Photo by Steven Christy. Check out the full gallery here.
The Edmonton Oilers, having a pretty fancy run through the NHL preseason, embarked on a journey to Oklahoma City to hopefully solidify themselves as a preseason hopeful for the postseason. The “visiting” Dallas Stars, having just played the night before, iced a potentially AHL heavy team that gave many prospects one more big league looksee. In the end it was the Stars JV squad that out-hustled, out-manned, and out-scored the Oilers opening night roster. The 4-0 defeat propels the Oilers towards the beginning of the NHL season on Tuesday.
Normally, in minor league game recaps, I breakdown the period highlights, lowlights, and notable moments. Instead, I’ll speak in broad, full game terms here. In all, it was quite the night despite the final score.
Mark’s return to Oklahoma City, and the Cox Center, was a very special moment. Listed in the starting lineup, number 62 made Barons fans proud. He continues to become a more well-rounded hockey player, and it appears that his hard work in the minors and subsequent off-seasons has paid off. He is likely making the Oilers opening night roster.
The big question mark has always been his size. Many quickly point out that there are players of his girth that have had famous careers in the NHL, some within the last two or three years. True. Then again, players of smallish statue are a minority. Tonight it was evident to me that Arcobello, while an exceptional player, struggles to win puck battles simply because he is much smaller. Some things you just can’t correct, and this is one of them. Compensating with speed helps, passing well does too, but he continues to have a propensity to lose a puck battle. Not good.
He also lacks something that I call, for lack of a better term, vision. He can laser a pass from stick to stick nearly 30 feet across the ice, and through traffic. Then, under little direst, he will miss on a ten foot simpleton shuffle. It’s bizarre. I wholly understand that I’m catching the entire Oilers squad on a really bad night, but this has been a subtle hiccup in his previous preseason starts.
I’m cheering for Markobello to land a permanent NHL spot, but the rough edges are still there.
Mike Brown and Steve MacIntyre
Both guys got their shifts tonight, one early on, another later. Brown clearly is the better skater, while MacIntyre still lumbers across the ice almost in slow motion. Neither played a ton of minutes, and both were injured towards the back half of the game.
Steve, in an attempt to rough a smaller Texas player up against the boards, somehow rammed his knee into the board. Immediately couldn’t put pressure on the skate, and hobbled toward the bench. A knee injury was what the Oilers tweeted in-game.
Mike Brown’s injury came near the player benches as his own player sorta toppled him over. Brown, going full speed at a Stars player in neutral ice, somehow got tangled in a mess of players along the boards, and injured his lower body. No specific injury has been cited at this time.
On a night where the Stars played, well, very few sStars, the rough stuff was pretty minor. Perhaps the absence of Brown and MacIntyre late in the game prevented any fisticuffs. Or maybe Eakins knew better.
What can I say about a group of players expected to be out-manned? Wow. Roussel was speedy. Fiddler was Johnny on the spot. Gazdic wasn’t spastic. Eakin was solid up the middle. Oleksiak was bulky. Regardless of who hit the Stars roster, they were simply a group of highly motivated players. They were a 1/2 step quicker to the puck at every turn. They struggled early on with making crisp passes, but they were able to disrupt every single passing lane that Edmonton attempted to ease in to. It was a David and Goliath situation for sure, and bravo Dallas, you had a group ready to play good hockey.
As a Dallas Stars fan I loved it. I mean Vernon Fiddler?!? Sunshine and lollipops my friends.
Let me also give a hardy “Well done!” to the Stars fans that turned out in droves. In section 326, the group was 2 to 1 Stars vs. Oilers/Barons fans. That was a really neat thing to behold.
This was pegged as an NHL Showcase, and after seeing the rosters it felt more like an Oilers showcase. My concern was that there was going to be a complete betrayal of a Stars fanbase that has resided in Oklahoma since the team moved to Dallas. Claiming OKC as “Oilers Territory” felt awkward, and always has. It indeed was prepared to be a celebration of Oilers, but the play on the ice dictated otherwise. So maybe this was indeed an NHL Showcase – gutsy hockey included – and in the end, we all win.
