The first half of the Barons nine game road trip wasn't too painful. Out of ten possible standings points the Barons earned six. Sure it would have been nice to have one or two more, but given their opponents it was a mild success to say the least.
As the latter half of the nine game road trip begins the opponents get a little stronger, and the Barons get a little weary. Oklahoma City would play two of the top Western Conference teams including one of those foes three times in three straight nights. They began with the always-tough Milwaukee Admirals followed by the surging Houston Aeros. Each opponent was equally tough and posed some serious problems for the Barons.
Much like the rest of the American Hockey League, the Barons "must win" moments had come. Would they arise to the challenge, gain a few more points, and head into the final nine games with full force? The Oklahoma City Barons have hit the fork in the road - a long off season to the left and a playoff spot to the right.
Oklahoma City Barons 3 at Milwaukee Admirals 4 (SO)
The Barons would be toppled by the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) in a shootout as the team embarks on the last half of a nine game road trip.
Barons tough guy Andrew Lord, netted his first of the season along with two more power play goals by Anthony Aiello and Mark Arcobello. However, the Admirals traded goals throughout the night and the game would be rather tame in overtime en route to a shootout. In said shootout, Jeff Deslauriers refused to even put up a fight letting in four goals on four straight skaters.
This would be the shootout loss by the Barons in seven days.
Oklahoma City Barons 1 at Houston Aeros 4
As the Barons open the first of three straight games in three straight nights with the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild), they also would also enter into must win territory.
Oklahoma City came out of the gate defensively numb, Deslauriers was pulled after letting in three goals in period one, and the Barons lose round one with the Aeros in embarrasing fashion.
The memorable moments were few and far between in this one, but Alexandre Giroux's entrance into the Barons lineup was a welcome sight. He even scored the first goal of the game on the power play, but the rest of the team didn't follower suit.
Bryan Pitton came in to relieve Deslauriers who was peppered with 17 shots in one period, and the Stockton Thunder goaltender played strong. Ironically, he's still the only "Barons" goaltender who has defeated the Houston Aeros, and that came on October 17th.
Oklahoma City Barons 5 at Houston Aeros 6 (SO)
A four goal frenzied second period made famous by a back-to-back Colin McDonald power play goals, wasn't enough to beat the Aeros in the Toyota Center for the second straight night.
Bryan Pitton would get the start, and play very well pushing away thirty-six Aeros shots, but the Aeros Josh Tordjman came up just a little stronger to defeat the Barons in the fourth shootout loss eight games.
After Bryan Helmer, Alexandre Giroux, and Milan Kytnar scored goals for the Barons, the team still found itself down one with less than a minute in regulation. Mark Arcobello, having an amazing final surge with the Barons, scored in the final thirty-three seconds of period three to put some breath in the Barons lungs.
However, the Aeros dominated the shootout and the Barons would survive with only one point.
Oklahoma City Barons 4 at Houston Aeros 5
The final game of a nine game road trip had come, and the Barons were just trying to protect a final playoff spot, head home for some much needed rest before pushing through the final five games of the regular season.
Bryan Pitton gets his second start in two nights, and quickly found himself struggling. Two quick goals by Houston followed by back and forth scoring for each team, led the to a high scoring game despite shot totals in the low twenties for each team.
Milan Kytnar scored twice, Arcobello and Moran once as the Barons clung to a tie until the final five minutes of the third period when Houston's Warren Peters scored the game winner.
Both the nine game road trip and the Aeros trifecta had come to a close, and the Barons were now out of the playoffs and in need of some wins.
With five regular season games remaining for the Barons here is what they are up against. They'll play Rockford and Texas at home this week, and then finish on the road against San Antonio, Texas, and Houston. Below is a list of these opponents and the Barons record against them this season.
Rockford - 4-1-0-0
Texas - 2-4-0-2
San Antonio - 4-5-0-0
Houston - 1-5-1-2
As you can see, the Barons struggle against teams to the south primarily Texas and Houston. Houston sits at 94 points followed by Texas at 88. The Barons currently have 83 points, but are being chased by San Antonio with 81, but two games in hand.
So what do the Barons need to do to get into the playoffs. Win in regulation. Rockford isn't a gimme, but given the head-to-head record that's nearly a two point given. The Texas game at home is winnable, but goaltending will need to be strong. Realistically out of ten possible points, the Barons will need to get all of them and still might need Chicago, San Antonio, and Peoria to struggle. We'll keep you posted nightly here at Copper and Blue on how things are shaking up in the Western Conference playoff potentials.
Jake Taylor "Man of the Year"
Barons defemseman, Jake Taylor, has been named IOA/American Specialty's AHL Man of the Year in Oklahoma City's inaugural season. The Man of the Year award recognizes a player on each American League squad, chosen by their respective clubs, who has shown outstanding contributions to their local communities and charitable organizations. The Barons couldn't have chosen a better candidate.
Whether he's visiting Veterans Hospital or he's working with Habitat for Humanity, Jake Taylor has embraced the Oklahoma City community and given back.
Each team's Man of the Year candidate is also in the running for Yanick Dupre Memorial Award. Dupre, a former Philadelphia Flyer and Hershey Bear, died in 1997 after a sixteen month battle with cancer.
Send Us Reinforcements
It's clear now that the Oilers won't be able to send anyone down to aid the Barons in their final five games due to injury' sustained to their roster. Foster, Brule, and Chorney are all listed day-to-day, and of course, Gagner, Whitney, Hemsky, and Hall are all done for the season.
If the Barons can somehow manage a spot in the playoffs imagine what this AHL team will look like. First, it will be vastly different than what we see now. Hartikainen and Omark would be deadly weapons offensively, and potentially having both Petry and Chorney in the lineup would increase the defensive prowess.
However, I believe the key to Barons success still lies in goaltending. Martin Gerber, who is still nursing a sore neck, has yet to return to the lineup and didn't even make the trip to Houston. Will he be ready to go for the final five games? If you're a Barons fan your answer has to be yes. Deslauriers is struggling and Pitton is slightly untested, so the Swiss Savior may be the key to success down the stretch.