Barons Overcome 40+ Penalty Minutes To Beat Marlies 5-3

There’s something about the Marlies that always brings out the feisty in the Barons. Thursday night at the Cox Center would be a similar meeting, and an as advertised feisty tangle.

Both teams suffered through a ton of time in the box with Oklahoma City tapping out at 42 total minutes, including 21 in the third period (inflated by the David Musil five minutes + ten more for a gnarly check from behind). Nonetheless, the Barons would score multiple goals in the final two periods to keep the Marlies in check with a final score of 5-3.

Ryan Hamilton, former Toronto Marlies captain, scored the games opening goal in the first ten minutes of a dandy first period by the Barons. Beating Drew MacIntyre is a tough thing to do, and OKC broke him early. Likewise, Richard Bachman put together a solid first twenty to keep the score 1-0.

Tyler Pitlick would place OKC in seemingly full control as he’d give the Barons a 2-0 lead nearly halfway through the second period. A pair of power play goals scored by Spencer Abbott were sandwiched around one by the Barons courtesy of fourth line hustler Travis Ewanyk. As the second period came to an end the trips and slashes gave-way to the roughs, boards, and fisticuffs. Yet the Barons would again end the period with a one goal lead, 3-2.

Marlies leading scorer, and leading scorer among AHL defenseman, T.J. Brennan, would post his 19th goal of the season to tie the hockey game early in the third period. Newcomer Jack Combs would score the lone power play goal for the Barons (on five tries), and lift his team over the Marlies. The rough stuff kicked in, Pinizzotto would take a very late elbowing penalty, but the Barons would stay focused on doing the simple things right. Anton Lander sealed the deal with an empty netter to push the squad past the Marlies.

The 5-3 victory for OKC was an important one. The power play was okay, the penalty kill could have been much worse, the team gave up a ton of penalties – yet they won. Recent history would have pointed to a close loss for the Barons so to see them win this one was huge.

The team plays Texas on Sunday and Tuesday, and they’ll get Will Acton back. With the Mark Fraser acquisition in Edmonton look for Corey Potter or Phillip Larsen to return to the AHL.

Mark Fraser Traded For Cam Abney & Teemu Hartikainen

The season keeps rolling on at all levels of Oilers hockey, and with the trade season not officially heating up until after the Olympics, the NHL squad has elected to jump early. Announced today, the Edmonton Oilers have traded Cameron Abney (currently in ECHL Bakersfield) and Teemu Hartikainen (two-year contracted in KHL Ufa) for defenseman Mark Fraser.

Fraser, oft injured defender in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, is another familiar face to Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins. He’ll join Will Acton, Ben Scrivens, and Ryan Hamilton as recently coached Marlies under Eakins. Odd.

Cameron Abney has been buried in the ECHL for the better parts of two seasons, and his time was over as an Oiler long before that. They moved him apparently to free up space on the active roster.

Teemu Hartikainen, on the other hand, is still a pretty good prospect despite his refusal to sign a two-way contract with the Oilers in the offseason. Instead he signed a two-year contract to play in the KHL where he has been really good (eating and hunting well too according to his Instagram). He’s a player with worth, and I’d argue more valuable than a guy like Fraser.

The Baron heartthrob (my own emphasis) spent many seasons on the farm only to be placed awkwardly in the Oilers lineup when the NHL call-up came-a-knocking. If he’s smart, he will stay in the KHL, but he’s made it know that he wants NHL ice time, so you never know.

Cam Abney 2013-2014 stats
2 Goals, 3 Assists, +4, 64PIM

Teemu Hartikainen 2013-2014 stats
13 Goals, 14 Assists, +4, 26PIM

According to Bob Stauffer the Oilers will need to demote someone to OKC or move someone to the IR for Fraser to enter the lineup. More to come.

Workin’ For The Weekend: Marlies at Barons “Do It Clean”

When I listen to Echo & The Bunnymen I feel as if I’ve stumbled upon to something really special… because I have. For as uncool as I’ve been for the majority of my life, there is something that inspires coolness when the gloomy rock/pop trio hits my eardrums. I’m always cautiously honest with myself when it comes to music that inspires me this way. Often I over-appreciate British synth pop of the 80’s because it is one of my favorite genres. Yet recently, I was reminded of The Doors-like tendencies of Echo & The Bunnymen, and how they seemingly attracted a loyal, open fan base in England, but only earned a cult following in the States. Early releases like “The Cutter” and “Silver” felt oddly original despite their late-60’s infused psychedelic tendencies. They simply were an 80’s band misunderstood by the current culture, but still whip-smart and fresh regardless of their propensity to be considered copy cats of bands gone by.