Belov vs. Larsen
I have been suspect of Phil Larsen for quite some time. We watched him play quite a bit as a Texas Star, and probably just as much as a Dallas Star. He has the potential to be a quality defender, but the decision making is just not there yet. Case in point. A three on one was coming his way, and instead of attacking the puck mover, and relying on Devan Dubnyk to make the save, he does nothing. In the end he impeded the vision of his own goaltender, and under -committed to stopping the puck. Ugly.
By comparison, Anton Belov looks like a legit NHL player. Having watched way too much AHL hockey live, it is pretty clear that he is higher on the depth chart than most Barons, and perhaps even a few Oilers. Tonight, most certainly, it was Belov > Larsen.
Coach Eakins is an intense guy, and that was no more evident than in Thursday’s practice where he never even cracked a smile. The Oilers were loose and jovial while Eakins was all business. He was visually frustrated on Friday night at the little things. A missed pass, an inopportune mishandling of the puck, or a underachieving power play shot – he doesn’t miss much.
He basically rolled lines nearly identical to the previous Oilers preseason game (Perron, where are you?), and never did he consider wavering. What I like about Dallas Eakins is probably the thing I also despise the most. Sometimes he seems to be lost in a sea of his own thoughts. Like perhaps the game is consuming him. Perhaps all the great coaches behave this way, but he certainly has the overachiever lean. In conclusion, I like what he brings.
Oilers Travelling Road Show
One thing about Barons hockey that has always been so attractive is its low-key nature. It is AHL hockey in a town where people don’t follow a lot of hockey to begin with, let along triple A games. If you were around these parts during the lockout you will appreciate this statement, but when the Oilers come to town they COME TO TOWN. Radio guys. Writers. Girlfriends. Trainers. Extra luggage. More cameras. Expensive things. Strange accents. The whole nine yards. I call this the travelling road show.
It is kind of interesting to see how Oklahoma City adapts to this, and mainly the Barons office staff. They do a great job despite it likely being a pretty big stress on their normal routine. I can appreciate their willingness to please.
Yet this is NHL hockey, and there will always be an entourage attached to its nomenclature. The circus leaves in the morning. Back to business as usual.
I’ve not heard the official attendance on the night, but it is far and away one of the best attended hockey events in Oklahoma City since the Blazers played in the Ford Center. There were indeed empty spots in the arena, but the numbers were far far greater than nearly every Barons game we have seen in three years. The one exception? The inaugural game three years ago.
This was a night for the ages if you are a hockey fan. Chances are that it was a night for general sports fans as well. The game was faster, far less messy, much more heated, and incredibly potent. Despite the Oilers loss, and their misadventures offensively, this was a really good night for my city. I hope we do this again real soon.
Hall. Ebs. Yak.
The squad lost, but it is 100% accurate to state, “These are higher caliber” players. They are. Watching Taylor Hall play NHL minutes on TV is one thing, watching him live is another. Against AHL competition he looked incredible, as he should, but here, surrounded by other NHL players, he’s equally incredible.
Eberle continues to impress me even when I think he is going to take a nap offensively. Left, right, center – he doesn’t care, he will take an offensive position from nearly every spot on the ice. I thought tonight he was a bit passive, but then again, the whole team was.
Yakupov is an All-Star in the making. From the smile that never leaves his face to the hammys-parallel-to-the-ice skating, he is something to behold. That shot. Wow. I’ve never seen a player with my own two eyes whistle pucks at the net quite as quickly. In practice. In games. It is truly a remarkable gift that this kid possesses.
The Oklahoma City Barons, and Prodigal, have lobbied for an NHL game in Oklahoma City for three seasons. They finally got one, and boy was it fantastic. We, as fans, are grateful. It was an incredible opportunity to watch and hear what went down at the Cox Center tonight, so thank you. Let’s do it again soon.