Excuse me for a moment as I dig for buried treasure amongst a continued losing streak for the Oilers big club. And it's not that the Oilers haven't been entertaining, they are just finding ways to lose, or not win, whichever you prefer. However, the golden doubloon for the organization resides in Oklahoma City these days in the presence of strong veterans, and youthful rookies. This is good news. Gone are the days of toiling in Springfield, and wide are the horizons in an Oklahoma City club that mans the helm beautifully when the storm of uncertainty approaches.
After a three game, in three day weekend the last go-round, the Barons do the same over this past weekend. A return to Peoria creates a mixed-bag of reactions. The last two games against the Rivermen were not kind to the OKC team, nor its players. Fisticuffs, late hits, questionable retaliation - things that were on our minds as the two would meet again on back-to-back nights.
A trip to another divisional opponent, this time San Antonio, was also a huge opportunity for the Barons to leapfrog teams in the standings. The race to clinch playoff spots has begun, and nearly every team in the Western Conference could be in the hunt. However, the weekend birthed a great offensive outing, even better defensive play, and goaltending marvel.
Barons Bury It In Bulk
Oklahoma City Barons 7 - Peoria Rivermen 2
Seeing the West-leading Peoria RIvermen four times in one week sounds like a daunting task especially given the rough home and home the Barons experienced to start the four game rivalry. The latter half of the four game appearance began in Peoria on Thursday night, and quickly turned into a Barons scoring showcase as five different OKC players scored including two from Giroux, and two more from newcomer Bryan Helmer.
Jake Allen, the Western Conference starting goaltender later this month, absolutely dominated in net the last time he faced the Barons. He stopped well over 37 shots, and kept the rebound opportunities to a minimum. It took the Barons a full seven minutes into period one to begin the scoring frenzy. Period one scoring for the Barons was highlighted by two power play goals from Alexandre Giroux, and Bryan Helmer, and an insurance goal by Gregory Stewart. Martin Gerber only let in two opposing goals the entire game, and they both came in the first period; one from Graham Mink, the other from Della Rovere.
The second period, the Barons scorers paused as both sides had scoring chances, but were unable to get anything of substance rolling. At the end of period two it was Barons 3 and the Rivermen 2.
The third period was one of the most dominating periods from the Barons this season. They matched the 2 for 2 on the power play, again both by Giroux and Helmer, but added two more from Teemu Hartikainen and Philippe Cornet. The Rivermen looked confused as the Barons defense thwarted five power play chances by Peoria.
Bryan Helmer arrived at 520 points following his late third period goal, which placed him on the top of the scoring list all-time for AHL defenseman. Anytime the Barons can go 4/8 on the power play is a great night indeed. It's also the first time in a very long time that the Barons have outshot their opponent, and had a strong defensive performance. The same two teams would tangle the following night.
Oklahoma City Barons 4 - Peoria Rivermen 1
It's becoming quickly apparent that the West Division of the AHL is a rough place to reside. Nearly a week ago, the OKC Barons were beaten into submission by the Rivermen. Flash forward a week, and the tables have turned. So as the Barons faced the Rivermen, who still were perched atop the Divisional standings, on a second straight night, it is important to note the offensive emergence of the team in OKC.
Philippe Cornet scores his third goal in three games, Bryan Helmer gets point number ten in only five games played, and Teemu Hartikainen continues to be the spark plug for the team as they dominated the Rivermen on a second straight night.
With Jeff Deslauriers in net for the Barons, the pace of the game favored OKC from the start. Peoria likes to crunch their opponents, not finesse them. They are slow and hammering, not fast and sharp. The Barons, who are the yin to the Rivermen's yang, began the scoring as Teemu Hartikainen nearly high-sticked a Bryan Helmer shot that was deflected over the left shoulder of Peoria goaltender Ben Bishop. The first period would end with the Barons on top 1-0.