“Do It Clean” is a no-holds-bar rocker with four or five chords being the general makeup of the track that ushered the post-punk era into the early 1980’s. Found on the dark, gloomy, and introspective album Crocodiles, I dare you to find a better Bunnymen track (“Killing Moon”, “Lips Like Sugar”, “Bring On The Dancing Horses”, okay, so you could make a case for half a dozen that are equally as good, certainly not better). Wrapped in lyrics of despair and sadness with the drug culture being a mainstream facet of whom the Bunnymen were for most of their existence. I’ve used the word psychedelic to describe the band, but one listen and you’ll know what I mean.

As the 80’s gave way to the 90’s, the band became a staple on indie films of the new decade. This brought the trio back to life, so to speak, but really it just honored their musical legacy that probably went by us too quickly. Keep in mind, I was born in the early 80’s so I discovered the band during this time. The friendship has been wonderful ever since.

To take the lyrics from “Do It Clean” literally, our Oklahoma City Barons need to start finishing. Not just periods, but entire games. The play from here on out gets tough, and it begins this week with an early weekend romp against the visiting Toronto Marlies on Thursday.

The now Dallas Eakins-less Marlies are in good health. Smart, young, feisty and leading the North Division and nestled neatly into third in the Western Conference. Scoring isn’t their strong suit this season, but they’ve somehow managed to capture wins (an ongoing theme with Toronto based teams this season). Led by a defenseman, good ole T.J. Brennan, the team has managed to score the same amount of goals as Oklahoma City, but keep the puck out of the net even more. That differential is good for Toronto, bothersome for opponents trying to score. In addition to Brennan’s eighteen goals and 25 assists to lead the team, Spencer Abbot has chipped in another ten goals and 32 assists. Then there are a pair of rookies to keep an eye on. Josh Leivo and Sam Carrick have provided additional scoring when the team needed it most.

The Marlies are a team that has a tendency to lose games late. So the gameplan for the blue and white is the same as it is in OKC – finish strong. The majority of their offense this season has come in the second period, so it will be important for Oklahoma City (as it is in virtually every game) to get out to an early lead.

When the dust settles on scoring, defending, and special teams, the biggest hurdle for Oklahoma City will be to beat Drew MacIntyre. He’s good, in case you’ve forgotten. As you well know, he’s been virtually everywhere in his career, but the thirty year old tender has put together two good seasons with the Marlies. He’s made more saves and faced more minutes than any other goaltender in the league, and somehow he’s managed a .920 save percentage. That’s a bananas good number for journeyman netminder. One that the Marlies have relied on for 31 games.

The power play and the penalty kill are really good for this version of the Marlies. With the Barons hovering near the dumpster in terms of PK percentages (77%) they will have to do their darndest to keep themselves out of the box, something that has been an issue recently despite the low penalty totals earlier in the season.

Oklahoma City will be without a former Marlie, Will Acton, as he will sit one game for instigating in the final five minutes of the blowout in Charlotte last weekend. The team has called on the services of Austin Fyten, who has been playing well with the Idaho Steelhounds. The roster gets some tinkering as a result, and the team certainly loses a big-time face-off guy in Acton. That might be the key to the Barons success in a pinch.

Look for Stretch, Lander, Horak, and Ryan Hamilton, another former Marlie, to help round out the attempted scoring chances. Also keep an eye on dark horse newcomer Jack Combs. Unlike Pinizzotto who is going to be the agitator extreme, Combs has a good presence in front of the net, and that might pay off dearly if the Barons are going to beat Mr. MacIntyre.

The game starts at 7:00 Central Time. It should be a good one. Tune in (after listening to some Echo & The Bunnymen, you can thank me later)

Tyler Bunz Heads To Oklahoma City, Chet Pickard To Bakersfield

In a move that felt somewhat inevitable at some point (maybe), the Bakersfield Condors and Oklahoma City Barons have swapped goaltenders. Tyler Bunz will suit up for Oklahoma City while Chet Pickard will head to sunnier dispositions in California. Both transactions have been made official via both clubs.

Tyler Bunz has been basically backing up Laurent Brossoit, the most recent goaltending acquisition from the Oilers organization. Brossoit has started five of the last eight games for Bakersfield, let in just ten goals, and has only lost once. In three starts for Bunz his GA were six, and three straight losses. Quality of comp might have something to do with the wins vs losses, and goals allowed, but any way you slice it, Bunz has dipped in the goaltending pipeline.

