Three home games in three straight days sounded like a perfect concoction for AHL winning in Oklahoma City. December was a sinister foe for this team, as they clawed their way to only four wins, while losing eight more. The promise of a turn-around seemed possible when the Barons opened the new year by playing well in back-to-back nights against the Rockford Ice Hogs. So, it was time for a three day homestead to really get the engine revved up, and the Barons back to the top of the Western Division.
The return of Jeff Deslauriers, the signing of veteran defensemen Bryan Helmer, the restoration of Ryan O'Marra, and the absence of Liam Reddox were swirling around the Baby Oilogosphere as the Barons welcomed the Peoria Rivermen for a two game stint, followed by the Lake Erie Monsters.
Deslauriers, or Mr. Spengler to you, had shown flashes of decency while in Switzerland, enough so to earn him the top goaltender of the tourney. It would be nice to have him back in net to give Martin Gerber a breather of sorts.
Bryan Helmer, a longtime NHL/AHL journeyman was signed to a PTO this week in hopes of strengthening the blue line which had been abused by many opponents of late. Helmer, a former teammate of Coach Todd Nelson in Grand Rapids, as well as Alexandre Giroux in Hershey, was an interesting get. At age 38, and toting over 1,000 professional games, Helmer would certainly add some experience to this team. But would he really make a difference? And how long would it take him to get back into gameday shape? These questions were answered quickly over the weekend.
It was feast or famine for Ryan O'Marra while with the Oilers. You either found his play to be quietly promising or painfully tedious. Either way, his return to OKC was much needed. However, the absence of his two co-herts, Liam Reddox and Linus Omark, was going to be a change of scenery for O'Marra who'd come to center a line that was fun to watch, and scored in bunches.
As the team pulled itself together for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, there were so many familiar pieces missing or displaced that I'm pretty sure both the coaching staff and fans were unsure of what to expect on the ice.
Is There No Bend In This River?
Peoria Rivermen 5 - Oklahoma City Barons 2
The Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) have a simple modus operandi; they are rough, tough, and nasty. This, of course, is completely opposite of how the Barons play. The Rivermen punished the Barons in the opening period scoring three consecutive goals, and rarely tapped the brakes from that point forward.
Starting Peoria goaltender, Jake Allen, came to the Cox Center with a record of 14-3-0, and is probably one of the most NHL-ready goaltenders the Barons will face all year. He's quick, agile, and rarely out of position. It would be tough sailing the puck over Allen, who is tops amongst AHL goaltenders with a GAA of 1.76 and a SV% of .945.
Dave Spina, Andrew Carroll, and Graham Mink scored opening period goals against Martin Gerber to put the Barons very behind, very early. As period two began, Spina again scored to get things rolling for Peoria, but this time short handed following weak power play control by both Taylor Chorney and Bryan Helmer. Milan Kytnar would score his third goal of the season in the waning minutes of period two, after rebounding a Matt Marquardt shot. However, the story of period two was the fisticuffs. As Ben Ondrus and Peoria's Anthony Peluso went toe-to-toe, a second altercation broke out between Jake Taylor and Ryan Reaves. Reaves would eventually bring Taylor to the ground, and hammer away at his head while a referee hovered. Despite the lack of good officiating during this altercation, there was also a lack of camaraderie as teammates waited, and waited, and waited for the referee to jump in as opposed to jumping in to help themselves. Eventually Jake Taylor was awarded the Barons first ever game misconduct, and would usher in some bad blood between these two teams.
The final period delved out Graham Mink's second goal of the night, and a last ditch effort by Taylor Chorney as the Barons were beat in every facet of the game, and on the scoreboard 5 to 2.
Rolling on the River
Peoria Rivermen 5 - Oklahoma City Barons 4 (OTL)
The Barons began round two with the Peoria Rivermen in fine form, scoring a goal in every period, but eventually being out done quickly in overtime.
