We’ve played two games in the Calder Cup semifinals of the West that has aligned the Oklahoma City Barons vs. the Texas Stars. Both games were decided by a 2-1 score, both went down to the wire, both gave teams a victory. So we shift the serious to the Cox Center, and the Barons are still on thin ice, and changes will need to be made if they want to beat the Texas Stars.
The biggest concern from me has, will, and always will be special teams. The Barons were pretty good on the power play during the regular season, and alot of that had to do with how far in front the “NHL Guys” pushed OKC to the front in that regard. The distance was so great that for months they could have (and did) owned a terrible PP total and still stayed high atop the league in scoring with an extra skater. The Charlotte series was all about offense, in case you were wondering. The Checkers were good at times defensively, but they like to let the dogs run, and run they did. Scoring was high and in bunches, and so the power play totals are pretty interesting. OKC went 5 for 25 on the PP, and went 19 for 24 on the PK. 23 goals were scored by Oklahoma City in five games, only four on the PP? Correct. Five on five play was huge, but so were the final scores. The series with Texas is vastly different.
In just two games with Texas in the second round, Oklahoma City has yet to score on the power play in five chances. By comparison, the stars have scored once in eight. The comparison of first round to second round for OKC is so hard to make, and a bit of switching gears will be difficult for the Barons in seven games. That is unless they score consistently with an extra skater, and force the Stars into taking additional penalties.
I like the way the defense has played for OKC in two games, but I think there are some minor issues. First, Andrew Hotham is an occasional liability. His performances have been overshadowed by close games and victories by the Barons, so all is forgiven. He has a tendency to cough the puck up from time-to-time, and at the worst possible moments. I can’t believe I’m making a case for Colten Teubert to get back into the lineup, but I’m afraid that might be a good option. After the beating Taylor Fedun and Martin Marincin took in the last game, some muscle might be a trip worth taking (but with a very short leash).
Nilstorp is a great goaltender, and beating him will require skilled accuracy. The Stars have kept the top scoring line of Cornet-Arcobello-Cheechoo with a combined three points in two games, but the Barons have only scored three goals, two of which were courtesy of Mark Arcobello. I can deal with that production against a defensively stout team like Texas, I really can. The other goal came from the second line; Anton Lander’s OT winner in game one.
The bottom half of the forwards are playing very well, and doing things to disrupt the scoring forces of Texas. Yet both teams are getting their chances; the goaltenders are just really really good.
In order for Oklahoma City to have a chance in this series (I picked Texas in 7), I still think they will have to be a bit more chancy with the puck. In the final five minutes of game two, the Barons really poured it on, but really prior to that five minute stretch, the third period as a whole featured a ton more gambling than it had in the previous forty minutes. OKC is a team built with some really good AHL scoring options, and when you’re asking Philippe Cornet to not crash the net, or Jonathan Cheechoo to not ease the puck in just a touch more before firing, you’re going against the things that brought you to this place. Go back to a more offensively robust game plan, and it won’t hurt.
Teemu Hartikainen is a better player than we’ve seen in the first two games in Texas. That’s all I can say.
Keep in mind, Texas understands the way that OKC is built. Could the series come down to coaching? Absolutely. Neither coach has changed the forward lines or defensive pairs (at least to my eye), and that probably continues through game three. How much line matching will coach Nelson do now that the series is at home? He’s a quietly strategic guy, who always preaches system, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some tweaks as the games get even more important.
Game three is tonight in Oklahoma City. Puck drops at 7pm Central.