My assumption was that we wouldn’t see him again. Pickard has remained the number two tender in Oklahoma City for prospect follow through reasons. I only assumed that Brossoit was going to get a promotion to the AHL with Pickard playing just awful lately. Yet the prospects will play if it is the last thing MacTavish ever does. Bunz, for now, leap frogs Brossoit, but he certainly remains behind him in the overall future-casting depth chart.

Now, more than ever, this feels like Bunz’s Last Stand. He has to play really well for the future to even be considered by the Oilers.

Personally, he’s a player I really like, and is seemingly easy to cheer for. Cool, clam, collected – he is worth cheering for. The Oilers need good goaltenders, and they need them now, and so Bunz gets the go-ahead to prove his worth. Fingers crossed.

For those curious, Pickard gave up nine goals in a franchise record for goals allowed by the Barons in a game last weekend against the Charlotte Checkers. He’s played portions of six games (including three starts) with his SV% well below .900. Still can’t wrap my mind around why the Barons would sign the former Nashville Preds draftee. The world may never know.

100!!! Austin Fyten WINS!!!

Per ECHL transactions, the Idaho Steelheads have deleted Austin Fyten from their roster to transfer to the OKC Barons making Fyten the 100th OKC Barons transaction of the season! CONGRATULATIONS!

Idaho:
Delete Austin Fyten, F recalled by Oklahoma City (AHL)

99 OKC Transactions

This photograph symbolizes the 2013-14 OKC Barons season as a season of transition, moves and 99 transactions. In a normal OKC season I know all of the boys, but this season it is has been difficult to keep up with the players, the faces and the numbers. Like this photograph, the team has been a blur. For a fan, the sheer number of moves makes it difficult to become familiar with the team. It takes work to keep up with the team, and that is hard for folks with busy lives.

Who will be OKC’s 100th transaction of this season? A goaltender? A forward? An Oiler heading south? What do you think? Let us know!

A few stats on the 99 transactions as of Jan. 25th:

Goaltenders: There have been a total of 18 goaltender transactions this season, and the OKC Barons have played 8 goaltenders — Bachman, Pickard, Brossoit, Rimmer, Roy, Bunz, LaBarbara and Bryzgalov. This is not an AHL record this season since the Charlotte Checkers have also played 8 goalies, and in the ECHL, the Gwinnett Gladiators now have had 11 goaltenders on their roster, including 1 emergency backup goaltender.

Defensemen: There have been a total of 38 defensemen transactions this season so far, and the team has played 11.

Forwards: There have been a total of 43 forward transactions so far this season, and the team has played 26.

JANUARY = 10 (through Jan. 25th)

1/17/2014 Jack Combs (LW) ADD Traded from San Antonio Rampage (AHL)

99

1/17/2014 Steve Pinizzotto (RW) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

98

1/17/2014 Derek Nesbitt (LW) DEL Traded to San Antonio Rampage (AHL)

97

1/17/2014 Ryan Martindale (C) DEL Recalled from loan from Edmonton (NHL) Traded to Florida Panthers/San Antonio

96

1/13/2014 Erik Burgdoerfer (D) DEL Returned on loan to Bakersfield (ECHL)

95

1/10/2014 Austin Fyten (LW) DEL Returned on loan to Idaho (ECHL)

94

1/9/2014 Brad Hunt (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

93

1/4/2014 Anton Lander (C) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

92

1/3/2014 Brad Hunt (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

91

1/1/2014 Roman Horak (C) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

90

 

DECEMBER = 24

12/30/2013 Erik Burgdoerfer (D) ADD Recalled from loan to Bakersfield (ECHL)

89

12/28/2013 Austin Fyten (LW) ADD Returned on loan from Idaho (ECHL)

88

12/26/2013 Roman Horak (C) DEL Returned from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

87

12/26/2013 Martin Marincin (D) DEL Returned from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

86

12/19/2013 Linus Omark (LW) DEL Returned from loan by Edmonton (NHL) (Trade to Buffalo Sabres)

85

12/17/2013 Chet Pickard (G) ADD Recalled from loan to Bakersfield (ECHL)

84

12/17/2013 Laurent Brossoit (G) DEL Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) to Bakersfield (ECHL)

83

12/14/2013 Jason LaBarbera (G) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL) (Traded to Chicago Blackhawks)

