There’s Something About March

Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.

It’s incredible how quickly we forget the past. I realize I run the risk of sounding like the voice over for ‘The Wonder Years’, but the recent past is all to often ignored.

There’s no denying that the Oklahoma City Barons are slumping. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong (although I think I know why). You can blame goaltending, which indeed has come down to earth. You could blame the loss of Ryan O’Marra and the head-scratching induction of Bryan Rodney. Perhaps it’s the line shakeups that occur when the Oilers infuse the Barons with “NHL caliber players”. Maybe it’s coaching. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s a team that is due for a dip, and dip you dip we dip is occuring. I have reason to believe that this Barons team plays with too much pride, too much determination, and too much grit to let a slump continue. But one has to wonder, why now? Why here? Why March?

The truth is that in the inagural season on the farm in Oklahoma, March was brutal. Last year the team graced us with a 4-7-4 record during the month of all things Spring Break. And break they did. So much so, that it took a a strange swaperoo scenario to get them into the postseason. Interestingly enough there is some rhyme and maybe some reason as to why the month of March gets sketchy for the second year in a row.

Travel with me to last season. Because there’s something about March

During the Barons month of March last season there were a ton of key pieces recalled to Edmonton for injury related reasons or simply just because. Those names included Richard Petiot, Alex Plante, Alexandre Giroux, Jeff Petry, Teemu Hartikainen, Ryan O’Marra, and Chris VandeVelde. That’s a lot of key components to the Barons stew only a year ago. Thus the team crashed hard. Scoring was down, penalties were up, and goaltedning was, well, lackluster to say the least.

Oddly enough, the Oilers have figured out a way to stay somewhat healthy this season. We haven’t seen the call-ups that we did a year ago – at least not yet. With the Barons pushing towards a playoff spot atop the Western Conference, the exact opposite is occuring this season. Players are being sent down. Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander, and until just recently, Linus Omark, are three really strong minor league players who on paper should dominate. And in time, likely will do so in the AHL.

So what’s the deal, Neal? We lose when depleted by call-ups and we lose when NHL type players are sent down? Does nothing please you!?! I’d argue that it has nothing to do with individual players, but a system and a team.

For much of 2011-12 the Barons have been good. They’ve also not seen much movement up to the NHL. Last season the flow was pretty steady from month to month, and of course the call-ups went bananas in March. Perhaps there is something to the scenario that teams play better when they have consistency. This totally makes sense both in life and on the ice. We all want consistency.

The Coach Nelson system relies on goaltending first and defensive play second. Does Renney have that luxury in the NHL? Absolutely not. I’ve not watched every Oilers game, but I do see the dissidence in the goaltending and defending. The NHL and AHL comparison, systematically speaking, looks quite different.

Another thing to consider is how players fit into the system. Take Lander for instance. How many legit scoring opportunities has he had at the NHL level? Someone who watches these things closely says around 15 over the season-to-date. On the farm, he’s already had at least 5 or 6 really good chances. That’s remarkable. Being used differently within a different system takes a slightly larger learning curve. The same could be said for Paajarvi and Omark

In the end, it’s about the little things that cause March to be so ugly. Whether players are going or coming, the consistency lost is pretty hard to swallow. Am I naive enough to think that the Oilers care more about the success of the Barons over their own? Absolutely not. There’s infinitely more money to be had at the NHL level. However, there’s no denying the trouble that March has brought for two consecutive season. Coincidence? I think not.