It's amazing what a week's worth of rest can do for a weary hockey club. After a brutal nine game road swing that included only two regulation wins, and four shootout losses, the Barons needed rest. Wrapping up the three games in three nights with the Houston Aeros, the Barons would head home to Oklahoma City to play their final two home games of the regular season.
With little time to wax nostalgic about the final home stand of the regular season, the Barons suddenly found themselves still scratching and clawing their way into the final playoff spots. In addition to Oklahoma City, Chicago, San Antonio, and Peoria are in a nightly battle for the all important 4th playoff spot in the West Div and the 5th place crossover spot in the North Div.
Playing host to Rockford on Friday night brought great promise, as did the Saturday bout with Texas. Once again, it's amazing what a week's worth of rest can do for a weary hockey club as they broach a rested rebound.
Rockford Ice Hogs 0 - Oklahoma City Barons 7
In what will go down as arguably the most complete game played by the Barons this season, the OKC team manhandled the lowly Rockford Ice Hogs (Chicago Blackhawks) gaining their largest margin of victory to date.
Jeff Deslauriers had hit a slump. Since replacing Marin Gerber in net on March 16th in Grand Rapids, he's only had two victories to his name. Most recently he has appeared to struggle very late in games when he's needed the most. Minus back-to-back days of relief, thanks to Stockton's Bryan Pitton, Deslauriers has been the starter.
Oilers fans understand the streakiness of Deslauriers in this moment. He looks great at times, and utterly embarrassing at others. However, on Friday night in the Cox Center, Deslauriers showed us something we hadn't seen in months - swagger.
Although the Ice Hogs are out of the playoff race and barely over .500, they are a very offensively minded hockey team. And for all their offensive charisma, they are equally as bad on defense. The Barons poked in three first period goals including a snazzy one by Giroux, and two more by Colin McDonald.The second period began with Tanner House earning his first professional goal, followed by Milan Kytnar's eleventh of the season, and Alex Plante's second. But the Barons weren't finished. Scoring the final goal of the night was captain Ben Ondrus who received a pretty pass from Philipe Cornet.
Colin McDonald scored two, Tanner House earned his first pro goal, and the "grinders" (Ondrus, Kytnar, Stortini, etc.) played very well. But the story would be Deslauriers who earned his first shutout of the season (unless you count the Spengler game in December) blocking thirty-three shots, thirteen of which were in the third period.
From top to bottom, inside and out, the Barons played exceptionally well as they rebounded from an abysmal round trip.
Texas Stars 0 - Oklahoma City Barons 2
The Texas Stars (Dallas Stars) are not the kindest of opponents to Oklahoma City. They are currently riding a five game winning streak, and are on the fast track towards clinching a playoff berth. In eight games played, the Stars have dominated with a record of 6-1-0-1, and are backstopped by rookie goaltending sensation Richard Bachman.
Leading Stars scorer, Greg Rallo, has beat up on the Barons all year recording three goals and two assists in those eight games. His team high fifty-three points are equal parts goals (26) and helpers (27). Add to that mix Colton Sceviour and Travis Morin who have spent brief moments with their NHL clubs.
Although the Barons went 0 for 5 on the power play, their defensive stance was firm and consistent. Kevin Montgomery, who finds himself now paired with Alex Plante, scored his fourth goal as a Baron early in period two to finally put someone's name on the scoresheet. The Stars struggled with minor injuries sustained to Rallo, who left the game for the locker room at one point, and newly acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon.
Alexandre Giroux scored the second goal of the game and his thirty-second of the year, late in period three to give the Barons a little cushion.
In the end, the defense played another strong game, primarily Kevin Montgomery who earned a goal, and was a partaker in the late Giroux goal after keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
Yet, the MVP goes to Deslauriers once again. The Stars only managed twenty-two shots, but Deslauriers comfortably handled them all as he celebrated his second shutout of the season in back-to-back nights.
The Barons defeat of the Stars had them clinging to that fourth playoff spot in the West Division.
Prime the Playoff Pump
A rested goaltender. A smarter defense. A fresh step for the forwards. The week off did this team good. Even the coaches looked renewed. As the Barons finished their game on Saturday night they found themselves in the fourth, but not necessarily final, playoff spot in the West Division. However, the every-changing and increasingly tight playoff race had them drop to fifth after a Peoria win over Milwaukee on Sunday night.
But don't count them out just yet. Moving to fifth place still has them qualifying for the fourth place spot in the North Division of the Western Conference as they have a better record than the Abbotsford Heat (oh the irony). Truthfully, the Barons would love to have that fourth place spot in the West Division, but the fifth spot, which earns them a crossover to the North, would play more in their favor given the teams success in the north.