82

12/14/2013 Jason LaBarbera (G) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

81

12/12/2013 Martin Marincin (D) Add Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

80

12/10/2013 Ty Rimmer (G) DEL Returned on loan to Quad City (CHL)

79

12/10/2013 Richard Bachman (G) Add Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

78

12/9/2013 Tyler Pitlick (RW) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

77

12/6/2013 Anton Belov (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

76

12/5/2013 Anton Belov (D) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

75

12/4/2013 Anton Lander (C) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

74

12/4/2013 Corey Potter (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

73

12/4/2013 Denis Grebeshkov (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

72

12/4/2013 Martin Marincin (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

71

12/4/2013 Will Acton (C) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

70

12/2/2013 Corey Potter (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

69

12/2/2013 Jason LaBarbera (G) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

68

12/2/2013 Kale Kessy (LW) ADD Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) from Bakersfield (ECHL)

67

12/2/2013 Ty Rimmer (G) ADD Recalled from loan to Quad City (CHL)

66

 

NOVEMBER = 37

11/27/2013 Denis Grebeshkov (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

65

11/26/2013 Austin Fyten (LW) DEL Loaned to Idaho (ECHL)

64

11/26/2013 Erick Lizon (RW) DEL Loaned to Wichita (CHL)

63

11/25/2013 Kale Kessy (LW) DEL Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) to Bakersfield (ECHL)

62

11/25/2013 Tyler Bunz (G) DEL Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) to Bakersfield (ECHL)

61

11/22/2013 Steve MacIntyre (LW) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

60

11/19/2013 Jason LaBarbera (G) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

59

11/18/2013 Alex Lavoie (C) DEL Released from PTO

58

11/18/2013 Curtis Hamilton (LW) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

57

11/17/2013 Ilya Bryzgalov (G) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

56

11/16/2013 Alex Lavoie (C) ADD Signed to PTO

55

11/16/2013 Mark Arcobello (C) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

54

11/16/2013 Oscar Klefbom (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

53

11/15/2013 Mark Arcobello (C) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

52

11/15/2013 Oscar Klefbom (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

51

11/12/2013 Corey Potter (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

50

11/12/2013 Taylor Fedun (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

49

11/11/2013 Ilya Bryzgalov (G) ADD Conditioning loan from Edmonton (NHL)

48

11/11/2013 Mario Lamoureux (C) DEL Released from PTO

47

11/8/2013 Ben Eager (LW) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

46

11/8/2013 Chet Pickard (G) DEL Loaned to Bakersfield (ECHL)

45

11/8/2013 Chet Pickard (G) ADD Signed to SPC

44

11/8/2013 Joel Broda (C) DEL Released from PTO

43

11/8/2013 Laurent Brossoit (G) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

42

11/8/2013 Linus Omark (LW) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

41

11/8/2013 Olivier Roy (G) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL) (Traded to Calgary Flames)

40

11/8/2013 Roman Horak (C) ADD Loaned from Edmonton (NHL)

39

11/7/2013 Justin Maylan (C) DEL Released from PTO

38

11/5/2013 Linus Omark (LW) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

37

11/5/2013 Ryan Hamilton (LW) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

36

11/4/2013 Taylor Fedun (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

35

11/3/2013 David Musil (D) ADD Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) from Bakersfield (ECHL)

34

11/3/2013 Martin Gernat (D) ADD Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) from Bakersfield (ECHL)

33

11/2/2013 Anton Lander (C) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

32

11/1/2013 David Musil (D) DEL Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) to Bakersfield (ECHL)

31

11/1/2013 Martin Gernat (D) DEL Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) to Bakersfield (ECHL)

30

11/1/2013 Philip Larsen (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

29

 

OCTOBER = 28

10/31/2013 Anton Lander (C) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

28

10/31/2013 Corey Potter (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

27

10/31/2013 Denis Grebeshkov (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

26

10/29/2013 Anton Lander (C) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

25

10/29/2013 Mario Lamoureux (C) ADD Signed to PTO

24

10/27/2013 Corey Potter (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

23

10/27/2013 Richard Bachman (G) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

22

10/27/2013 Tyler Bunz (G) ADD Reassigned by Edmonton (NHL) from Bakersfield (ECHL)

21

10/26/2013 Anton Lander (C) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

20

10/25/2013 Justin Maylan (C) ADD Signed to PTO

19

10/24/2013 Corey Potter (D) ADD Conditioning loan from Edmonton (NHL)

