The Barons, losing by a goal on Sunday afternoon, hit the ice to face a slightly different Charlotte Checkers team than they had seen 20 or so hours earlier. Justin Peters, their number one goaltender, was called upon to play backup with the NHL counterpart the Carolina Hurricanes. For much of the last two months, the Checkers were depleted offensively and defensively. But with Peters in net, one of the best in the league, the team was steady, ready, and winning. Without him, they are likely to struggle. And they did just that on Monday night as the Oklahoma City Barons made good on a fantastic first period, scoring three goals, en route to a 4-2 victory against one of the best in the West, the Charlotte Checkers.
Seizing two of six points would have been an okay road trip for OKC giving a)the three-in-three on the road, and b) whom they were playing. Instead they took four of six, and were perhaps a few brief minutes away from taking a full sweep in hand. Nonetheless, the weekend was a success. As for Monday night, here’s the quick recap.
The first period was one to remember for OKC. Despite giving up two goals by the Checkers, the Barons outscored them 3-2. First was captain Josh Green, tipping in a hard shot by Ryan Martindale to take a 1-0 lead in the first :52 seconds of the game. Charlotte would roar back with two of their own goals, one on the power play, to take a 2-1 lead. But C.J. Stretch and Mark Arcobello would net two goals at even strength down the home stretch of the first period to bring the Barons back on top, 3-2. The first period proved to be an overwhelming one for starting Charlotte goaltender, John Muse who let in three goals on only four shots. He’d get better, but the damage had been done.
The second period was a bit of a calmer endeavor, especially for the Checkers who didn’t take their first shot of the period until the final 45 seconds. Niko Hovinen took a nap. Played ‘Words With Friends’. Dreamt of picking lingon berries. Meanwhile the Barons owned the offensive side of the puck, and rarely did the black circle make it behind the Barons goal line. The Barons, hitting John Muse with twelve shots, would score another goal mid-way through the period. Philippe Cornet, who is having a whale of a road trip. scored his eighth goal of the season on assists from Brett Clark and Colten Teubert. The period would close with a 4-2 Barons lead.
In the final twenty minutes, the Barons buckled down defensively and kept the Charlotte offense at bay. At least two great saves by Hovinen and perhaps two more from Muse, left both teams off the scoreboard. And for Charlotte, there goose was cooked. The doldrums of a three goal first period by the Barons kicked their tails. The Barons would wrap up the night in Charlotte with a 4-2 victory.
Barons organization and Oilers onlookers…SIGN BRETT CLARK LONG TERM! This guy does so many things right as a defender, but more importantly as a leader of young men. He has, at times, carried both he and Taylor Fedun through the weeds. Bryan Helmer was able to do that with other prospects, but for shorter periods. The time for the Barons to have a solid, useful, NHL-quality defender in the minors is needed now more than ever. Assuming Teubert and Plante make exit’s stage left in the near future, the crop of young ‘uns coming in will need a gray beard to lean on. System-wide, this seems to be a problem – Who’s leading us? On the farm, there’s no question that this is Brett Clark (with no offense to Josh Green, the captain).
Jonathan Cheechoo, who’s had a insane tear through the league as a Baron, is prone to wonder, Lord I feel it. He just disappears for a game or two here and there. Which is really just nitpicking at this point when the guy has eighteen points in just fifteen games. But credit those opponents that have shut him down. They do so with a vengeance. I’m anxious to see if teams catch on to this. Because this forces the bottom half of the lineup to get large and in charge, and so far they’ve done that when it’s happened.
As mentioned above, Charlotte is a different club when they don’t have Justin Peters. With Ward out 6-8 weeks, they’ve welcomed an ECHL tender to back up John Muse. Does this mean the Checkers are in trouble? Maybe. But they’ve proved us all wrong before. I think they are fine.
The quest for the final playoff spot is suddenly looking rosy for the Barons. Prior to the weekend, I pegged them at two for six standing points on this road trip. The got four, with no sign of slowing. Beating Texas and Charlotte is huge. But now they’ll tangle with teams (Rockford twice, San Antonio twice) that are hovering near the same number of points in the standings, and equally as jazzed about earning a spot in the post season. Things could get interesting. Two things need to happen. The Barons goaltenders HAVE to be good. Roy is good for at least one stinker a night, and Hovinen struggles in the first thirty minutes of every game. Both things need to go away quickly. The other thing is health. The Barons have been surprisingly healthy (Ringwald on D, Pitlick and Pelss at F) for most of the season. If they, and by extension the Oilers, can stay healthy, this team will make some noise to end the season. If one or both of these things become eye sores, the chances shrink quickly.