I’m well aware that this season was going to be both a fabulous ride through Space Mountain and a painful drift through It’s A Small World. And now, with NHL training camps in full swing, I really just want to go counter-clockwise on Dumbo where it’s a good mix of excitement and doldrums (after the fifth spin). I just want things to be normal. Is that too much to ask?
The Oklahoma City Barons have now played four games without the heavy hitters, and one without the training camp foursome. And, as no surprise to anyone, the team has struggled. In that span the team has been outscored 20 to 3 despite having out shot their opponents 140 to 108. Two things cause me to sigh heavily. One obvious in those four games, the other obvious since early October.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. This team, and the coaching staff it is led by, preaches “pucks on net”. That’s meaningless when those shots aren’t high quality, in close, or what the world has called legitimate scoring chances. I miss the Cult of Hockey tracking those numbers because in this four game span, despite shooting the puck more than the opposition, I guarantee they didn’t out chance anyone. Just a hunch. Thus, this team needs a consistent scorer. Mark Arcobello and Josh Green are the guys that this falls to by default. Both were a heavy presence on the team last year, and the former remains that through present day. Green, however, seems to be limping back to playing really well, following an early season rib injury. Toni Rajala, with enough creativity in his back pocket to turn some heads, seems to be meandering towards an offensive presence that he firmly established in the early throws of the ECHL season. Likewise, Philippe Cornet, Tyler Pitlick, maybe a few others can bring some money on the scoreboard. Quite frankly, I’m not optimistic this will happen.
Which brings me to the obvious-since-October heavy sigh. Defense. To start the season there were way too many question marks defensively for this team. Is Justin Schultz going to struggle? Is Martin Marincin ready to take the next step? Is Alex Plante going to give us numbers like he did a year ago? Is Colten Teubert going to finally live up to expectations (of whom I’m still not sure)? How’s Taylor Fedun going to play after missing a season to a nasty injury? And those questions were too quickly answered. Plain and simple, this team can’t defend their own zone. Forget the inability to score, because that inevitably will come as the season continues on. What doesn’t get better, historically speaking, is a team’s defense.
The only players not named Justin Schultz in the positive in the +/- category are Nathan Deck and Martin Marincin. And guess whom those fellas played with defensively for the first half of the season. It’s not difficult to see why they, at least on paper, seem to be the “best” defenders. They were coupled with a guy that scored a bunch of points. Thus virtually negating the importance of their defensive roles to some extent. But we know better.
The answer, for now, has been to sign PTO players seemingly until the NHL camps yarf up candidates that minor league teams could snatch up. But I don’t see that producing much in the way of helping this team. Sure, you might get Colten Teubert back, but he’s not going to magically solve your AHL problems especially when his callup value will be high, and his presence on the team likely short and sweet.
For now, there is no answer, and as some on twitter like to say (props to @OilFieldHockey for this one), we will have to hold the banner high of “In Bill We Trust”. Let’s hope he has something up his sleeve.