It's always nice to hear two anthems, but let's make this short and sweet OKC. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
To the rich man´s bright lodges I ride in this wind. On my good horse I call you my shiny Black Bess. To the playhouse of fortune to take the bright silver An gold you have taken from somebody else
And as we go riding in the damp foggy midnight You snort, my good pony, and you give me your best. For you know, and I know, good horse ´mongst the rich ones. How oftimes we go there an unwelcome guest
"Unwelcome Guest" Words by Woody Guthrie; Music by Billy Bragg
As Woody wrote and Billy tuned, an unwelcome guest can be a pain, in almost every circumstance. Welcome to Oklahoma, Toronto (and your subsequent entourage). We love our Canadian brothers and sisters, but for a few weeks -- the blue leaf is that unwelcome guest.
The Oklahoma City Barons and the Toronto Marlies will meet this evening in the downtown Cox Center for what will only be the fifth time these two teams have played in the last two years. With NHL counterparts that are content (if that's even the word to use) to use their farm system to eventually better their big league squad, the stakes will be high in this matchup. Both Brian Burke and Steve Tambelinni will be in attendance which makes things even more captivating. Will they meet awkwardly in the Pizza Hut line? Will they complain about the lack of Canadian beverages? Will they be able to catch a glimpse of a future that they hope is on the horizon? You have to think that this is a game of high watchability because, quite frankly, there's a lot riding on the future of some of these players. Teemu Hartikainen, Tyler Pitlick, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, etc, etc. -- players that are waiting in the wings, proving their value, and possibly landing a roster spot in the nearest of futures.
The puck drops at 7pm Central, and can be watched via Leafs TV/Rogers as well as the normal radio and live streaming outlets. It's also the first time that the Oklahoma City Barons have had to step out of the Western Division in these Calder Cup Playoffs. I delicately mentioned the struggles that Barons had against teams outside of their division. More after the break.Through roughly 40 games this season I wrote this:
And while Coach Nelson continues to push towards winning in the West, the truth is, and even he realizes it, that this team needs to continue to focus on those unfamiliar foes. Ironically, not a single game in the West for the Barons has been ended in a losing effort in extra frames or a shootout. This team, in this system knows how to finish strong. Outside of the West familiarity things go deep into the third and are prone to close calls.
You make be asking, "Who cares Neal?", and graciously I kind of agree. However, as the season grinds on the Barons find themselves with large chunks of non-divisional play. And within the new post season scenarios, the Barons might face Midwest and North opponents quickly. So, yes, win the West, but watch out for all the rest.
And to some degree that same scenario (struggling outside of their division) continued throughout the season, and into the home stretch. I think it's no surprise that the Barons struggle against the North since there are very few times they actually get to play each other. Through this unfamiliar territory, teams can mangle together "the gameplan", but ultimately it's tough to know what to expect.
Head Coach of the Toronto Marlies, Dallas Eakins, had this to say about the Barons, their season, Coach Todd Nelson and how his team matches up.
Further down the rabbit hole we go. Jeff Veillette, who writes the Marlies-based blog MarliesHQ, had this to say about the series.
For the Marlies to win this series, they're going to have to rely on two things - winning the goaltending battle, and figuring out the Barons system. The first one sounds easier than it is - Danis is the best netminder the team has seen so far. David Leggio was good, but the issue with him was how he played specifically against Toronto. Danny Taylor and Leland Irving put in solid efforts but were worn down soon enough. Danis combines a good track record against the Marlies with being an all around top tier AHL goalie. As for the roster in front of him, there isn't a lot of glaring talent on the roster, with the success coming from being a cohesive team unit. If there was a moment for Dallas Eakins to really show off his ability to coach a team, this is the time. On paper, the roster comparison isn't a contest. It's up to him to figure out how to use that to have his roster neutralize and take over their opponents.
Square one is goaltending. Who's better, Yann or Ben? When both play stingy, both teams have a chance.
I've racked my brain for a week or so trying to pick a winner in this battle. And much to the chagrin of friends, family, fans, and faithful readers - I'll make a pick that I don't really want to. With Scrivens playing lights out, Yann stumbling but righting the ship, the goaltending edge goes to the Marlies. Some believe that eventually Ben Scrivens will come back to earth, but quite frankly he hasn't show any sign of fading. Then again, he's not faced a postseason team with offensive tenacity quite like that of the Barons. On the offensive side of the puck I don't see the Marlies stopping the Barons top line. I also don't see the Barons stopping the top line of the Marlies. And that leads us to quite the predicament. Both teams will likely score some goals, but the shutdown lines might be the ones that'll save the day. I also greatly dislike that Josh Green will miss the first two games. He's the top line center, has been for a while, and in his absence the Barons have won. However, he'll still be missed. Offensive strength is a toss up with a little lean towards the Marlies. Throw in special teams, and it continues to be a crap shoot. So I'm taking the Marlies in 7 (don't thrown things).
If you're listening or watching the game, head over here to discuss the goings-ons. It should be a dandy. Canadians in the appropriate markets can tune in via LeafsTV/Rogers. Everyone else can check out AHLLive.com ($), 96.1 KXXY, iHeartRadio, and SportsJuice for the call. Game starts at 7pm, Central time. Go Barons!