The calendar says November, and for some reasons it’s almost a week away from Thanksgiving (US-style). I don’t know it it’s the fact that we have five Thursdays in November or the fact that as I get older the months seem to blur by quickly, but it’s hard to even consider that the traditional holiday season has begun.
The annual traditions of Fall, at least for me, include heavy doses of hockey. And this season/year is no different despite a pro league lockout.
Our beloved Barons/Oilers are coming off two highly entertaining, but highly emotional games. One a win, one a loss, both ravishingly energetic. The assumption that Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Schultz would dominate the league is now a ringing laugh track in my head. And, in bite sized spurts, they have been the best team on the ice. At other times, like yesterday’s first period against Toronto, they look like a team backstopped by Arturs Irbe being watched by a twelve year old version of me. This feast and famine might be expected for 5, 6, maybe 7 games, but we’ve now seen it in the better parts of 13 total games during the 2012-13 season.
But offensively speaking, this team has three players in the top three in AHL points – Justin Schultz (18), Jordan Eberle(16), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins(14). Yet the team scoring is down just a bit. How can this be?
When you look at the nuts and bolts of Oklahoma City in its current state, the goal totals aren’t too far off base. But weren’t the Barons supposed to dominate the league? Instead they are behind pace based on the last two seasons, and off to their worst start in franchise history (a whopping three year history).
Here are the goal totals and starting records for the first 13 games over the last three seasons
2010-11 — 42 goals — 8-4-1-0 Record
2011-12 — 42 goals — 10-2-0-1 Record
2012-13 — 38 goals — 6-5-1-1 Record
The lackluster start gets sorted out in my mind in two ways.
First, the league is much better than it has been. I’ve not tracked the number of goals league wide over that same period, but I’d suspect that they are slightly up. I’d also suspect that goaltending numbers are slightly down as a result. Once again, this is a guesstimate But even if the numbers are lower, the compete level (at least in the Western Conference) has been off the charts. You could make a case that Charlotte is the best team in the West, given how few games they’ve played at home to start the season, but even they have four outright losses in 12 games. The league seems to be more even keeled which makes for exciting hockey, and nearly impossible win/loss forecasting.
Second, I’ve alluded to it before, but the great divide of players is rather vast, particularly on the Barons roster. The top heaviness of the lineup is troubling. Not that teams need to be completely mediocre, but the distance between bottom prospect and top prospect shouldn’t be so large (at least in the minors). It’s something the league has rarely faced. Nuge and Hall and Eberle were high draft picks for a reason – they are really good players. There’s also a reason why Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick went later on in their drafts – they needed some work. Most NHL rosters have a great divide in talent, but even they are subject to being only as good as their weakest link.
I point this out mainly for my own benefit. The question marks remain for many as to why this team struggles to finish, and there are a number of things that one could rattle off in the discussion (defense, goaltending, age, schedule, etc.). But the short version is that the team needs to be better, and in actuality should be better. For now, I’ll wait for that moment to come. Soon.