Houston Aeros at Oklahoma City Barons - Game 4 Discussion "I'm Gonna Get Bigger And Bigger And Bigger"

There just wasn't enough fight, despite Philippe's diving moment pictured here. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.

I'm gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger!
I'm gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger!
I'm gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger!
I'm gonna get bigger I'm gonna get bigger
I'll be just as big as you or bigger
-Woody Guthrie

So here we stand. Two games to one in a series that began with the Oklahoma City Barons demonstrating their fetes of strength against the seemingly inferior Houston Aeros. The stranglehold that OKC had on Houston throughout the regular season seemed to be copacetic with what was occurring during the postseason. Nine to one in the goal department. 85 to 34 in the shot department. And a handful of other statistical domination talking points to fill an entire hour's worth of discussion. But a desperate team is a dangerous team. Whether you find yourself watching NHL Playoff hockey or Olympic bobsledding -- a team that is on the brink of defeat has a way of fighting back. Or as Coach Todd Nelson said after Game #3 in Oklahoma City, "a wounded animal is the most dangerous and unpredictable".

After an undisciplined game on Sunday evening in front of a small crowd at the Cox Center, the Barons took to the ice the following day to wrinkle out the creases so to speak. Not to be taken lightly, at the coaches call-in show following that defeat, Todd Nelson further compounded the situation by saying, "We just need to be a better team. We know we can be, we just have to choose to do it." He continued, "Houston didn't do anything different when compared to what we saw in the first two games. It was our team that made the critical mistake of not playing hard. You give up 47 turnovers, you play poorly on the power play, things aren't going to work out for you. We just need to be a better team."

Game #3 Recap In Full

I agree. The Barons team we saw in Game #3 wasn't out shot. They weren't out played. They weren't even out chanced. They just didn't play a complete, disciplined, hard working game. As the Barons squandered away opportunity after opportunity with poor passing and little aggression, it suddenly became a game that we'd seen often between Houston and Oklahoma City. One that usually favors the team who does the basics the best. On Sunday it was Houston's night to do just that.

Mike Brodeur became the surprising equalizer in net for the Houston Aeros, ironically on the same night Yann Danis received his "Baz" trophy for the best goaltender in the American Hockey League. Brodeur, relieving the injured Matt Hackett, played spoiler on a night that the Oklahoma City shot count came back to earth. But more than Brodeur stopping all 31 shots, the Barons didn't attack the goal mouth with much ferocity. Too much unselfish play can be a thing, and a thing it was. Rather than shooting through open lanes, the Barons offense gave Houston enough time to keep their sticks active in passing lanes. When the Barons finally understood the need to shoot the puck time was expiring rapidly.

Yann Danis continued to be fantastic. Although one goal got around him, he, along with the entire Barons defensive core, continued to protect their zone beautifully. But when they were asked to handle the puck it usually ended with a silly shot (see Alex Plante) or a stupid pass to an opposing forward (see Bryan Rodney x 4). But defense isn't going to be a problem in this series because Houston isn't dangerous enough to mount an attack on a consistent basis. So the prize winning pony for the Barons is to shoot, shoot, shoot and when you're done shoot again.

Game #4 will be vastly different when compared to Game #3. Tyler Bunz (via twitter) expressed this same sentiment in the form of a cutesy commentary about a middle morning bag skate. Whether Nelson rode the team hard this morning is yet to be reported, but chances are the team knew it was coming. A heavy blow inducing practice that will no doubt remind this team how good it can be, and how little they should take it for granted.

There's no reason to tinker with the lines, at least from the perspective from section 320. So expect the same combinations and pairings as we've seen for the first three games.

Magnus Paajarvi-Josh Green-Teemu Hartikainen
Hunter Tremblay-Mark Arcobello-Tyler Pitlick
Philippe Cornet-Anton Lander-Ryan Keller
Antti Tyrvainen-Chris VandeVelde-Tanner House

Dan Ringwald-Bryan Helmer
Bryan Rodney-Colten Teubert
Dylan Yeo-Alex Plante

Scratches: Martin Marincin, Taylor Chorney, Tyler Bunz, Kirill Tulupov, Curtis Hamilton, Andrew Lord,Ryan Martindale, Kevin Montgomery, Triston Grant.

Random Notes

  • Even in defeat, Teemu Hartikainen looks like a player who is better than the AHL. There's no denying that he's primed for the next level, but on Sunday night he was a completely different animal than I've seen in previous games. He was really strong, but never wildly out of control. He was smart, but never intent on being selfish. The greatest example of his "NHL readiness" came when the Barons were at a two man advantage for nearly two minutes in the third period of Game #3. He parked himself in front of the Houston crease, was molested by defenders, but gave a quick legal cross check to clear space for the puck, and eventual incoming pass from Josh Green on the wing. He knicked the goal post twice in that endeavor. That little moment of time between seeing the puck, clearing the space, and shooting the puck was beautiful -- and it happened so quickly that the Aeros were bamboozled by what was happening in front of them. He has a big Game #4, I can feel it in my bones.
  • So, the attendance is bad for the first game in OKC. Not surprising, but also disheartening yet again. Read the gory details here, but look for the attendance to again be terrible if not worse. The Oklahoma City Thunder play that evening, and the annual Downtown Arts Festival opens its doors. I can feel my stomach turning knots as I type. You've been warned.
  • The power play for OKC went 0-7 last game, but the Barons stayed disciplined at least in the minor penalty department, allowing only two man advantage opportunities for Houston. Anton Lander, throughout this series, has been quite the curmudgeon. He goaded Carson McMillan into taking an interference penalty with only a few ticks left on the first period clock. Seeing him feisty in between face-offs has been interesting to watch. His toughness has worn off on his wingers, Philippe Cornet and Ryan Keller. Good stuff.
  • Recently assigned to Oklahoma City from Stockton, Ryan Lowery, Cameron Abney, and Olivier Roy are now listed as "in residence" players. What's interesting is that the total number of goaltenders is now at four for Oklahoma City. LeNeveu and Danis via clear day roster and Bunz and Roy via some kind of ATO situation (or something similar). That's a lot of prospect goodness taking in a really strong Barons squad. Perhaps the tenacity wears off on them.
  • The San Antonio Rampage look to close out their series tonight. If both the Rampage and Barons win, they'll face each other in the next round by virtue of reseeding the teams for the second round (silly AHL). If/When that happens, the Barons take on a completely different moniker for that series. It will become a match-up where goal-tending and defending both becoming of utmost importance. The Rampage are fast, quick scoring, and can do so in bunches when they fight hard enough. Could be entertaining to watch.
  • Again, check out the game beginning at 7pm Central via iHeartRadio.com, 96.1 KXXY, Sports Juice keyword "Oklahoma City Barons" or over at www.ahllive.com.
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