This week during a radio interview on Team 1260 in Edmonton, Coach Todd Nelson described for Bob Stauffer, and an Oilers fanbase, the scoring abilities of the Oklahoma City Barons. "Right now, this team scores by committee. With Giroux in Edmonton, we are trying to find that consistent scoring."
With the weight of chasing a playoff spot in the Western Conference placed firmly on their shoulders, the Barons would take their "committee" scoring out for a spin with four games in five days - three at home, and one on the road.
The harsh reality is that the Barons have indeed taken a collaborative approach to scoring. Look no further than this week's games for an example of such. Mark Arcobello and Chris Vande Velde had three goals, Matt Marquardt and Colin McDonald both had a pair, and Anthony Aiello and Teemu Hartikainen each had one. Although some names on this lis of leading scorers might seem strange, it's good to know that this team can dig deep and find offense even from the youngsters. But is it enough at such an important time in the season?
In essence, committee scoring can be dangerous at times especially when the team needs consistency the most. Not having the "go to" player presence can be a seemingly hair pulling experience for a coaching staff.
The Barons would take on the Manitoba Moose early in the week, followed by a quick trip to San Antonio to meet the Rampage who are in a similar playoff battle to that in OKC. The team would round out the weekend with back-to-back games with the Grand Rapids Griffins before heading out on a nine game road trip. Could the lack of dominate scoring threats squelch the Barons momentum? Find out after the jump.
Manitoba Moose 4 Oklahoma City Barons 1
The last time the Moose and Barons met was very early in the season on December 10th. This also marked the first game without Linus Omark who'd head to Edmonton for what appears to be the duration of the season. That win was a dominate victory for Martin Gerber and a breakout game for Jeff Petry who nailed the game winning goal.
The Moose own one of the worst power play units in the American League at third to last, but also have a polar opposite penalty kill which is third best. The defensive nature of their game extends to rookie netminder Eddie Lack who's a dynamite prospect, and one of their bright spots at 23-11-5 and SV% of .927.
However, it was the Barons own defense that cost their team a victory as the Moose scored four straight goals, two on the power play, across three periods. Usually steady Martin Gerber even struggled, but was not aided well by the defense in front of him. Bryan Helmer, another consistent veteran, even had a rough go making a passing error to let in the first goal, and looked sluggish defending his own zone on the second goal which was a short hander.
Scoring the only Barons goal was Matt Marquardt who deflected a Richard Petiot shot into the net on the last gasps of a third period power play.
Sloppy, lazy, unresponsive, lackluster - pick your descriptive poison as the Barons fall to the Moose 4-1.
Oklahoma City Barons 3 San Antonio Rampage 4
Matt Marquardt, Colin McDonald, and Brad Moran is the strangest first line combination of the year. Teemu Hartikainen was running the top line, but after a rough game just two night before, the Barons were in need of a shakeup.
The Barons would have their chances against the Rampage including five on the power play. However, the San Anotnio Rampage are one of the best man advantage teams in the league, and capitilazied quickly on their chances. After a one-minute-in hooking call against Milan Kytnar, the Rampage score at the 2:11 mark of period one after some sloppy puck control in front of Martin Gerber.
The Barons would show signs of life after falling down a goal early. Ben Ondrus had an opportunity to gain some momentum, as he was awarded a penalty shot while driving towards Rampage goaltender Matt Climie. He rang it off the post after beating the goaltender cleaning. Nevertheless, Matt Marquardt and Mark Arcobello scored goals less than three minutes apart to put Oklahoma City up for a brief time before Bracken Kearns wrists his first of two goals of the night for the Rampage.
With the game tied at two going into period two, the Barons needed to come out rifling. Instead, they allowed two goals in period two on only nine Rampage shots, and once again the Barons found themselves needing goals quickly. Despite a late goal by Chris Vande Velde, this one was over far too soon. The Barons give up two important standing points to West Division climbers the Rampage in a 4-3 loss.
Grand Rapids Griffins 5 Oklahoma City Barons 6
The only victory this weekend would come against the Grand Rapids Griffins' who are in a battle for a playoff spot themselves, and actually the playoff spot the Barons are fighting for in the North. Martin Gerber would get the night off, and Jeff Deslauriers would be ready, willing, and hopefully able to go.
