credit. The captain, Ben Ondrus, has been excellent on the face-off. Although the AHL doesn't keep detailed records of this, I'd guess (after watching every game) that he wins nearly 65% of his faceoffs. Come crunch time, he's your guy to win it. Milan Kytnar and Chris Vande Velde have had difficulty scoring, but once again this team leans towards the left wing so it comes as no surprise they haven't scored. Where they have excelled is in offensive defense. Both make few errors in their offensive zones. I'm sure I left a few out, but these are my initial early season reactions.
Up Next For The Barons
November 30th at Texas Stars
December 3rd at Manitoba Moose
December 4th at Manitoba Moose
December 7th vs Houston Aeros
December 19th vs. Manitoba Moose