Really good hockey teams quickly learn how to avoid losing streaks. They firmly plow their way through the schedule, with minor hiccups along the way, and rarely pause their winning ways to let others pass them by. Oilers fans understand both ends of the winning/losing streak maybe better than any NHL team. However, the minor league Barons have already found ways to win, and losing isn't something that happens on a consistent basis. The Barons longest winning streak thus far stretched five games which began with the nationally televised game in Hamilton prior to Halloween. Gratefully they managed to have a regulation losing streak no longer than 2 games, and that's only reared its head 3 times. That is until the Barons rounded out their weekend on three consecutive losses with two on home ice. I'd like to say that I'm bummed, but once again Oil Country is no stranger to a lengthy losing streak so I'll drop it down a notch, and find a few glimmering beacons of excitement that occurred over a slow, two game weekend.
This Dog Has Bite
The Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Candiens) are a team on the up. As they sit high atop the North Division of the Western Conference, they are an irksome team for the Barons to handle. Hamilton's David Desharnais entered the nights encounter with the Barons at 32 points in 29 games. He'd up that ante a little further, and cement his 2nd place standing in points in the entire AHL. He's the type of player that makes his team better, and without sounding too cheesy his stats don't lie - 8 goals and 27 assists.
Martin Gerber got the start the last time these two tanged in October, and eventually came up big in overtime, giving Alexandre Giroux a chance to score the OT winner. This, only the second meeting of the two teams, would start sloppy and slow for both clubs, but unfortunately for the Barons it netted them their first scoreless endeavor of the season.
The Barons would go 0 for 8 on the power play, and the Bulldogs 2 for 6. Hamilton centerman, Ben Maxwell, scored his fifth goal of the season with a two man advantage following a touchy hooking call on Brad Moran in the first :45 of play. In his first game since being placed in Hamilton after playing 10 games for Montreal, Dustin Boyd scored on Gerber off a great feed from Desharnais. To round out the scoring, Desharnais would sneak one pass Gerber with 5 minutes left in period 3 to put the Barons away. With 4 power play chances in the first period alone, the scoring just wasn't going to happen on this wearisome night of play for the baby Oilers
Feel bad for Taylor Chorney who was on the ice for each of the Bulldogs 3 goals. Feel even worse for Alexandre Giroux who's stuck at 599 points on his career.
You have to give a big thumbs up to opposing Curtis Sanford who faced a decent amount of shots (29) from a team that scores from all angles.
The Alamo Called. How'd They Get Our Number?
The West Division leading San Antonio Rampage (Phoenix Coyotes) have a thing for copper and blue. Having beaten them two times prior, you'd like to think the Barons could pull one together, and grab a few more standing points prior to Christmas. Yet still the Barons struggled against a fine Rampage team. Martin Gerber would try to keep the losing streak to two for the Barons while unknown goaltender, Joey Fallon, was thrust into the starting role following Matt Climie call-up to the Coyotes. Both teams would score a pair of power play goals, but the Rampage would dominate the third period, and run all over the Barons defense.
Taylor Chorney, scoring his first goal of the year, broke the Barons 0 for 22 power play woes early in period 1. Petr Prucha of the Rampage responded following a too many men on the ice penalty for the Barons. At the end of period 1, the Barons still appeared to be lifeless, tired even.
San Antonio's defenseman, Garrett Stafford blasted a shot past Gerber late in period 2 to put the Rampage up one, but Colin McDonald countered with another power play goal with assists from Moran, and Alexandre Giroux. Giroux had finally notched his 600th point, but it came in delayed fashion as he was awarded the point a few minutes following the goal. More on Giroux at the bottom. As the teams headed to the locker room tied at 2-2, the Barons soon became helpless in period 3.
Andrew Ebbett and Ryan Hollweg scored back-to-back goals early in period 3 to put this one in the books well before the 10 minute mark. Martin Gerber did what he could, by stopping 34 shots, but once again the offense couldn't muster even a smidge of production. The Barons lose 4-2, and the Rampage continue their dominance of the West Division.
News & Notations
At 600, What's A Giroux To Do?