This back and forth, goal-for-goal, scoring fest was a fine one. The Barons found scoring, and indeed gave up some goals, but played a passionate, never say die, type of game. When Deslauriers is in net you better be ready to score, and score often because he'll let in a few stinkers.
The Griffins Francis Pare ripped off back-to-back goals in period one, and the Barons failed to hit the scoreboard despite an opening frame with 16 shots on net. Colin McDonald and Mark Arcobello matched the Griffins in period two, but Grand Rapids would quickly counter. Then the Barons would net another pair courtesy of Chris Vande Velde, and Arcobello his second of the night and of the period. Period two came to a close with the Barons on top 4-3.
The dueling goals continued in period three as the Griffins scored a pair to put themselves on top by one, but heart attack Hartikainen would knot it back up halfway through period three. The remainder of regulation both teams jostled for position, and eventually would lead to an overtime frame. Anthony Aiello would be the hero of the day scoring his first goal as a Baron 36 seconds into the OT period.
Grand Rapids Griffins 5 Oklahoma City Barons 2
Colin McDonald and Chris Vande Velde scored key goals that had the Griffins on their heals for the first 30 minutes of play. After that, it was all Griffins. Five different Grand Rapids players would score on the night as Martin Gerber suffered his third defeat in three stars, a rare thing for the veteran goaltender.
The defense, primarily Helmer and recently back with the team Alex Plante, couldn't execute from the get go. They appeared to be skating in mud. The Griffins are a highly skilled team, but they somehow managed to look like a roster full of All-Stars scoring so quickly, and beating OKC defensive pairs in remarkable fashion.
The Barons end the week at 1-3, and just barely in the North swap playoff spot.
As the Copper and Blue broke the Teemu Hartikainen story early this morning, my Oklahoma City heart sunk, yet my hockey mind cheered.
I've referred to Hartikainen as the "spark plug" for the Barons. He's not the wise old goal scorer like Giroux. He's not a shifty presence like Colin McDonald. He isn't intentionally flashy like Linus Omark. Instead, Hartikainen is a mix of grit, grind, and gloss. He'll knock you senseless at one end, and graciously slide a cross ice pass to an open winger. He'll bounce the puck off the sidewall, scoop it up, squeeze through two defenders, and blast a wrister before you can even blink. He's my definition of gritty hockey with one exception...he's young.
Keep in mind, this guy was born in 1990 when all of us were laughing at Bud Light "Wassssuuupp" commercials, and jammin' to Bell Biv DeVoe (or was that only me?). He's young, talented, very smart, and passionate about his place. He's candid about his role in the machine of Oilers players, and he's fine with where he is in the moment. However, his easy going attitude off the ice turns feverish when on it.
So, to my Oilers family, enjoy the young Teemu because he's a winner. I'm sure his time spent in the NHL will be short this season, but remember he's a work in progress. Although, at this point he's more progress than work.
The Alex Attack Returns
It will be good to have the old gang back together. With Hartikainen going up, it was inevitable that Giroux would come down. And this is key for the Barons success. Hartikainen, Marquardt, and a few others have toiled away on the top line alongside Moran and McDonald, but with hit or miss success. Getting the three dynamic trio together again will reinvigorate scoring potential.
Giroux is a cluster scorer. He scores in bunches, but also has a tendency to make his line mates better as well. This is something that comes with time, and hockey wisdom. Of late, the top line of the Barons hasn't had the luxury of such playmakers.
It is interesting to note that prior to Giroux's callup on March 5th the teams five previous games they scored 10 goals, had two wins and two losses. Since his departure, the team has scored 14 goals, had two wins and two losses. It's interesting because the top line trio might have been a slight crutch of expectation for the youngsters surrounding it. Now that they realize they can score we might see a surge in Barons offensive prowess.
Linus the Menace
Linus Omark, an original Baron as he is often referred too, seems poised to remain with the Oilers for the rest of the NHL season. "We have to make the playoffs before Omark comes down," said Coach Todd Nelson in a radio interview this week on Team 1260, "but we sure could use his scoring threat." I agree that he'll stay and only come down with the Barons making the playoffs mainly because of the injury riddled lineup the Oilers are currently experiencing.