Bryan Helmer working his defensive magic. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson and OKC Hockey. All rights reserved.
The weather turned a bit sour in Oklahoma City this week dumping nearly 12.5 inches across the state. This pales in comparison to our Edmontonian friends that have a firm grasp on the term "winter weather". However, Oklahomans neither understand ice and snow, nor do we enjoy it. Nevertheless, we endured, and emerged from our homes ready for some Barons hockey (before the next round of snow comes in this week).
The Barons face two important West Division opponents; the Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) and the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars). The Barons barely own the series over the Rivermen at 3 games to 2, while the Stars own the Barons and the horse they rode in on at a whopping 5 games and only one loss. Ironically, the RIvermen are near the top of the division while the Stars are tailing the Barons.
The weather wasn't the only thing that was sour this weekend. The Barons offense decided to hibernate for three straight games, and paid the price for doing so. The three games, in three days, had the Barons painfully enduring a 1 for 15 on the power play. With gunners like Giroux, Hartikainen, and McDonald virtually disappearing it's no wonder the team struggled amidst a blast of winter weather ferocity.
Peoria Rivermen 4 - Oklahoma City Barons 1
In the five previous meetings between the Barons and Rivermen, the home team has notched the "W" in all of them. Quickly these two farm clubs have learned to dislike each other greatly. And from that aversion we've seen the best, and worst of our beloved Barons.
Due to continued wintry weather and even worse road conditions, a thin crowd of 2,647 saw the Barons receive a four to one trouncing at the hands of the Rivermen
Martin Gerber, thin in his own regards after a bout with the flu, would be benched another game, and Jeff Deslauriers would make his third straight start. At the other end of the ice, Ben Bishop would get the start over dominate All-Star, Jake Allen.
After three straight minor penalties against the Barons, and an obviously missed off sides call on Peoria, the Rivermen would score a power play goal within a confused penalty kill unit for the Barons. Playing from behind is a common thing these days, to which Oilers fans can completely relate. Scoring the first and only goal of the game, was Brad Moran who scooped the puck with his stick, and placed it towards the net from nearly seventy feet away as it squeezed through Ben Bishop's five hole. Period one would end knotted at one all.
The Barons continued to enjoy the confines of the penalty box, but were able to thwart two power play chances for the Rivermen in period two. Colin McDonald and Matt Marquardt gave the Barons a few great chances deep into the period, but Ben Bishop was on his game for Peoria. Period two ended still tied at one.
Period three was a tighter game for the Barons, but Peoria's T.J. Hensick scored two times in under three minutes to quickly put the Rivermen up two goals. Both goals were scored as a result of intercepted passes deep in the Barons zone, while JDD looked perplexed by the goings-on in front of him. Eventually the Rivermen would insert an empty-netter as they defeated the tonight's bumbling Barons four to one.
Peoria Rivermen 1 - Oklahoma City Barons 2 (SOW)
Coach Nelson had some work to do. Less than 24 hours ago, the Barons played a defensively awkward game against Peoria who capitalized on their shortcomings. Todd Nelson and the coaching staff continue to find ways of inspiring amongst bad play, and in a timely fashion. Throw in a dash of Zack Stortini in his first game since clearing waivers, and it was a bubbling cauldron of uncertainty for the Barons on Friday night.
However, the Barons would tighten up the defensive game and earn another deep shootout victory against Peoria.
Martin Gerber, making his return from what appears to be a flu-like hiatus, appeared to be ready to play. However, he would need to be slightly better as ominous, almost-NHL-ready goaltender Jake Allen would oppose him in net for the Rivermen. It quickly became the goaltending battle we'd almost anticipated.
T.J. Hensick, scoring his third goal in two nights, got the Rivermen on the board first following back-to-back penalties care of Richard Petiot, and "Mr. Elbow" Jake Taylor. Gerber quickly shook it off, and became a pillar of consistency in net for the duration of the game. Despite two power play chances in the first the Barons couldn't get it done. Period one would end with the RIvermen up one to nothing on the Barons.
