Oh how the wicked infraction can turn the tides. Sounds poetically beautiful, but is painfully commonplace. The rust is evident in most hockey teams when they begin the AHL march towards greatness or utter defeat. And quickly you realize where and how often to apply the WD-40 to knock loose the gunk from a four month off season. For Oklahoma City, the buildup has been two-fold — in the box and on the man advantage.
Saturday night, the Oklahoma City Barons tangled with the Lake Erie Monsters at high noon. After a nonchalant performance the night before, the team got the lucky bounces that it hadn’t in the previous outing. Yet the rusty wheel creaked and moaned as the Barons narrowly pulled of a 3-2 victory in Cleveland.
Olivier Roy was called upon to start for OKC in place of Yann Danis. Likewise, the Monsters changed goaltenders in lieu of the suddenly dandy Sami Aittokallio, they skated out Calvin Pickard. Erie, still wrestling with choosing a starting goaltender would prove to have their hands full when the weekend ended.
Before the penalties crippled both teams, the scoring began at the :42 mark of the first period. Tyler Pitlick slapped the puck in deep behind the goaltender, Josh Green rolled behind the net to get it, and smartly snapped a shot off the back skate of the Monsters goaltender. The Barons lead 1-0 early. At the extreme other end of the period, Martin Marincin would get a lucky goal. As he skated the puck in deep, he gently lifted a shot that landed just behind Pickard. The Barons wound up with a 2-0 lead after the first period. The team seemed headed in the right direction despite giving up three PP chances, and luckily killing all three in the first period. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who continue to have great chemistry on the ice, nearly set up one another for goals on two separate occasions.
Period two saw the Monsters commit five consecutive minor penalties. This should have been a gift for the Barons, who looked to extend the lead. Instead Dane Byers gives the Lake Erie squad a PP opportunity near thirteen minutes on a goofy hooking call. Tyson Barrie sneaks between Dan Ringwald and Mark Arcobello to lift a shot over Olivier Roy. Comparatively speaking, the Monsters had an infinitely worse second period in terms of penalties than the Barons first, but somehow the struggles at a man advantage for OKC do not get off to a glorious start. Period two ended with a 2-1 score, still favoring the baby copper and blue.
Both Pickard and Roy were really solid in period three. Yet it was Roy that would give first. After stopping the puck twice, Olivier received little help from his defenders that were either too far in front or stuck behind the net. Left winger, Paul Carey, eventually beat the puck into the net for the team’s second power play goal of the evening. Occurring around the fourteenth minute of the third period, the desperation for OKC to steal one in Cleveland quickly was realized. Justin Schultz, who would be crowned the most impressive player in the first two games, handles a quick pass from Arcobello then clung to the puck as he gently eased in on the net. A deadly accurate wrist shot sealed the 3-2 victory as time ran out.
The Barons PP went 1/14 over the two weekend games. That’s not good. The better news is that the PK allowed only 2 goals in 13 chances. Perhaps those numbers should have been reversed with all that offensive firepower lying around, but it was the even strength play that proved more in sync in the first weekend of play.
Just how good was Justin Schultz this weekend? Leads the team in shots (7). A goal. An Assist. And an even +/- after ending up a -2 following game one.
The biggest surprise? Marin Marincin, who’s proved every bit the puck mover and offensive defender that Schultz can be, but with more rough edges.
The Nuge and Ebs went scoreless and pointless in their Barons debut, but no need to panic. The two are glorious together. Not being aggressive enough on the power play was no one’s fault but their own. Erie was prepared, ready, and willing to defend the NHL boys. Both Ryan and Jordan took some tough shots along the walls, and perhaps even more than I realized after the first viewing. Targeted? Maybe a little bit. But is it not common to target the team’s best players? It doesn’t help the Barons cause that you know who those best players are before you even lace them up for the game. It might get bumpy.
Dane Byers is averaging 6.5 penalties per game. That’s two games, and 6.5 per. Oh. My. Goodness. Elbowing, slashing, hooking, fighting all were bone-headed and eventually costly to his team. As a vet guy, he needs to be better. He’s hovering around Cam Abney levels of usefulness, and after two games these two are one in the same. Not good for Dane.
The Barons take a week off, gather themselves, practice in OKC, and open a 7 game homestand. Up first is San Antonio and Lake Erie over the weekend. The biggest pieces that need to come together are on the power play. Remember, the Barons struggled throughout last season and the postseason with an extra skater. Nelson and crew need to fix this immediately. Opening up the PP would be my first step. It feels methodical at times, and overtly cautious. When you have the thoroughbreds why keep them in the barn. They were born to run. Let the talented kids do their thang.