The final home stretch fro the Oklahoma City Barons needed to end on an encouraging note. After Friday night, the Barons would have lost five in a row including four straight at home where you’re supposed to pad the standing points. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Barons. And with the Edmonton Oilers starting their season this evening, normalcy seems to be returning as much as it can to the American League, and especially the Barons.
Friday night the Barons played a strong forechecking first period that was the best 20 minutes of hockey the team has played since losing the key NHL players that stocked the team with offense. Toni Rajala, Kristians Pelss, Dane Byers, and even Erick Lizon committed to playing a strong, angry, but patient game. The first period alone saw 19 shots compared to 2 by the Rampage. It was a dominate beginning. But as well realize, shot totals are a mirage of sorts. Scoring chances aren’t scoring chances if they don’t occur closely to the net. And for the Barons this did them in. Pucks on net was happening, but puck in the net wasn’t. Thus the team left the door cracked just slightly enough to let the Rampage score two goals in the third period plus an empty netter for good measure. The Barons would lose 4-2 despite shooting the puck 48 times.
On Saturday, the Barons began as they did Friday night, but this time around they played a more complete game from start to finish. Dane Byers and Ryan Martindale scored goals in the first period and third period, as Oklahoma City balanced offensive muscle with smart defense. The forwards in this game, even the deeper lines, played very smart. Little mistakes were made. The team would finish the weekend with an 0/6 power play mark including 0/2 on Saturday, but they also didn’t give up many man advantage attempts either. The smarter this team plays, the fewer penalties they commit, the better off they seem on gameday. The Barons would win on Saturday night, 2-1.
And so the team hits the road for Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, and Rockford in a span of just four days. With them comes a new player in Jonathan Cheechoo that’s bound to help in a couple of areas, including the power play which has struggled since the lockout in the NHL ended.
Also new to the team is Tyler Bunz. I would have bet a week’s worth of bologna sandwiches that he would have started at least once this weekend. But Todd Nelson clearly wants Olivier Roy to gain some momentum with Yann Danis playing with the Oilers for an unknown amount of time. But it’s highly likely that we see Bunz get one in the coming week. He’ll need a good introduction to the AHL to get his feet wet, and perhaps some time outside of the South Division, on the road, against decent competition might be worth the trouble.
The addition of Cheechoo and
a player to be named later Brett Clark, doesn’t necessarily point to a player/prospect heading to Stockton. With the no roster limit situation in the AHL, the team will ice a full lineup and then some. Just don’t expect everyone to make every road trip. They’ll take whom they need, use whom they want, return home, and swap players out. Minor leagues are funny (and rightfully so) that way.
The next three games are key. I tweeted the other day that wins in January for Oklahoma City seem important. Why? Mainly because the best in the Western Conference have begun to seperate from the pack just a bit more. If the Barons are to make the playoffs that run starts now, and it starts with some unfamiliar faces albeit ones that greatly improve the team as w hole.