18

10/22/2013 Ben Eager (LW) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

17

10/22/2013 Taylor Fedun (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

16

10/21/2013 Taylor Fedun (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

15

10/21/2013 Tyler Pitlick (RW) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

14

10/18/2013 Denis Grebeshkov (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

13

10/18/2013 Erik Burgdoerfer (D) DEL Loaned to Bakersfield (ECHL)

12

10/18/2013 Erik Burgdoerfer (D) ADD Signed to SPC

11

10/15/2013 Joel Broda (C) ADD Signed to PTO

10

10/15/2013 Philip Larsen (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

9

10/15/2013 Ryan Jones (LW) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

8

10/11/2013 Brandon Davidson (D) ADD Returned on loan from Edmonton (NHL)

7

10/11/2013 Denis Grebeshkov (D) ADD Conditioning loan from Edmonton (NHL)

6

10/11/2013 Philip Larsen (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

5

10/7/2013 Joey Leach (D) DEL Loaned to Bakersfield (ECHL)

4

10/7/2013 Nicolas Tremblay (C) DEL Loaned to Bakersfield (ECHL)

3

10/6/2013 Brandon Davidson (D) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

2

10/4/2013 Ryan Hamilton (LW) DEL Recalled from loan by Edmonton (NHL)

1

How First Period Scoring & Shots (By Opponents) Is Crushing OKC

Photo by Steven Christy

There used to be this thing that the Oklahoma City Barons would do from time to time. It has happened dozens of times in the last three seasons prior to this one. I called it the fade. When the squad would get a multi-goal lead, they’d batten down the hatches so to speak, and play really strong defense. This was when the team had the luxury of relying on the then sturdy defenders (Brett Clark, Bryan Helmer at the AHL level to name a few) to keep the puck from rarely getting near the goaltender. It wasn’t always the smartest brand of hockey, and at times it hurt them, but Todd Nelson knew when to punch in the fade, and when not to, and as maddening as it was to watch…it worked.

In 2013-2014 the fade doesn’t exist because it can’t. The Barons scoring is seemingly okay at this point with 116 goals for, which is no where near the top in the league, but it isn’t awful either. Rather the issue is shots faced, and early game scoring. Let me explain.

The Oklahoma City Barons give up more shots on net than any other team in the league. They average 33.69 shots against per game, and we wonder why the goaltenders struggle. The grand total of shots faced is 1,415. That is a lot of offense coming their way. If you flip the chart and see how many shots the Barons take, it’s middle of the road. Shots don’t equal scoring, but they do point to seemingly healthy offense and saggy defense.

To further confuse the senses, realize that the Barons are 7-10-0-0 when out-shooting opponents and 8-9-1-4 when being out-shot. Weird, but life as a Baron these days.

Then there is early period scoring by opponents. The shot totals by opponents actually decrease with each passing period (on average), but goals scored by opponents does not. What does change, however, is the differential.

1st period
GF – 28 GA – 39 (diff. 11)

2nd period
GF – 39 GA – 42 (diff. 3)

3rd period
GF – 46 GA – 52 (diff. 6)

With the differential being the greatest in the first, there’s no wonder that the Barons have a 10-4-1-4 record when scoring first. Likewise, their 6-1-1-0 record when leading after the first, and their 10-1-1-4 record when trailing after two, and their unsightly 1-16-0-0 record when trailing after two, further compounds the importance of scoring and leading first. Because if you don’t score first, the other team will (and in multiple goal totals). This subtly suggests that Oklahoma City wins games in the first period, but ultimately loses them by playing catch-up in the second and third. It also proclaims that the team struggles to win close ones. This is bothersome.

Coach Nelson is aware of the issue, and that is why we see some third period line changes from time to time. Out of sheer necessity, the team needs to be shaken up. I do, however, find it interesting that the defensive core gives up such a high total of both goals and shots. We know they struggle to defend, and my own eyes tell me they struggle even greater with the puck possession game. With a lumpy defense, and sometimes iffy goal-tending, averaging 3.3 goals allowed per game means that you are constantly attempting to outscore your opponent. I’m not sure the Barons are capable of doing that consistently, or at least through the middle of January.

So the theme for this squad needs to be two-fold. First, score first and early. Come out firing on all cylinders. Second, decrease opponents shots, and defend well late in the game. The addition of Jack Combs and Steve Pinizzotto helps in both categories. Bill Scott might be on to something.

