The American Hockey League leading Oklahoma City Barons returned home after winning three games in three nights last week on the road - and riding a four-game win streak. With the NHL and the Oilers off for the All-Star break, the Barons got a nice boost in the lineup with the additions of Teemu Hartikainen, Taylor Chorney, and Magnus Paajarvi. For the upcoming weekend, the Barons would take on the Houston Aeros who were trying to keep pace with the Barons, and the Texas Stars.
Friday night, the Barons looked to make it 6-0 this season against the Aeros. Having had all the success this season against them, Yann Danis was in net. Matt Hackett was in net for Houston, making it a battle of All-Star goalies as both had been chosen for the AHL All-Star Classic taking place Monday night. The Barons wanted to put this one away quick, and started to do so with Josh Green receiving a pass from Ryan Keller in the slot and shooting it past Hackett to give the Barons the 1-0 lead at 5:57. Just about ten minutes later on a Casey Wellman interference penalty, Mark Arcobello shot the puck from the faceoff circle and with a screen right in front of Hackett, he was able to make it 2-0 Barons with a power play goal that has seemed a bit rare during the winning streak. That was the score as the teams headed to the locker room with the Barons doubling up Houston on the shots 16-8.
Continuing the pace from the 1st period, the Barons kept the pressure on from the start of the 2nd and Teemu Hartikainen received a breakaway pass from Tyler Pitlick to make it 3-0 Barons just 2:52 in. The Barons saw the penalty kill three times in the period and Hunter Tremblay continued his success on the PK as he received a breakaway pass from Chris VandeVelde and scored his fourth shorthanded goal and sixth shorthanded point of the season to make it 4-0 Barons at 18:11. The Barons in the 2nd nearly doubled the Aeros once again on shots, shooting 13-7 in the period and 29-15 in the game.
Matt Hackett would be done for the night as Darcy Kuemper took over the netminding duties for the Aeros in the 3rd. The Barons began to back off on the pressure, and the Aeros took advantage of it. At 8:00, Joel Broda had a David McIntyre shot rebound right to him, and he put it past Danis to break up the shutout bid for the Barons. Three minutes later, Antti Tyrvainen took a slashing call, and right off the faceoff Jon DiSalvatore cut the Barons lead in half making it 4-2 Barons. The Barons hung on for the next few minutes, and the Aeros took a gamble, pulling Kuemper with about 2:30 to play. A rebound by the Aeros finally travelled far enough for a Barons player to receive it and Arcobello scored his second of the game on the empty netter from about center ice. Shooting only four times in the 3rd, the Barons held on to take the 5-2 win and improve to 6-0 against the Aeros this season.
Saturday night the Barons got set to take on the Texas Stars in front of 5,606 people. David LeNeveu got the start against Andrew Raycroft. Both teams got a power play chance in the 1st, but couldn't convert while Tyrvainen and Luke Gazdic received off-setting roughing minors in a scoreless 1st period. The Barons went back to the gameplan of the first forty minutes the night before and put up 16 shots in the 1st. Scott Glennie took a quick high-sticking penalty to start the 2nd, and Dylan Yeo - newly signed to an AHL deal - scored his fifth of the season from the point to break open the scoring at 1:39 of the period. It was penalties galore after that, and even included a 4-on-3 power play for the Stars at one point, but that was all the scoring in the middle period with the Barons once again putting 16 shots on the board.
The 3rd began with another quick goal for the Barons as Ryan Keller scored his fifteenth goal of the season 36 seconds into the period. For the second straight night the Barons once again saw their lead cut in half in the 3rd period, with tonight's coming from Francis Wathier at the 9:56 mark assisted by Brendan Connolly and Tomas Vincour. With unsuccessful power play tries following that, Hunter Tremblay scored his second goal of the weekend, this time into the empty net to give the Barons the 3-1 win and tie their season high sixth straight win.
Following the game, it was a long weekend for a good number of Barons players and head coach Todd Nelson. Alex Plante, Philippe Cornet, Yann Danis, and Ryan Keller along with coach Nelson all headed to Dallas following the game to catch a flight to Atlantic City for the All-Star Classic festivities. Sunday was the skills competition, with the Western Conference winning 18-10. Philippe Cornet participated in the Puck Control Relay with Hamilton's Frederic St. Denis and Charlotte's Chris Terry but lost to the team of Cory Conacher(Norfolk), Thomas Hickey(Manchester), and Carter Camper(Providence).
In the Rapid Fire event, Yann Danis only stopped four of ten shots by Hershey's Boyd Kane and St. John's Zach Redmond, while Cornet one of five on Manchester's Jeff Zatkoff. In the Hardest Shot competition, Alex Plante's best was clocked at 92.7 MPH, while Chicago's Kevin Connauton won it with a shot of 99.4 MPH. The Accuracy Shooting ended up a tie as both Ryan Keller and Norfolk's Trevor Smith hit all four targets in five shots.
Next in the Pass and Score, essentially a 3-on-0 rush, Yann Danis stopped two of the three attempts by Cam Atkinson(Springfield), Mark Borowiecki(Binghamton), and Mats Zuccarello(Connecticut). Ryan Keller with Clay Wilson(Abbotsford) and Chris Terry(Charlotte) scored on two of their three. Finally came the breakaway relay and in a surprise of events, Alex Plante scored on his breakaway chance while both Keller and Cornet missed theirs, while Yann Danis stood tall against his six shooters, turning them all away.
The All-Star Classic is tonight and will be aired sporadically across television networks. The Barons currently sit in first in the conference with a seven point lead over Charlotte and a three point lead over St. John's in the league standings. The Barons will get back to it this Thursday against the San Antonio Rampage and on Friday against the Charlotte Checkers.