Period two saw the Barons quickly entertain a 5 on 3 chance, and just as it appeared to be squandered Alexandre Giroux rifled a shot from his perch (the right faceoff dot), and the Barons finally made it on the board. Gerber all eight shots put his way and period two ended with a one to one tie.
Period three was all about the tenders. Gerber stopped ten, while Allen stopped eight. But even more telling was penalty kill for both teams. The Barons and Rivermen had two really good power play rotations, and both were defended well by their respective penalty kill units. Zack Stortini himself got in on the PK rotation, and contributed with some great defensive deflections. Regulation would end still tied at one.
Even with a Marquardt penalty that carried over into overtime, and a measly three shots on goal, the Barons would take the Rivermen into the shootout.
Shootout lineup and results for the Barons:
Milan Kytnar - stopped
Bryan Helmer - shot over crossbard
Colin McDonald - shot off the post
Teemu Hartikainen - stopped
Alexandre Giroux - stopped
Brad Moran - shot hits top of crossbar
Taylor Chorney - missed shot
Matt Marquardt - stopped
Philippe Cornet - mishandles puck
Chris Vande Velde - SCORES and seals the shootout victory for the Barons
Oklahoma City Barons 0 - Texas Stars 3
It's rare that the Barons get shutout. A pre-Christmas game at home against the Hamilton Bulldogs is the only other time it has happened this season. In that Hamilton game, the Barons were offensively flat, and looked silly after an 0 for 8 on the power play.
The Texas Stars virtually own the Barons, whether at home or on the road. In six meetings, the Stars have won five. However, the Texas Stars endured a week where five players were recalled to their NHL club in only five days; three of those were the team-leading scorers.
Nonetheless, the Barons were soundly defeated by the Texas Stars, as they continue their dominance of the team north of the Red River.
Penalties were low for both teams, the play was solid, but the Barons just couldn't seem to get any offensive momentum going.
In period one, the likely hero for the Stars was Ondrej Roman, who scored twice on the night after only scoring three times all season long. Both goals were rebounded put-backs that are uncharacteristic moments in Martin Gerber's repertoire.
Period two was another strong outing for Stars goaltender Richard Bachman who continues to be a Barons slayer.
Period three ended with a strong right wing push from Greg Rallo as he zipped it toward the net for Mathieu Tousignant to nail the coffin shut on the Barons, three to nothing.
Lines & The Zack Stortini Shuffle
I wrote about Zack Stortini's first game previously this weekend, but here is a look at how the lines were configured with Stortini's being nudged into the Barons lineup for Friday and Saturday.
Thursday vs. Peoria
Scratches: Andrew Lord, Johan Motin, Taylor Chorney (all experiencing injury)
Alexandre Giroux, Brad Moran, Colin McDonald
Teemu Hartikainen, Mylan Kytnar, Philippe Cornet
Gregory Stewart, Ryan O`Marra, Ben Ondrus
Matt Marquardt, Chris Vande Velde, Mark Arcobello
Anthony Aiello, Bryan Helmer
Shawn Belle, Alex Plante
Richard Petiot, Jake Taylor
*Coach Nelson adjusted later in the game.
Friday, Saturday vs. Peoria, Texas (w/ Stortini in the lineup)
Scratches: Andrew Lord, Johan Motin, Mark Arcobello, Shawn Belle (all announced as experiencing injury)
Giroux, Moran, McDonald
Hartikainen, Kytnar, Cornet
Stewart, Vande Velde, Ondrus
Stortini, O`Marra, Marquardt
San Antonio Rampage at Oklahoma City Barons (Day game starting at 10:30am)
Oklahoma City Barons at Abbotsford Heat
at Scotiabank Saddledome as part of the Heritage Classic kick-off
Oklahoma City Barons at Abbotsford Heat