Tending the Farm: The Wild Wild West

In the Barons lone victory this week, Zack Stortini would score his first goal in an OKC sweater. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.

The time had finally come for the Barons to tame the wildest in the West. With a week of games that featured four Western Division opponents, three of whom the Barons are chasing in the standings, the time for epic gunslinging had arrived. 

Milwaukee is fast, San Antonio is deadly on the power play, and Houston lulls you into submission - the Barons would need to bring their A game if they were to make it out with even a few points. Yet the mood amongst Oklahoma City fans was positive; after all they were pushing towards a playoff berth in their first season of existence. 

In a recent radio interview, Barons Head Coach, Todd Nelson, highlighted the importance of this week's games by saying, "We might be 3-1 over the last four games, but this week it's magnified because our division is so tight. We have a tendency lately to score by committee. Whether it's Giroux, McDonald, or Hartikainen - we need to score much more often." Ironically, Coach Nelson's words would perfectly define the three games this week, and the stoutness of our Western Divisional friends in the AHL.

Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) 6 - Oklahoma City Barons 1

The penalty-sized hurdle that the Barons seem unable to leap, has caught up with them again. Going into Wednesday's battle with Western Division leading Milwaukee Admirals, the team in OKC averages 16.8 PIM per game. While that's not the worst in the league, it certainly isn't the best.  With a majority of those 16.8 coming in the first two periods, the Barons seem to find ways to end up short-handed, and short on goals. But it wasn't the penalty totals, and their poor timing alone that did the Barons in against the Ads on a warm-for-February Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

It was quickly apparent why this Milwaukee team is tops in the West. They are fast to the puck, relentless in front of the net, make few mistakes, and poke holes in opposing teams shortcomings. They aren't unbeatable, just unburdened by mistakes - as is Oklahoma City. As a matter of fact, to start the game a reconfigured line of Teemu Hartikainen-Milan Kytnar-Ryan O`Marra scored within the first two minutes. To add to the excitement, Kytnar's goal was scored on Pekka Rinne's backup in Nashville, Anders Lindback, who was sent down to the "A" this week to get some much needed minutes in net (ironically the last time he saw game action was February 7th against Edmonton). But that was the only goal the Barons could muster.

Five different Admirals players would score a total of six goals, four against Martin Gerber in under thirty minutes of play. Jeff Deslauriers didn't favor well either, letting in the final two late in period two. By the the 16:00 mark of the second period the Barons were done, but didn't completely give up. They would rattle off fourteen shots on net, compared to the Admirals one to end the game, but when your dance card is full, there isn't much room for improvement. 

The 6-1 smackdown the Admirals laid on the Barons was embarrassing to say the least. Certainly not a great way to start a wild, wild week against others in the West.

Coach Nelson describes the massacre by relating it to opening night. Ouch.

San Antonio Rampage 2 - Oklahoma City Barons 3

After an embarrasing Wednesday performance, the Barons hosted the power play strong San Antonio Rampage, 48 hours later. News of a Martin Gerber callup to Edmonton following yet another Nikolai Khabibulin injury, came as a surprise. Not that Khabibulin was injured, but the Oilers would call upon the #1 guy in OKC amidst a playoff push, and after hints of a stronger focus on seeing the Barons succeed (see Chorney up/Petry down). Nonetheless, Deslauriers would start, and the Barons would promptly nab a Central Leaguer named Scott Campbell to ride the pine in backup mode with Bryan Pitton stealing that role in the days to come as he travels from Stockton.

The San Antonio Rampage might be nestled just behind the Barons in the standings, but they have every reason to be in a slump. Three of their top five scorers are no longer with the team, but serving tours in the NHL. Imagine if the Barons suffered the same losses - we'd be in trouble too.

Quickly, as is common in most Barons games of late, OKC was down a man very early in period one which resulted in a power play goal by San Antonio. The Rampage own the second best power play unit in the league, and giving them an opportunity within the first minute of the game was not on the Barons to-do list. 

But the team soldiered on, tightened up on defense, and shut down the Rampage attack. Oklahoma City would score the next three goals of the game including one by Zack Stortini, his first as a Baron. Jeff Deslauriers played admirably, but then again only had to face 24 shots the entire night. Jeff Petry, having a whale of a game on defense, had two helpers on the night, and was very protective of the puck. When in a Barons uniform Petry rarely makes mistakes with the puck. 

The Barons would claim two points on Friday night, and seemed to have overcome the slouch they displayed on Wednesday. It is a good thing too because the following night the Barons would play yet another tough, Western opponent - the nasty Houston Aeros.

Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) 5 - Oklahoma City Barons 0

If the Barons were looking to hang on to even an iota of momentum from the previous game, they quickly failed and in epic fashion. Despite 31 shots, and five power play chances, the Barons struggled to play cohesively, while the Aeros played a tight defensive scheme. Edmonton native Matt Kassian, centerman Casey Wellman, and ex-Oiler Patrick O'Sullivan each scored for the Aeros, and Jed Ortmeyer added a pair. It wasn't a terrible game for starting goaltender Jeff Deslauriers, but it wasn't his shining moment. As a matter of fact, he's had very few shining moments of late. The Barons were able to keep the penalty totals low, but the play at both ends of the ice was sloppy from start to finish. As you'll hear in the post game video, Coach Nelson referred to this game as both "gross" and "embarrassing". I couldn't agree more. 

Call it late season fatigue or perhaps a home winning curse, either way the Barons played two unbelievably bad AHL games in one week. With a trip to Cedar Park to play the Texas Stars on Sunday, the Barons would have a long bus ride to figure things out. 

Upcoming Schedule

February 27th
Oklahoma City Barons at Texas Stars

March 4th
Abbotsford Heat at Oklahoma City Barons

March 5th
Abbotsford Heat at Oklahoma City Barons

March 8th
Manitoba Moose at Oklahoma City Barons

March 10th
Oklahoma City Barons at San Antonio Rampage

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