It was a strange week on the farm in Oklahoma City. With the AHL All-Star break approaching rather quickly (airs tonight - find local listings), and the Oilers management in town for previously arranged organizational meetings, the team seemed poised to fuel the winning streak established firmly after a 6 for 7 road trip that ended a week ago. However, with the rankings still being so tight, and the teams in the Western Conference being so stout, home ice advantage is a laughing matter.
The Barons would face the Chicago Wolves twice, while sandwiching in the Texas Stars between those two games. Both the Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers) and the Stars (Dallas Stars) are formidable opponents in the West. Prior to this weekend's games the Wolves had only beaten the Barons once, but had played them tough in all four meetings. Martin Gerber remains the sole OKC goaltender to face the Wolves, and has netted a record of three wins, and only one loss. The Texas Stars are, again, behind the Barons in the standings, but have virtually owned the head-to-head series having defeated them four out of five times this season. The Stars have been exceedingly unkind to Jeff Deslauriers who is the owner of three of those five losses, and Gerber with the only win.
In the end, the goaltending would need to be good, and the Barons would have to play three full periods each night to take both teams to task. And with Lowe, Tambellini, Quinn, and Olczyk roaming the rafters of the Cox Center, the Barons had even more reason to play hard and win - the boss is watching.
Chicago Wolves 5 - OKC Barons 4 (SOL)
With an ailing Shawn Belle now fully recovered from an upper body injury, and Taylor Chorney returning to the Barons lineup after a short stint in Edmonton, the Barons would teeter close to overcoming five consecutive power play opportunities for the Wolves, but in the end would lose in a heartbreaking ten round shootout.
Period one began with two quick goals by Chicago after two quick penalties by the Barons. Ironically, through four previous meetings the Wolves were 0-18 on the power play against the Barons despite having one of the best units in the Western Conference. Both Wolves goals were scored before the Barons could muster a single shot on net. Teemu Hartikainen, now playing alongside Philippe Cornet, and Milan Kytnar, punched in the only goal for the Barons in the first period. Gerber's winning ways against Chicago appeared to be in jeopardy.
Period two faired much better than the first for Oklahoma City. Gregory Stewart and Brad Moran scored goals only 28 seconds apart early in the period to put the Barons up by a goal. Gerber also found new swagger in net, and stopped more than one radical scoring opportunity. A late Fredrik Petterson deflection puts the Wolves and Barons neck and neck heading into the final period.
Period three was quick and anxious. Matt Marquardt soldiered his third goal of the season past Wolves goaltender Drew MacIntyer to put the Barons ahead. Following an ugly high-stick that headed towards the pretty mug of Hartikainen, the Wolves would get the equalizing goal with nearly thirty seconds left in the game. A Ryan Garbutt shot wasn't covered quickly enough by Gerber, and it was poked through his five hole. Regulation would end tied at four.
Richard Petiot had two great scoring chances in overtime, as did Colin McDonald who nearly single-handedly scored the game winner with just a few ticks left on the clock. Wolves and Barons were headed to a shootout.
Shootout order and results.
Teemu Hartikainen - No Goal
Milan Kytnar - No Goal
Alexandre Giroux - No Goal
Colin McDonald - Goal (in the clutch after Michael Davies sneaked one past Gerber for the Wolves)
Brad Moran - No Goal
Philippe Cornet - No Goal
Alex Plante - No Goal
Shawn Belle - No Goal
Chris Vande Velde - No Goal
Ryan O`Marra - No Goal (Fredrik Petterson wins it for the Wolves)
The Barons escape with a point, but certainly could have, and should have won this shootout.
Texas Stars 2 - Oklahoma City Barons 1
Another penalty filled night led to way too many power play chances for the Stars who eventually put the Barons away for a fifth time this season; Deslauriers the losing party on four of those occasions.
Another night, another chance for opposing teams to hammer the Barons on the power play. Although still a great penalty killing team, the Barons rattled off three consecutive penalties that resulted in only one power play goal, but that's all it would take to down OKC.
All the scoring was done in period two for both teams. Period one was great for Jeff Deslauriers who stopped all twelve shots coming his direction. However, Richard Bachman for the Stars did the same.
Period two was a much more spirited event. Aaron Gagnon, for the Stars, scored his tenth goal of the season after a tremendous setup from Francis Wathier. The Barons responded two minutes later when Teemu Hartikainen drove the net alongside Philippe Cornet to tie the game at two. Colton Sceviour would put the game winner past Deslauriers mid-way through period two.
