Photo by Rob Ferguson
The Oklahoma City Barons hosted the league-leading Abbotsford Heat for a pair of games held at the Cox Center this weekend. Both games were highly entertaining, and both netted vastly different results. With Ilya Bryzgalov making back to back conditioning stint starts, the two days were loaded with anticipation.
In game one, the Barons were humming along, forechecking the life out of Abbotsford early. Andrew Miller looked wildly improved as he would spend at least two shifts completely in the Heat zone with some intelligent skating. But it was the second period, filled with inglorious penalties, that undid the Barons then 3-1 lead. Abbotsford would go on to defeat OKC, 5-4. Ben Street won the hat trick for Abbtosford, four different Barons scored, and Bryzgalov saw his first loss in pro play this year (in his first start).
Game two was all Oklahoma City, and proved a bit sharper for Bryzgalov. Two second period goals by the Barons, and a magnificent penalty kill that went 100%, earned the Barons a really hard fought victory. C.J. Stretch would have a whale of a weekend scoring a goal on Friday, and two consecutive ones on Saturday. With assists from Austin Fyten and Andrew Miller, that line would produce huge minutes for OKC. Add a Linus Omark power play goal, and a Ben Eager empty netter, and you’ve got a 4-1 Barons victory that snapped a nine game win streak by the Heat. Bryzgalov would stop 25 of 26 shots.
The weekend went to The Bryz, and the weight of his expectations. The five goal tally on Friday was just as much a product of pour goalmouth defense than it was Ilya himself. Denis Grebeshkov, in particular, struggled to stop Heat defenders from hanging around the goaltenders doorstep. Likewise, Taylor Fedun had some really bad moments. All those thoughts were washed over as the team resurrected really good blue line play on Saturday.
Mechanically, Bryzgalov was sound on Friday, yet Saturday he was a confident beast. Strategic, agile, smart, even offensively helpful, he was a really good goaltender against a really good team. However, facing well under 30 shots is uncommon even in the minors. I’m curious to see if he gets at least one more game under his belt before the Oilers move him. Dubnyk, having a momentary good moment seems to have given the squad the ability to roll the Bryzgalov Experiment out a bit later if need be. With a Tuesday morning game in San Antonio on the horizon for OKC, one more game might be worth the trouble. Then the tending placement/scramble begins.
C.J. Stretch, scoring three goals in two games, finally comes to life after going goalless to start the season. He looked really sharp, especially when paired with Miller and Fyten. The unafraid-to-crash threesome might be on to something as Todd Nelson blurs the lines between prospect and AHL-only offense. The lines might be starting to gel.
The injury report is short, sweet, but important. Anton Lander left the Cox Center on crutches Friday evening only to be in on-ice warmups on Saturday. Labeled a game time decision, he would eventually be scratched, but it’s not long term. David Musil took a puck around the knee area on Saturday in the first period, did not return. No update as of now.
The obvious thing in terms of TOI is that Marincin, Grebs, Fedun are your consistent defenders. The other obvious is that Ben Eager plays very little considering his placement organizationally (which you would assumed is higher than others). Nonetheless, the big jump in the game-to-game numbers is newcomer Roman Horak. It became quickly apparent that he could play heavy center minutes, produce offensive chances, but most importantly win faceoffs. He and Stretch did the heavy lifting in the faceoff dot this weekend, and that’s a bit interesting. Lander being absent from game two dips his numbers, but the Horak/Stretch trend is worth watching. Might Horak jump Lander in the depth chart? I think he might.
Alex Lavoie of the CHL Allen Americans played protected, but quality minutes in a pinch. A kid (22) that showed well in minor league camp, and is on a 1.33 PPG in Allen might be one to keep on the radar. GM Bill Scott champions the “deep find”, and we have probably not seen the last of Lavoie.
Eager-Ewanyk-Kessy is a fourth line that creates chances unlike the one we see in the Barons parent club. Ewanyk is a typical fourth line center, but with enough of a smart edge to be super helpful, at least in the minors. Eager’s ice time has dipped just a bit, with Kessy earning more. I never thought that would happen, but it did.
Gernat and Musil are swappable at this point with each playing the lowest defensive minutes on the club. They are indeed getting better, but their progress is at a snails pace right now.
The Barons head south to play San Antonio for a Tuesday “School Day Game” after playing a version of the same game a week earlier in OKC. Goaltending moves will be interesting this week. Grab something buried deep.