There's no denying how good the Oklahoma City Barons have been this season. Young NHL prospects, strong veteran presence, AHL-best goaltending, first place in the Western Conference, a birth in the West Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs - yet none of those things were even visible last night in downtown OKC. The Marlies crushed the Barons 5-0 out of the gate. The Barons seemingly had no answer for the multi-talented Marlies. Game one is over, but we learned a lot about each team.
I mentioned in the game preview that I thought both teams would come out slow, kind of sluggish, taking the wait-and-see approach towards sizing up the competition. Indeed the Barons somewhat did that. With only one sizable scoring chance in the first five minutes, via Mark Arcobello to Tyler Pitlick, the Marlies took an early lead.
Nearing the six minute mark, a delayed penalty was called, and the Marlies attacked the net. As Nicolas Deschamps carries the puck in front of Danis, he gets tripped up, but is able to wrangle in a shot from his knees into Danis. The rebound comes out, the Barons defense doesn't pounce on it, and Marcel Mueller opens the scoring.
The Barons begin to heat up a bit, but get slapped with a Bryan Helmer hook. The Marlies capitilize on a Nicolas Deschamps PP goal. The puck dances in front of the net as both teams stab at it, it squirts to Danis' left, and Deschamps slams it home. The Marlies take a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period.
The second period featured more of the same. Occasional moments of excitement by the Barons, but an inability to turn those moments into goals on the scoreboard.
Matt Frattin, who'd have a fantastic night, scores from the right side with a quick shot on Danis. The good news for Oklahoma City was that they were able to kill four penalties in the second period, and only give up the early goal. The bad news is that they gave up those penalties in the first place, and that they weren't able to inch back into this game. The second period ends with a score of 3-0.
In the third period. Joe Colborne, recently back in the lineup, and Jake Gardiner scored the two nails in the coffins. The Colborne goal coming of a Nazem Kadri lay-in that couldn't connect, but gets rebounded off Yann Danis' blocker. The latter coming as Jake Gardiner squeezes around a lazy hip check by Mark Arcobello. Gardiner knifes in front of Danis unmolested, and backhands the fifth and final goal of the evening.
The Marlies finish off OKC with a final of 5-0 in the first game of the West Finals.
There are a couple of things worth mentioning, and thus I'll unpack them one by one.
First, Yann Danis wasn't completely terrible in this one, despite 5 goals going in. He made some incredible saves, and if any other goaltender is playing in this game, I'd likely tack on 2 extra. But Danis did give up some rebounds which is very un-Yann-like. He ususally makes quick haste of those errant pucks, but in this one he just couldn't. The attack of the Marlies, there active sticks, high quality shots, and ability to move the puck to all shooting angles crippled Danis' chances in this one. And for that matter, the defense of the Barons.
Ah yes, the Barons defense. Usually smarter. Usually stouter. In game one it was all bad. Taylor Chorney was on the ice for all four even strength goals. And the Marlies recognized this and ran the puck at him constantly. It's a night to forget for Taylor. But Bryan Helmer wasn't much better. He was unable to thwart the quick feet of the Marlies, and actually became a liability at specific moments in the game. The center chunk of the game, when Oklahoma City attempted to mount a weak comeback, the penalties (and subsequent PP opportunities for Toronto) went Helmer, Chorney, Plante, Chorney, Helmer, and were "outmatched" type of penalties (hook, interference, etc.). The good news is that Dan Ringwald and Dylan Yeo played sizable minutes, and were able to help generate offense. Other than that, the Barons defense was tired and weak.
The offense had it's moments. Magnus Paajarvi, Tanner House, Chris Vande Velde, Teemu Hartikainen -- all had really strong opportunities. However, outside of maybe two or three chances, the rest of the opportunites came at a distance from Marlies goaltender, Ben Scrivens, who continues to be nearly unbeatable.
Nazem Kadri is an evil wizard. Even when not scoring he's a threat to opponents. And it's in the way he moves, how he handles the puck, and what he does away from it that prove his worth to the Leaf's organization. He's incredibly dangerous.
Joe Colborne played, after not seeing much action of late due to a hand injury, and he instantly made a difference.
The shot totals were nearly identical (officially at 31-32), but again, the in-close scoring chances on Scrivens were very few. And Ben was able to seal the puck, and keep rebounds to a minimum.
The Marlies puck possess, especially on the power play, better than any team in the AHL I've seen play this year. They just don't turn the puck over very often. The penalty kill for the Barons was 1/6 on the evening, and that's a good thing, but it's mainly because of Danis that the Marlies only earned one goal on the man advantage. There power play isn't all that good, but when you make few mistakes when holding the puck, it doesn't have to be top notch.
The Barons had six power play chances, and I can only think of two times where I thought the puck was cycled well. This continues to be a problem for OKC. There is a certain bit of creativity missing from the Barons extra skating unit. I've blamed Bryan Rodney and the consistent use of the right wing, but in this game it just didn't gel. That needs to be fixed asap.
Game two takes place tonight in downtown Oklahoma City. We will likely see a different Barons squad than we did the night before (in spirit, not in personnel). Perhaps we see a new defender in the lineup as well (Martin Marincin over Taylor Chorney). But whatever they do they'll need to do quickly. Going down two games at home, then heading to Toronto for three straight? The recipe for disaster.