Alexandre Giroux indeed scored point number 600 on Saturday night. His 318 goals and 282 assists is quite impressive even at the AHL level. During his play for six different AHL teams, he has reached the 50 goal mark on the season twice, he's won multiple Calder Cups, scoring titles, and MVP nods. So much discussion has been made about his less than extensive time in the NHL (only 31 games). There are many that have seen him play throughout his great career, and certainly his struggles in OKC this year might be a result of deep playoff runs the last two years, young line-mates, and unfamiliar organizational situations. Whatever the case might be, at 29 years old, you indeed watch him play, and wonder why he hasn't made an NHL roster consistently. He has great vision on the ice, and knows where to stand in front of the net. He has decent size, adequate speed, and intuitive awareness of his teammates. Yet, there is something lacking in his game. Call it the "X" factor if you will, or maybe its good old fashioned timing, but Giroux is deficient in areas that pro scouts, and team managers nit-pick about, but ultimately lead to winning franchises. Exhibit A - He lumbers through open-ice too often, resulting in poor defense to his offense. Exhibit B - I like to call him the cherry picker from time-to-time because he parks himself in spots (not always in front of the net) and awaits offensive to come to him. His alter ego would be Linus Omark, who naturally brings the offense to himself, he doesn't wait. Exhibit C - His speed. When you see him next to a Linus Omark, Teemu Hartikainen, or Liam Reddox you really see the lack of speedy legs. No doubt, 10 or 15 years ago Giroux would have cracked an NHL roster (of course he would have been 15 years old, but work with me here). He has far too many missing intangibles that ultimately keep him in the "A". This in no way alters his greatness as a AHL player, because reaching 600 points in any league shows longevity, health, and commitment. I give him two thumbs up on a stellar career thus far. Here's to more goals for the Barons, and 100 more points.
Walk the Line
Coach Todd Nelson doesn't get enough credit. Sure the Oilers stacked him with a good hand during the gathering of the current influx of Barons, but he coaches well. A great example of this occurred over the weekend. Following the Barons scoring nill against Hamilton he sat Alex Plante, who appeared to be in consideration for a call-up to the Oilers. Was he sending a message? Probably. Was he resting Plante for the eventual call-up? Maybe. But with Omark living the dream in Edmonton, and Plante on the bench the line mixup began. The familiar lines were scrambled in hopes of getting the puck in the net more often. Saturday's game saw some strange configurations, but the masterminding going on might have nudged the laziness out of the OKC club. Here is how the lines looked on Saturday night:
Liam Reddox - Alexandre Giroux - Brad Moran
Colin McDonald - Milan Kytnar - Teemu Hartikainen
Gregory Stewart - Chris Vande Velde - Jesse Gimblett
Ben Ondrus - Philippe Cornet - Jordan Bendfeld
Jeff Petry - Shawn Belle
Richard Petiot - Taylor Chorney
Jake Taylor - Johan Motin
You'll notice that Teemu Hartikainen has moved further up the line and is now paired with Colin McDonald. Typically this is where Liam Reddox would squeeze in, but he's been promoted to first line with Giroux and Moran. I like that first line mainly because it adds a speedy element. Kytnar is finally getting to hang on to some good linemates and hopefully have some success. Although, this one will take time to develop. Ironically, the first power play goal was scored with the second line of McDonald-Kytnar-Hartikainen, yet the second power play goal went with the familiar McDonald-Giroux-Moran line. I genuinely believe the McDonald-Giroux-Moran line is a goal scoring safety net, but with Omark out, Hartikainen will get more time with McDonald to balance things out. I'll leave the great statistical analysis to my fellow 'C & B' writers, but this isn't probably the last time we see the top two lines get switched around. Other things to notice? Bendfeld has been getting some time in at forward, and playing nicely on the deeper lines. Moving Ondrus deep in the rotation seems odd, but not entirely ridiculous. Ondrus has become more of a grinder, and Cornet, especially, needs to tutorial on such things. I'm anxious to hear readers opinions on these lines. You guys never cease to amaze me with your analysis.
December 20th Oklahoma City Barons at Texas Stars
December 28th Texas Stars at Oklahoma City Barons
December 29th Oklahoma City Barons at San Antonio Rampage
December 31st Oklahoma City Barons at San Antonio Rampage