Period three was a goaltending duel. Bachman was peppered with fifteen shots in the period, compared to Gerber's six, but with strong goaltending like that for Texas it's no wonder the Barons couldn't put one in. The Barons would lose yet another game to the Texas Stars, putting the series at a lopsided one victory out of six games.
Chicago Wolves 2 - Oklahoma City Barons 5
Well hello offense. After a sluggish game against the Texas Stars the night before, the Barons roared to life with three goals in under nine minutes to begin the game. En route to a giant rout, Alexandre Giroux also kicked off his All-Star weekend early by earning a hat trick.
With Martin Gerber a tad under the weather, Jeff Deslauriers would start a consecutive night in net. This, of course, has only happened one other time this season, and you have to reach all the way back to November to find that instance.
Peter Mannino, starting Wolves goaltender, only lasted eight minutes into period one after two goals by Alexandre Giroux, and another by Brad Moran. The Barons clearly had his number, and Chicago quickly pulled their starter, and ushered in Edward Pasquale who faired slightly better throughout the evening. Jason Krog scored a later power play goal for the Wolves, but period one would end with the Barons comfortably in the lead at three to one.
Period two went back and forth, but ultimately ended with a Colin McDonald power play goal which put the Barons almost out of reach at four to one.
Period three saw Chicago's Tim Miller get his first goal of the season, but any attempt at a comeback was thwarted by Giroux's third goal of the evening. The Barons win five to two.
The Barons would enter the All-Star break with an impressive victory, and a chance to hover near a playoff spot in the West Division.
Line Mix Up
I call out Coach Nelson's impressive coaching from time to time, but rarely get a chance to dive into his line mix ups. In the AHL, shifting lines is an art form; it has to be. With all the call-ups, both emergency or not, there tends to be some serious holes in the proverbial boat. This week's three games were no different. Let's take a look at them.
Here are your week's pairings.
Not much shake-up mid-week for these games, but notice whom Hartikainen is playing alongside. Also, the Belle-Helmer defensive pairing is going to take some time to gel as Shawn struggles to find his sea legs. Vande Velde has gone way down in the lines which surprises me given his infatuation by the Oilers management for some reason (referring to late pre-season sending to OKC). The Giroux-Moran-McDonald line continues to dazzle us, and be the scoring threat the Barons need. Johan Motin, Anthony Aiello, and Chorney were all scratched at some point over the week's games.
The All-Star Break
Coach Todd Nelson is planning on giving the Barons some much needed rest, however plans to get back into it very quickly. Colin McDonald and Alexandre Giroux will be in Hershey, PA on Monday night playing in the AHL All Star game. However, both competed in the Skills Competition days before. Giroux competed in the Rapid Fire, Pass and Score, and Breakaway Relay. Colin McDonald participated in the Hardest Shot (92.0 MPH), and in the Breakaway Relay as well. Interesting to note that Giroux was graciously welcomed back to Hershey, and even mucked it up with longtime line-mate Andrew Gordon. Good to see the guy get that reception, and connect with old chums. Of course, there is already talk about a "Roo" return to Hershey. It isn't completely out of the question, but certainly entertains the thought of what the Barons might receive in return for such a "blockbuster" AHL trade.
Hello & Goodbye
Call it a "between the ears" type of panic, but the Barons seem to play U-G-L-Y when the Oilers management is in town. Ironically, this weekend the whole shindig revolved around organizational meetings. Although not a broadcasted announcement, the Barons faithful know when the big wigs are in town. Over the weekend, the Barons saw their second largest crowd of the season (well over 6,000 compared to over 8,000 for opening night), and this was a nice sight to behold - both for management and fans alike. Is there really any truth to the "my boss is watching" conspiracy theory? There seems to be. And with a team structure that is solely focused on youth development, you can understand why. The pins and needles kind of feeling is evident in the coaching staff too. Let's hope the management plans a long golfing trip sometime in mid-April so they aren't in our barn for the playoffs.
Time to Payoff the Playoffs
Here are the current standings in the West Division of the AHL:
1. Milwaukee Admirals - 60
2. San Antonio Rampage - 60
3. Houston Aeros - 60
4. Peoria Rivermen - 59
5. Oklahoma City Barons - 59
6. Texas Stars - 58
7. Chicago Wolves - 55
8. Rockford Ice Hogs - 44
To say you are number one in the West Division is like saying you kissed Pam Anderson - Who cares and who hasn't been there before? The Barons will play a total of seven games against teams that are within one game of being the number one franchise in the West Division, including two this week against Peoria. No time for losing streaks.
Peoria Rivermen vs. Oklahoma City Barons
Peoria Rivermen vs. Oklahoma City Barons
Oklahoma City Barons vs. Texas Stars