It was no surprise that earlier this week the Oilers announced that Jeff Deslauriers was being placed on waivers. What did surprise Oilers fans was how long it took for the "powers that be" to make such a decision as they had been rolling with three goaltenders, two of which hadn't seen a start since the opening puck drop of the 2010 season. The second bit of Oilers news came, once again, at no surprise as Jean-Francois Jacques, who has been attempting a comeback from the IR, would be on the same plane with Deslauriers headed to the great plains of Oklahoma. Two names that fans had known for some time, but had little knowledge of when they might be reshuffled amongst the organizations deck of cards.
These two names grabbed the week's headlines as the Barons welcomed a Friday/Saturday/Sunday beginning to an eight game home stand. The Texas Stars, Houston Aeros, and Toronto Marlies visited the Cox Center where both Jacques and Deslauriers would see their first bit of real hockey action this season. However, these two were quickly placed on the back burner as some Barons stepped into the spotlight after an overdue absence. When the dust settled on a weekend's worth of games it would be a Sioux that broke through and a Swede indeed that would fill the Barons headliners.
The Texas Two Step
The Texas Stars, farm team for the Dallas Stars, have had an up and down couple of weeks. After a sensational run to the Calder Cup Finals last year the anticipation was high for this team of young prospects. However, they have begun the season at 6-4-0-0, are unbearable on the road power play at 1 for 20, and are coming off back-to-back losses to West rival the Houson Aeros. Names like Philip Larsen and Jordie Benn are strong defensive prospects within the Dallas Stars system, but have yet to capitalize in a consistent way. On the other side of the ice, the Barons are riding high on a four game win streak and are tied for first place in the West Division as they head home for a stretch of games that lasts all the way through Thanksgiving. The penalty killing magic continues at nearly 93%, Linus Omark has a point in eight of the last nine games, Alexandre Giroux has a team high twelve point, and Martin Gerber, with Jeff Deslauriers now on the bench, continues to be the backbone of a substantial defensive core.
Friday night the Barons hosted the Texas Stars in front of a crowd of 5,490. The story lines thick within my mind revolved around recent additions Jeff Deslauriers and Jean-Francois Jacques whom both arrived on Thursday afternoon. However, the night quickly was embraced by two skaters that had gone unnoticed for far too long.
The game began with an early Texas Stars goal after a shot from Philip Larsen was tipped in just passed Gerber by Greg Rallo. Eleven minutes later Johan Motin drops a nice pass in front of the net that gets scooped up by Chris Vande Velde and pushed just past Stars goaltender Brent Krahn. With a minute left in period one Linus Omark gave us a show by beating defender and goaltender quickly to put the Barons up 2-1. At 8:50 of period two Colin McDonald would score from a sweet pass from Jeff Petry. Towards the end of period two, Johan Motin would score his first goal of the season after a steady pass from Milan Kytnar. Nearly a minute later Brad Moran scored his sixth of the season as the scoring onslaught continued. The third period began with a new Stars goaltender, Richard Bachman, seeing more offensive firepower from Chris Vande Velde who slipped in a short-hander at 6:35.
Jean-Francois Jacques finished the evening at +1, a shot on goal, and 2 penalty minutes.
What Goes Around Comes Around
At this point the Houston Aeros (affiliate of the Minnesota Wild) are thankful that the Oklahoma City Barons "gifted" them back-to-back wins to begin the season. Since that time they've gone 5-5-1 with the three wins coming recently against back-to-back wins against the Texas Stars and Friday night against the fumbling Toronto Marlies. On a team that features eight rookies with six of those being on the defensive side of the puck it's no wonder they have struggled off and on since the season began. Coupled with a few call-ups to the Wild, the Aeros have been bitten by the inconsistency bug. It's hard to nail down, but there is something about this Houston Aeros team that brings out the worst in the Barons. It might be the strategic defensive play, or merely the reminder that this team ruined the Barons first couple of home games. Whatever it might be, the Barons needed to find a way to break through the young scraper Jarod Palmer and the rest of the Aeros D men.