So here are your playoff matchups in the Western Conference as of today:
Manitoba Moose (North #1) vs. Oklahoma City Barons (West #5; crossover)
Hamilton Bulldogs (North #2) vs. Lake Erie Monsters (North #3)
Milwaukee Admirals (West #1) vs. Peoria Rivermen (West #4)
Houston Aeros (West #2) vs. Texas Stars (West #3)
The Barons have three games left, and all are on the road. San Antonio, Texas, and Houston complete the season. Here's how they've faired this season in head-to-head scenarios.
vs. San Antonio 4-5-0-0
vs. Texas 3-4-0-2
vs. Houston 1-5-1-2
As you can see the season records don't favor the Barons in any of these matchups. The other wrinkle is the Rampage have one game in hand so they can make up ground on the Barons in the coming days.
In the end, the Barons need to AT LEAST earn four of six points, and will need San Antonio, Chicago, and Peoria to lose a game or two.
I believe that the season will be won or lost in the San Antonio game on Friday. The Barons will again have had nearly a week's rest compared to the Rampage's two days.
Abask in the Arcobello
Mark Arcobello, the unlikely hero of late for the Barons, has inked a two year deal with the Oilers. As Scott pointed out, Mark's numbers in Stockton are sub-par at 7-13-20-10 in 33 games, but he's turned it up a notch with the Barons going 9-8-17-2 in 23 games.
His impact on the team, and subsequent importance came when the team was down Giroux and Teemu Hartikainen.
Although he's played in Stockton where he made the All-Star team and won that games MVP, he seems to continue to be a "work in progress". Take the positioning smarts of Alexandre Giroux and couple that with the knifing ability of Liam Reddox and that's the nuts and bots of Arcobello. Although he does neither of these things better than either Giroux or Reddox, he does have "smart skates" in that he's able to squeeze through, around, and sometimes under defenders.
Although his greatest upside is his late-game scoring. In 2006 at Yale he scored a late game winning goal to earn his team the ECAC regular season title that season. And quite frankly he continued that trend through his final seasons as a Yale Bulldog into Stockton, and even with the Barons.
Having a scoring threat deep into the game is quite an asset. The long-term plan for this guy doesn't seem to include NHL play, but then again, we said the same thing about Colin McDonald just a year ago.
Gerber's A No Go
What first was reported as "neck stiffness" appears to be a little more as Martin Gerber still remains on the injury list. As of last check he's still day-to-day, but we are ten days away from being a full month without Gerber in net. I'll speculate for a moment that the injury is worse than reported, or perhaps Gerber is gun-shy given the neck contusion he suffered a year and a half ago. Either way, with the influx of Olivier Roy and potential signing of Tyler Bunz, the Barons seem done with Deslauriers and possibly Gerber.
Does this mean that Roy and Bunz will be Oklahoma City teammates? Certainly not, but Roy's readiness (an maybe the lack thereof) will probably land him in Oklahoma next season.
I'm not ready to write off Gerber or give him his "swan song" just yet, but he played a specific role within the Oilers system very well this season at two levels. Imagine if the Barons were led by Bryan Pitton and Jeff Deslauriers? This team might not even be within screaming distance of a playoff spot.
Kevin Montgomery is starting to develop a nice defensive game deep into the season with the Barons. Since being traded at the deadline for Shawn Belle, he's played remarkably well having two goals and five assists in only thirteen games. He's vastly different from his traded counterpart, but he brings an important dynamic to the Barons defense. He's thin and quick, crafy and smart. He's a nice yin to Alex Plante's yang when paired together. A good cop/bad cop pairing if you will.
The game against Texas on Saturday, he was the best player on the ice. He handled the puck superbly in the open ice, made sharp passes, and even had an incredible high net goal.
I'm anxious to see how he fares over the next three games and potentially the playoffs. He's a quiet threat, but does the little things right. Montgomery certainly would benefit from an off-season in the weight room, but the Oilers will need to keep a close eye on this guy. He's connecting.
8,833 Magic Numbers
Nearing 5,000 in total attendance on Friday night, the OKC faithful fans showed up on Saturday with a whopping and spirited crowd of 8,833. This is the highest attended Barons game since opening night in October. It was indeed the final home game, the promotions were in full effect, and the Stars were in town, but these are the kind of Saturday night crowds the organization desperately needs.
This brings their home game average (40 games) to 4,155. That's not great, but it's not all together insufferable. This puts them at 22nd in the league with Springfield, Abbotsford, Rochester, and a host of other familiar faces below them.
The public relations department and promotions areas will get beefed up in the off-season. They have to. As Derek so eloquently pointed out, the attendance at these games is of utmost importance, for the Oilers big wigs. No they won't leave town quickly, and yes they'll give the Barons at least three to four years to increase the attendance, but it's an important subject to keep tabs on.