Riding a small win streak coming into last week, the Barons finally appeared to be firing on all cylinders, rowing the boat in the same direction, punching the same time clock, or whatever overworked idiom comes to your mind. The first five games of the season had seen plenty of ups and downs, but ultimately the quickly ridiculed team displayed some intangible strengths on the ice. The question became, "Can they keep this up?"
The great baseball player, manager, and Hall of Famer, Casey Stengel, once said, "Finding great players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story." Although I'd be clinically insane to classify any American Hockey League player as truly great, there is indeed a sense around Oklahoma City that this team is going places, so long as Coach Nelson can motivate the kids to stay consistent and play as much with their brains as they do with their emotion.
The team would certainly test the "on the up and up" theory as they began a northern road trip that featured two prominent games in Toronto and Hamilton, with the latter being televised in Canada and the United States. It's hard to label any games important this early in the season, but games in front of a big North American audience could provide some momentum on the road and give this group of youngsters a swift kick in the pants, as well as a reason to play hard.
Before packing up and hitting the road, the Barons had two weeknight home games to attend to. They played incredibly strong in one, and virtually sleepwalked through the other.
The Lake Erie Monsters slithered into the Cox Center where they were unprepared for the stellar goaltending of Martin Gerber. Gerber, who seems to have finally found his rhythm, stopped all 35 shots sent his direction, including several jaw-dropping moments that we haven't seem from him in years at any level. He reacted well and covered each rebound quickly. He had some help from the Shawn Belle/Jeff Petry blue line that muscled Monsters forwards left and right, muscle that we haven't seen much of up to this point. Belle even took a hard shot from the point to score the first Barons goal of the night. Liam Reddox and Alexandre Giroux would connect on two more goals for a final score of 3-0 as as Martin Gerber recorded the first Oklahoma City Barons shutout. The Barons also continued their strong PK running the total up to 21 consecutive following this game.
Two days later the Barons put on a completely opposite performance. The San Antonio Rampage rolled up the first three goals of the game, eventually besting the Barons 4-1 on home ice. Embarrassing, uninspired hockey that made fans head to the doors painfully early. Too many lazy errors led to opposing scoring opportunities. Gerber, after the previous game's shutout, looked like an AHL goaltender from start to finish, but didn't get any of the help he had the night before either. Jeff Petry, Richard Petiot, and Shawn Belle looked like ugly twin versions of the players we had seen two nights previous. The only bright spot came from knowing the penalty kill was strong again, now at 25 consecutive kills.
Oh, the joys of the American Hockey League scheduling boneheads. The Barons finished the Friday night muckfest and boarded a 4am plane to Toronto for a late afternoon game against the Marlies. I'll spare you the horrific details, and instead point you to this "Memo from the Travel Desk" - Stephen's report after seeing the game live. In brief, it quickly became the Nazem Kadri show; Kadri was the 7th overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2009 entry draft and on this night, he looked every bit the part. Bryan Pitton started in net for the Barons in what was clearly an attempt to rest Gerber for the next day's Hamilton CBC/NHL Network game. Liam Reddox and Linus Omark were able to score, but the Marlies would win 5-2.
When the CBC announced their partnership with the AHL way back in August, this was the game that many Edmonton/Oklahoma City fans highlighted on their calendars. It was a nationally televised game in both Canada and the United States, and it was the first opportunity for most to see the new Barons play. David Desharnais, who'd have a pretty impressive game, scored in the first period to put the Barons down early. Jeff Petry and Colin McDonald would both score in the second period giving the Barons the edge at 2-1. A Hamilton PP goal in the third would bring the game to two all, while also snapping the Barons' miraculous 35 PK mark. As overtime began, the Bulldogs threw every possible thing they could at Martin Gerber, but to no avail. Eventually, Alexandre Giroux would score on a pretty sweet shot that he patiently awaited as the Hamilton defense found themselves out of position. The Barons defeated the Bulldogs 3-2.
Roll the highlights:
- Alex Plante has become the punisher for the Oklahoma City Barons. He is currently third on the list for fighting penalties in the AHL. The Barons are tied for first place as a team with 13 fighting majors.
- Everyone's favorite NHL grandpa, Pat Quinn, was in town for the Tuesday night game and then again for the Friday night game. He discussed his Oklahoma ties in a great article by Ryan Aber.
- The 35 consecutive penalty kills has to be some kind of AHL record. I was unable to confirm this record, but noticed that the highest penalty kill efficiency was set by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 03-04 season and the mark is at 90.66. That might be a record worth watching in the coming months.
- Martin Gerber is one of eleven AHL goaltenders to record a shutout this season. A rare thing indeed as he has only recorded 25 shutouts in his career at various professional levels.
- Oklahoma City's attendance average is nestled mid-pack when compared to other AHL teams. It's hovering around 4,336. It will be interesting to see if attendance rises or falls over the coming winter months.
- October 27th @ Chicago Wolves
- October 29th @ Grand Rapids Griffins
- October 30th @ Peoria Rivermen
- November 5th back home against the Texas Stars