As the Saturday game approached, Todd Nelson put Martin Gerber on the bench in place of the newly assigned Jeff Deslauriers who hadn't seen a start in net since preseason games with the Oilers. The question of, "Will he be rusty?" was quickly answered as he let in two ugly goals in the first period that should have been thwarted quickly. The first came at the five minute mark by right winger Brock McBride after a fantastic pass from Minnesota native Jarod Palmer. The second goal came ten minutes later off the right wing again, but this time from Carson McMillan. The second period was much more respectable as JDD met each shot with confidence, and covered rebounds superbly. The Barons finally would get on the board as Alex Plante scored his first goal of the season after some work in the trenches by Alexandre Giroux and Brad Moran. Unfortunately the third period would be much like the first as the Aeros scored two more goals. The first came from Baron killer Jarod Palmer on the power play and was assisted by former Wilkes-Barre Baby Penguin, Jean-Michel Daoust. The second goal squeezed just past Deslauriers as Robbie Earl made his way quickly around Shawn Belle. Captain Ben Ondrus finished out the night with a goal, his first of the season, but it was too little too late for the Barons on this evening.
The loss can't be hung solely on Deslauriers as the overall commitment and effort by the team seemed sluggish. However, the first two goals that JDD let in were certainly hard to overlook. As the Barons continue their long stretch of home games, look for Gerber and JDD to rotate quite frequently.
Philip Cornet was scratched this evening with an undisclosed injury, while Jean-Francois Jacques and Jake Taylor were healthy scratches.
In what might go down as one of the most impressive nights of a young Barons season, Linus Omark would have the game of his short AHL life, and do so in the most amazing fashion. The Toronto Marlies headed to Oklahoma City after playing this same Barons team merely weeks ago. Our own Stephen Sheps posted about the abysmal play by the Barons in Toronto, and rightfully so. Nazem Kadri performed well that day against a weak defensive core. Flash forward to late Sunday afternoon in the Cox Center where the Barons tried to recover from a loss the night before while the Marlies headed up I-35 after shutting out the Texas Stars.
In net tonight was Martin Gerber with Jeff Deslauriers on the bench. Back in the lineup were both Jake Taylor and Jean-Francois Jacques who were both scratched the night before.
The game began in terrible fashion as the Marlies scored first as Joey Crabb lifted a soft shot just past Martin Gerber's glove side. The Barons would counter with a goal of their own as Liam Reddox had a fantastic breakaway after shoveling the puck over the defenders stick, and hunting down his own pass. Toronto's Mike Zigomanis and Darryl Boyce would score to finish the first period as the Barons found themselves, yet again, in the swells of a embarrassing first period. With the Marlies up 3-1, they again would score to open the second period making the game a 4-1 drubbing. Just when the hammer was being lifted over the nail in the coffin, Linus Omark would begin a scoring tear that hadn't been seen in the AHL since February 2009. Omark's first goal was a quick slapshot directly in front of Marlies goaltender James Reimer. Reimer would go on to face 50 shots from the Barons which is nearly double their total from a night before. Omark's second goal would come from a sharp pass by Taylor Chorney. Suddenly the Barons were back in the hunt midway through the second period. Testy Marlies defenseman, Matt Lashoff, would fire a shot past Gerber to push the Barons further away from victory as the score was nestled at 5-3. Omark would again score in the waning moments of the second period after poking home a rebound off Reimer's pads. The Barons continued to hammer away at the deficit as the game was now at 5-4. Nazem Kadri would score to begin the third period, but Omark scored goal number four almost two minutes later. With the score set at 6-5, the Barons coaching staff would pull Gerber to add a man advantage on the attack, and with only 47 seconds left, McDonald would drop a pass to Omark who'd score his fifth of the night making it 6-6.
Headed in to OT, the small, but excited crowd had already been treated to a clinic of sorts by the always entertaining Linus Omark. Despite a Lashoff tripping penalty to end the OT, the Barons were unable to capitalize as the game went into a shootout.
Scoring in the shootout for the Marlies were Josh Engel and Nazem Kadri. Scoring in the shootout for the Barons were Linus Omark, Teemu Hartikainen, and the winning goal by Milan Kytnar. Within the eight round shootout were weak attempts by both Alexandre Giroux and JFJ.
Following the game, Linus Omark gave a typically smug interview, smiled to the crowd, and soaked up a memorable performance. He indeed stole the evening despite a rough start, and a ping pong-like game.
The win places the Oklahoma City Barons with the most points in the Western Conference with Peoria, Hamilton, and San Antonio on their heels. The Barons, of course, have played fifteen games this season placing them alongside the Charlotte Checkers of the Eastern Conference as having the most games played up until this point in the season.
The next three games, the Barons have an opportunity to pull away from the West Division pack as everyone charges towards first place. Games against San Antonio, Chicago, and Texas are up next as the team confronts the always possible call-ups. Here's to hoping that the next week of Barons games is as exciting and productive as the last two.