The pace would quicken slightly in period two, and Peoria's Derek Nesbitt would score a power play goal after a textbook hook by Andrew Lord. Quickly the Barons would counter with a Milan Kytnar goal assisted by Cornet and Hartikainen, and another by the suddenly successful Bryan Helmer. After period two, the Barons were in full control leading 3-1
Jeff Deslauriers was the deciding factor in period three as he helped stop three straight Peoria power play attempts, and gave the Barons the chance to stay in front. To nail the coffin shut, Philippe Cornet scored his third goal in three games, and the Rivermen had again been defeated in fine form by the OKC Barons.
Slow, Steady, Solid
OKCBarons 2 - San Antonio Rampage 0
A strong defensive effort is a rare thing in the AHL these days. The addition of Bryan Helmer was again solidified as the Barons faced yet another divisional powerhouse in San Antonio on Saturday evening. It took nearly 43 minutes for the scoring to begin, but when captain Ben Ondrus netted his fifth goal of the season three minutes into period three, a sense of relief was visible in the eyes of both coaching staff and players.
The first two periods between the San Antonio Rampage and the Oklahoma City Barons was a back-and-forth affair. The Barons won a rare shots on goal outing throughout the entire game, and Martin Gerber would only see eighteen opposing attempts as he'd get his third shutout of the season.
In true captain form, Ben Ondrus tapped in the winning goal early in the final frame after a fine play by Ryan O'Marra to get the puck towards the net. Alexandre Giroux would get the empty netter for insurance, after a quick saucer pass from Colin McDonald.
Although a low scoring game, the Barons continue to play at their pace, and defend their net very well. Good to see this team headed in the right direction.
The Hartikainen Spark Plug
Good teams, at any level, find ways to win. Sometimes that comes in the form of a specific play, or victory. However, the spark plug for the Barons of late has been Teemu Hartikainen. He quietly has become a leader on this team. With Liam Reddox and Linus Omark gone, I think most fans turned to Colin McDonald or Alexandre Giroux to fill the gap, and indeed they have. However, the emotional play on the ice seems to be radically linked to how strong Hartikainen plays on a given night.
The faithful 'Copper & Blue' readers have heard the love-fest for our Finnish friend, but he's certainly causing a stir within his team, and in the minors. Selfishly, let's keep him in Oklahoma City for a while so that he can develop his game; unselfishly, he deserves a shot, even as a rookie, in the Oilers lineup.
A great example of his fine work is seen most recently this weekend. The Barons dominated on all levels - in the net, on the PK, on the PP, and Hartikainen had two goals, two assists, and finished the three game span at +3. A silent leader indeed.
Hartikainen the Spark Plug? Helmer the Fuel Pump
Bryan Helmer continues to dazzle. Through the weekend's slew of games, he had three goals, three assists, seven shots on goal, and ended at +5. Any doubts of his conditioning, losing a step, or fitting in have been quickly ignored. Expected to sign a full-fledged contract this week, Helmer might go down as one of the best signing in the AHL this year. He makes me want to use words like "intangibles", "gifted", and "prowess" on a regular basis - all things that I hate to say when describing players. He's that important to this team.
Two at the Top
Two thirds of offensive line number one (Alexandre Giroux-Brad Moran-Colin McDonald) are in the top twelve in scoring in the AHL. Alexandre Giroux has 47 points, while Brad Moran has tip-toed up to the top with 37 points. Giroux is expected to take the number one spot sometime this week amidst Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators, and David Desharnais of the Hamilton Bulldogs recent calls to their NHL squads. But don't feel bad for Colin McDonald, as he's now tied for second with Giroux for goals scored in the AHL. That's a hockey line that is firing on all cylinders, and has for some time.
Upcoming Schedule - Road Trip Continues
January 18th Oklahoma City Barons at Lake Erie Monsters
January 20th Oklahoma City Barons at Milwaukee Admirals
January 21st Oklahoma City Barons at Rockford Ice Hogs
January 23rd Oklahoma City Barons at Chicago Wolves