Workin’ For The Weekend – Barons Home Opener Friday & Saturday – “Relax”

Frankie Goes To Hollywood might be the worst band name of the 80’s, but they somehow managed to write, produce, record, promote, and scandalize one of the most iconic songs of the decade. “Relax”, a Euro-dance-pop classic, is as noticeable as it is suggestive. It’s a track that boisterously demands that you sing along whether you like it or not. Compiled, remixed, and re-issued numerous times over the years, the song still holds up.

Strange is the double entendre going on in this song, so I’ll take the high road. Because when Frankie says, “Live those dreams, scheme those schemes. Got to hit me. Hit me with those laser beams,” I’m going to assume they had the Barons power play in mind. And despite the fact that OKC didn’t absolutely dominate their opening games, always remember that Frankie Says Relax.

It’s been approximately a week since the Barons split a pair of games with the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, Ohio. The power play was terrible, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t score, and neither did Jordan Eberle. Yann Danis gave up a bunch of goals, but wasn’t bailed out often by his defense. Not a ton of scoring was had. The penalties were abundant. It’s sounds awful, but it was a pretty solid start for a young team with a ton of potential greatness.

“It’s important to get off on the right foot when you play at home. We want to make it tough for teams to play against us. The last two seasons we have had really good road records. This season we want to do the same at home. We want teams to come in here and expect a battle every night.” That’s Barons Coach, Todd Nelson, discussing the importance of winning at home this season. And this is important in the present moment because the team plays in OKC twice this weekend — Friday vs. San Antonio, and Saturday vs. Lake Erie.

A divisional opponent and a nearby conference opponent typically make for high watchability in the minors. But the Barons have more to prove than just, “Can they win?” The real question is can they dominate when they should? Can they play solid defense with a mostly inexperienced defensive core? And can they fix that power play? All these things were addressed in the final practice before Friday’s home opener.

It begins most notably with the top scoring line for OKC, which featured Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Ebele to start the season. This week, it’s Josh Green in Paajarvi out.

“Josh is very good at puck retrieval. He’s good at getting the loose puck. He’s a big body. He’s hard to knock off the puck,” said Nelson of the new linemate. “Putting him on that line with Jordan and Ryan, we begin to change in order keep things fresh. With all the bodies we have here, we’ll be able to adjust often. None of the lines are set in stone. But right now, I like the feel of that top line.”

I agree. A strong body at the top is smart. But it will be interesting to see if Green can keep pace. And don’t be surprised if this line changes by the end of the weekend. It’s about finding the right niche.

Of the pesky San Antonio Rampage, who suffered an OT defeat at the hands of the Barons last postseason, Nelson had this to say:

“They have what they’ve always had. Some big defenseman, size, and grit. And they’ve got some skill. I think every team in this league is going to be stronger. And San Antonio is a team that likes to play a patient game, and they like to strike in transition. Markstrom is a big goalie, so you have to get lots of pucks on net.”

Captain Josh Green is optimistic about the short term memory of the Rampage.

“We expect a tough game (from San Antonio) for sure. It’s probably still fresh in their minds, the playoff defeat from last year, so they’ll be hungry to come in here and get two points,” says Green. “We have to match that hunger.”

As captain, he’s fully aware of his role not only as the head of the team in the locker room and on the ice, but with his new, NHL friendly linemates.

“I know what I have to do with those guys, and it’s be physical. Going to the net for them. Creating space for them. It’s simple, but exciting. I feel young again.”

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also is anxious to see the scoring come, but is fully on board with tinkering with the process.

“Having Josh on our line makes things easier for us,” said Nugent-Hopkins earnestly. “He’s strong and physical, and I think it will be great to play alongside him.”

Justin Schultz, the clear standout in two games, has yet to prove that he can defend with urgency. Score and commit offensively, sure. But does he really posses the skill to protect the blue line? We’ll know soon.

In net, again look for both Danis and Roy to share the weekend load. Roy, the better of the two last week, likely starts Saturday against Erie. Danis gets the nod against the dangerous Rampage offense. Either way, both goalies look to take a stride towards improving things in net.

The other forward lines probably look a lot different when compared to the previous configurations. Pitlick at center, CVV with Teemu and Magnus, Martindale and Lander near the bottom – all of these seen in practice, and all are possible.

Friday, October 19th vs. San Antonio Rampage
Saturday, October 20th vs. Lake Erie Monsters

Possible Oklahoma City Barons Lines:

Josh Green – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi – Chris Vande Velde – Teemu Hartikainen
Antti Tyrvainen – Tyler Pitlick – Mark Arcobello
Dane Byers – Tanner House – Curtis Hamilton
Bottom: Kristians Pelss, Ryan Martindale, Anton Lander, Cameron Abney

News & Notes On The Opposition

The Rampage lost their home opening game to Texas, but turned it around the next night to beat the Houston Aeros. Of note, the Rampage took under 30 shots in the first game, and under 20 in the second. Sure, they too are a team slowly gelling, but the “patient offense” mentioned by Nelson is spot on. They resemble the Barons teams over the last two seasons.

Jean Francois-Jacques, a name familiar to Oilers/Barons fans, is now a Rampager. He’s also playing successfully on the power play. I know it’s hard to imagine, but they are finding him rather determined in that area of play.

Lake Erie walloped the Toronto Marlies this week after the two home games they played against OKC. The Monsters seem to be willing and able to stand on the shoulders of their rookie goaltenders. Both have been mind-numbingly good. That’ll be a high hurdle to jump for the Barons on Sarurday.

Thomas Pock, an elderly AHL rookie at 31, has started hit for Erie. 3 assists and a goal in three games is just what the Monsters were hoping to get out of him.