In the first two and a half minutes of the opening period, Ben Ondrus scored a short-handed goal following a lengthy pass from Colin McDonald. Immediately following, Shawn Belle is called for tripping, and the Rivermen's Mark Cundari capitilizes by scoring on Barons goaltender Jeff Deslauriers. As quickly as the game was tied, Alexandre Giroux would put the Barons on top with a power play goal after a tremendous feed from Bryan Helmer. As the period seemed to be closing, Peoria's Nicholas Drazenovic scored at even strength to end period one 2 to 2.
Period two was another back and forth affair. After Matt Marquardt slapped the puck toward the net, Chris Vande Velde put it behind goalie Ben Bishop. However, following a undisciplined holding penalty by Alex Plante, Peoria's Adam Cracknell tapped it home beyond Deslauriers reach. The Rivermen and Barons were again tied to end a period, this time 3 to 3.
Period three saw many scoring chances for both teams. Teemu Hartikainen, Matt Marquardt, Colin McDonald, Brad Moran, and Shawn Belle had opportunities to seal a victory, but ulimately Alexandre Giroux and Della Rovere would have matching goals to round out a fast-paced third period. With regulation over, the Barons would head into the extra frame pining for those much needed standing points.
The promise of an extra, hard-fought, dynamic period faded quickly as Peoria would score in the first sixteen seconds to dash the hopes of Deslauriers nabbing a victory in his return to Oklahoma City.
Emerge from the Deep
Lake Erie Monsters 1 - Oklahoma City Barons 5
The Monsters would fall prey to some fiery goal scoring by the Barons in this emotional victory that featured two goals by Alex Giroux, and two more by Colin McDonald.
After playing a rough and tumble game on Friday, and finally playing both ends of the ice on Saturday, Oklahoma City was in need of a strong performance and a victory.
With the Colin McDonald-Brad Moran-Alexandre Giroux line now firing on all cylinders, this line would see two power play goals in the first period. The first was netted by Colin McDonald via an Alexandre Giroux pass, and the second was from Bryan Helmer who made an identical pass to Giroux just the night before. The Monsters' Ryan Stoa would get one past Jeff Deslauriers, now goaltending two nights in a row, but it was all Barons from that point forward.
Philippe Cornet scored his first goal of the season in period two after some work by Teemu Hartikainen and Milan Kytnar. As period two came and went, period three began with another Colin McDonald goal on the power play, and finished with an Alexandre Giroux empty netter. The Barons get a victory before heading out on the road by beating Lake Erie 5 to 1.
Forget the question marks for Byran Helmer because he played an important role in all three of the games this weekend. He recorded 4 assists, 3 shots, and finished even despite a sub par defensive weekend for the Barons. Of note, given his previous play with Alexandre Giroux it will be interesting to see if these two connect once again. He assisted on two of Giroux's goals over the weekend.
As of today, Colin McDonald is tied for top goal scorer in the league at 20 goals on the season. Let me repeat that, Colin McDonald is the top goal scorer in the league. McDonald has never scored more than 13 goals on a season, and is one of the consistent scoring threats for the Barons. Playing alongside Moran and Giroux has helped, but if he can nab 40 goals on the season (which could happen) he'll become a premiere right winger in the league.
How Giroux You Do
Filed under "Better Late Than Never" Alexandre Giroux has caught fire of late, and is sitting third in the AHL in pts. His 42 points in 40 games is the Giroux we had heard so much about prior to the season beginning. He in no way seems poised to tackle the 50 or 60 goals he scored over the last two seasons in Hershey, but his stock is on the rise.
Shots & Goals
One of the ongoing worries for the Barons is their lack of defensive strength. The addition of Bryan Helmer will ease that, but Shawn Belle has not regained his PRE callup up stride as of today. Over the weekend, the Barons were slightly outshot by their opponents, and equaled their opponents goal scoring. I'll be anxious to see how the defensive pairings survive from here on out. With an All-Star break approaching, Coach Todd Nelson has promised to find the right remedies for defensive struggles.
Oklahoma City Barons vs. Peoria Rivermen
Oklahoma City Barons vs. Peoria Rivermen
Oklahoma CIty Barons vs. San Antonio Rampage