Do me a huge favor, won’t you? Go pull up the score sheet from the Texas Stars at Oklahoma City Barons game from New Year’s Eve. Just look at the first period stats, and tell me you aren’t smiling. Curtis Hamilton and Will Acton score a goal a piece. The Barons take a total of twelve shots, and Richard Bachman blocks all seven on the other end. The only real hiccup is the attempted double-spearing penalty by Ben Eager that gave the best power play unit in the AHL a four minute man advantage. It ended well, though, because the Barons killed it. You are probably saying to yourself, “Way to go Barons!”. I know that I was.
Now take a look at the second period stats. Will Acton would get his second of the night, but the Stars would quickly get on the scoreboard via a power play opportunity. And just when it seemed that the Stars would again score with an extra skater, Curtis Hamilton earns a short hander for his second goal of the night. The Barons, leading 4-1 at this point, seemed in control. At the mid-period section, Derek Nesbitt would put the Barons on top 5-1. A great total against a really good team. A comfortable lead, and in a position to win.
The final thirty minutes of the game tell a completely different story.
Five straight goals, yes five, from the 12:34 mark of the second period through the :46 mark of the overtime frame resulted in one of the greatest unravelings of a Barons squad in recent memory. The collapse was so tremendously unbelievable that at one point I thought maybe the Barons were missing a few bodies.
A whopping 34 shots were taken in the combined span of the final two periods plus overtime. Richard Bachman, who looked absolutely fabulous for the largest portion of the game would end the NYE beatdown facing 41 shots, stopping 35, and an .854 save percentage.
Thirteen shots – the number taken by the Barons in the same span – was not nearly enough to beat Cristopher Nilstorp. Five power play opportunities given. Poor defending. Suffocating defense by the Stars. This game pointed out the junk yard dog in the room, he’s from Cedar Park, Texas.
More than anything, the complete dismantling of the Barons pointed to several problems for the Barons. Let’s take a look at a couple, if you dare join me.
First, this is not an elite team of prospects. Acton and Hamilton both scored twice, and that’s incredible. It was also Curtis Hamilton’s second game in a row where he scored a pair of goals. That’s incredible. Having never scored multiple goals in a single game before, this was a breakout weekend for young Hamilton. Not to devalue this moment, nor Acton’s scoring ways, but no one is calling this bunch of forwards “elite”. The loss of Omark was rough, we knew it would be, but imagine if you had Toni Rajala and Teemu Hartikainen hanging around. That might be an additional 30+ goals (players combined) in the first three months of the season. What’s left isn’t awful, it just isn’t elite.
Second, goaltending isn’t to blame. Whether it is Brossoit or Bachman (or any one else who has suited as a Baron in net) the defensive awareness of a young prospect team is still maturing. The final goal in OT by Sceviour, for instance, was basically a forward holding to the puck while the defense refused to attack him thus forcing him further away from the net or making another pass (hopefully a bad one). Positioning, awareness, and overall decision making continue to be problems. In open ice, the players are moving the puck, but in the defensive zone it remains hit or miss.
Finally, the power play is sorta wanky. The loss of Taylor Fedun to injury hasn’t helped he case, and it has put a ton of pressure on Brad Hunt to quarterback the man advantage time. He has done well, but he needs help. For all the puck moving that the Oilers supposedly drafted, many have struggled in that regard is season.
There are other issues at work here, and we will uncover those in the future. For now, watch and pray. Pray hard.