 

Steve Pinizzotto & Jack Combs, Two Games In

Photo by Rob Ferguson

Travel issues on Friday prevented both newcomers to the Barons, Steve Pinizzotto and Jack Combs, from entering the lineup to face the Rochester Americans. In a game that the Barons probably should have won, but were down two legit forwards and forced to ice Brandon Davidson and Steve MacIntyre on the same fourth line, things could have been much worse than a 4-3 defeat. So when Pinizzotto and Combs were inserted into the lineup to face the Milwaukee Admirals, a tough checking team, on Saturday and Sunday the warm bodies were a welcome sight.

Pinizzotto has been advertised as a tough checker, hard working forward while Combs is a bit more of a nifty puck handler around the net.  The test would be early and often for these two players, but how did they fare against a team that dominated the Barons in December? To the videotape.

Combs, in a very early shift, did what Nelson had predicted, and he went towards the net on a push up the ice. It resulted in very little, but made an early statement. I like that he receives the puck on the wall, dishes it to center, and immediately goes towards the net at the other end. He isn’t Omark, but seeing a player drive the net is minor league fantastic.

Pinizzotto, by comparison, has a bit of a chancy streak in him too, but it appears to be a bit more in the defensive mode. Watch him as he chases down the puck mover, and forces an Admiral to make a horrific pass coming out from behind the net that nearly gives the Barons a wide open scoring chance. An honest to goodness forecheck has often been the saving grace for OKC. With Curtis Hamilton and Andrew Miller both out of the lineup, a guy like Pinizzotto can really be an integral part of getting that back.

Several minutes later, Combs is bumped off the puck twice in the same shift. With a team that struggles to posses the puck with any consistency, clinging to it while on the boards will be key. Winning the small battles, as coaches would say.

 Towards the end of period one on Sunday night, the Barons dug themselves into a penalty kill hole. Pinizzotto, likely a strong PKer, would play briefly in spurts in that capacity. With nine seconds remaining to a Musil penalty, and time ticking away on the big clock, Pinizzotto heads to the wall to catch a weaksauce Klefbom pass that should have been a clearing attempt. Pinizzotto launches it up ice, giving the Barons time to adjust. Smart.

Combs would assist on a Pitlick goal on Sunday night, and then turn around and score a goal of his own mid-way through the second period. In the first assist series, the Barons catch an awkward break in their favor. Combs (middle player in image above) gives the puck to C.J. Stretch along the wall, with Pitlick hanging around on the left wing. Stretch carries the puck up ice while Combs and Pitlick remain dedicated to their positions. Puck goes to Combs, he dishes to an already-wound-up Tyler Pitlick for the goal. Good stuff. A bit of speed from Sir Combs?

Here’s the Combs goal later in the game. Notice who is standing in front of the net, all alone, unmolested – Jack Combs.

Here is how the forward lines revealed themselves in Saturday and Sunday games at the Cox Center. Notice the placement of Pinizzotto and Combs.

Horak-Lander-Pitlick
R.Hamilton-Stretch-Pinizzotto
Combs-Acton-Ford
Eager-Ewanyk-Kessy

Horak-Lander-Pitlick
R.Hamilton-Stretch-Pinizzotto
Combs-Acton-Ford
Eager-Ewanyk-Kessy

Two games. Identical lineups. The interesting thing here is that Combs and Pinizzotto give more of a floating flexibility to the lineup with the loss of Martindale, who is a true centerman. This allowed Stretch to play higher in the lineup, but as a center. The Barons seemingly like this despite my firm belief that I like Stretch better on the wings.

Here are the stat lines of both players through two nights:

Steve Pinizzotto
0-0-0 -2 2PIM

Jack Combs
1-1-2 +1 4shots 4PIM

Clearly Combs is being used as a high scoring chance forward, while Pinizzotto is the Barons version of Luke Gazdic, but properly placed in the AHL. Both players give you something you need, but for different reasons. Combs hopefully replaces the scoring that would have come from Nesbitt while also giving you a good net player. Pinizzotto is the grinding forward, capable on the penalty kill, with a tendency towards the agitation. I like the dissimilarities here, and I think the Barons are better for it.

Two games does not a proper measuring stick make. Yet, this is an important combo to watch. In two games, in typical Nelson form, they’ve been thrown to the wolves and helpful in two wins. Great news.

As the Barons play Charlotte (always persnickety) and Texas (always burly), the test really starts now through Valentine’s Day when they’ll face highly skilled Western Division opponents. Keep your eyes on these two. They might be imporant.