With one lopsided loss and another that was close, but not nearly as close as the score indicated, the Barons return home to the Cox Center today for game three against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Hopefully refreshed by a few days of rest, the OKC team looks to rattle off three wins at home in this best of seven series. But the Bulldogs have a sweep in mind.
In just about any playoff series, by the time you reach game three you know a thing or two about your opponent. Their tendencies, their strengths, their shortcomings - all are exposed after battling hard in the previous two games. By now the Barons have seen what the Bulldogs have to offer. Drew MacIntyre is the goaltender that Hamilton needs him to be stopping 42 of 45 shots in the first two games combined. They've also seen the punch that Nigel Dawes can bring, followed by the second and third lines that have been just as strong. However, the most overlooked aspects of the Bulldogs game are in the fundamentals. Doing the simple things right has led to dominate success.
So what exactly is Hamilton doing right that Oklahoma City is doing so horribly wrong?
- Out of the Zone. The Hamilton Bulldogs, surprisingly, are one of the quickest teams coming out of their defensive zone. When the puck changes possession, the defensemen are immediately looking for the outlet pass that enters the puck into the offensive zone. The team isn't all that fast, they just hustle the puck up the ice quickly. This causes the Barons defense to play on their heels and the offense to reach, grab, slash, and hook Bulldogs that quickly pass in a blur. Winning this particular battle has to be a focus of Coach Todd Nelson.
- Penalized. Plain and simple, the Barons have gifted the Bulldogs far too many one and two man advantages. Twelve power play chances in two playoff games is not all that surprising. What is surprising is the 33% success rate that the Bulldogs are having on said power play. Their season average was identical to the Barons at 18.7%. Giving up those penalties early and late has caused the Barons the series through two games. Playing smart will be the focus in game three.
- Deep Defense. The Hamilton Bulldogs would much rather play a one goal game, than a two goal game. Their protect-a-puck defensive game is certainly backstopped by Drew MacIntyre, but the under-appreciated defense in front of him has been stellar. Brendon Nash, Kyle Klubertanz, and captain Alex Henry have frustrated the top two scoring lines to no end. Team leaders, Alexandre Giroux and Colin McDonald have yet to score in this series. This is deeply troubling when you realize how important their role has been for the Barons through the entire season. Even the dynamo line featuring Teemu Hartikainen, Mark Arcobello, and Linus Omark has played decently, but has been unable to break through some nasty defensive posturing. Hamilton's defense is not mean. They don't play ugly. They play fundamentally sound hockey, and rarely give up the puck clumsily. Watch, and learn Barons.
- The Edges. It's infuriating to watch as a fan of the Barons, but Hamilton is strong on the boards. Rarely do they give much ground in the center of the ice. Their goaltender flourishes by playing the angles. If Omark, Hartikainen, or McDonald can crash the net, the team has a higher success rate. Giroux certainly can dial one in from the right face off circle, but that's fine with Hamilton. They want you on the edges, and that's where the Barons have been for most of the series.
- Today is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing that occurred on April 19th, 1995. Although the AHL playoffs come home to the Cox Center, Oklahomans remember the events that occurred that day with a somber attitude. We rejoice in Barons hockey, but fully recall the weight of that day.
- Tuesday evening, the Barons will play in the Cox Center while the Oklahoma City Redhawks (Houston Astros) take to the diamond down the street. No big deal, right? Fast forward to Wednesday evening and game four of the Barons vs. Hamilton series. On that night, the Oklahoma City Thunder play their second playoff game against the Denver Nuggets, the Barons play, as do the Redhawks. The downtown traffic jam and potential parking disaster has already been pondered in the back of my mind. One tip! Get to both games early hockey fans.
- It's nice to get some coverage. In the wake of the Barons facing a Canadian team, the media coverage in and around the Cox Center has been persistent all week. The local news continues to ignore the Barons, especially with the Thunder's post season regalia taking place across the street, but the out-of-towners are a welcome mix of excitement and curiosity.
- Despite the fight for sports attention in the state, the Barons look to have a good crowd on Tuesday night. Neither Hamilton games averaged over 4,000 which is less than the 4,200 they averaged during the regular season. You can blame NHL playoff hockey as the culprit, but what a dis-heartening first two games for the Bulldogs home crowd. Nonetheless, they won both games. Ironically, the Oklahoma City Barons season average was just below the Hamilton Bulldogs. With a slightly different sports pull on the people of Oklahoma City, getting rumps in the seat will be tough, but might surprise many.
- Ticket pricing, for the most part, has gone unchanged for the post season. Good news for the people of this city who have yet to be exposed to the new team. Affordable tickets and playoff hockey; doesn't get more exciting than that.
- Listen to the game online at KXY, Team1260, or via the paid AHL Live stream. Puck drops at 6:05MDT/7:05CST
Projected Lines: Giroux, Moran, McDonald - Hartikainen, Arcobello, Omark - Stortini, CVV, Tremblay - Stewart, O`Marra, Ondrus - Montgomery, Petry - Helmer, Petiot - Plante, Teubert - Martin Gerber