Oklahoma City Says, “Howdy!” To Utica

The Utica Comets, hailing from the town in New York with the same name (Utica, not Comets) are the latest addition to the American Hockey League landscape. Affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks, and struggling to find any type of rhythm in their first season, they head to Oklahoma City for the first-ever game between the two clubs. Despite the inconsistencies of Utica for much of the season, a new foe is always welcome.

Owning the worst record in the league at 11-18-1-2, the woes of life as a Comet are real and they are present. Don’t think for a minute that they are pushovers, they just struggle to score goals. 100 goals allowed is 21 fewer than the Barons. 76 goals for is 24 fewer than the Barons. Yet the Utica Comets have three players w/ 20+ points (they’ll get Benn Ferriero back tonight), the Barons have one (Roman Horak, but seven points came from Abbotsford, so there’s that).

More than anything this is a statement game for the Oklahoma City Barons, and potentially the Utica Comets. With both teams in the doldrums, the time to win is now. Having earned at least one point in the last three games, the Barons are starting to uptick just enough to give fans and coaches hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, this team can start scoring goals while defending substantially better. That’s a lot to ask.

The Barons will get Brad Hunt back from the Oilers, but not Martin Marincin. Hunt is a good puck mover, and is highly capable in several special team facets of the game. Regardless of how he performed as an Oiler (which was awful, by the way) he can continue to hone his craft on the farm, and the farm will gladly welcome him back. Grebeshkov, Fedun, Hunt, Klefbom, and the suddenly goal-friendly Gernat, will be huge in the success of the Barons squad in 2014.

Fifteen goals. That’s the total in three straight games for the Barons. The seven games prior to that barely eclipsed that total. The sticks are alive and well for the Barons, and that’s a rarity. Likewise, a two game winning streak is in tow, and that hasn’t happened since mid-October. Has the team turned the page?

Perhaps. Yet the quality of competition is sullied, and thus the Barons look better. However, they still have to win the games, and have had every opportunity to lose the two they’ve won in the last two outings. Utica, although seemingly a dog, can present some major issues for the Barons if they aren’t careful.

Utica is riding a streak of their own. They’ve lost two in a row by a margin of three goals in each. Ouch.

But they continue to be one of the least penalized teams in the league. That’s good. They have one of the worst records in the league when scoring first. That’s bad. Vvet center, Pascal Pelletier has scored 28 points this season including 21 assists. That’s good. They occasionally lose in bunches. That’s bad. But again, the Barons haven’t been without their ups and downs this season. The hope is that when the dust settles there is more up than down.

Curtis Hamilton, Ryan Martindale, Tyler Pitlick, Martin Gernat – all have been successful in last five games – they need to continue to move up quickly. Other like C.J. Stretch, Andrew Miller, Anton Lander and Roman Horak will need to pitch in to backstop the “young and prone to inconsistency”.

Richard Bachman and Chet Pickard (with his new mask) have had sizable wins lately, and that’s a really good thing for the team and for the nerves of the coaching staff.

If the Oilers can remain healthy, and view the farm team as the farm and not just a holding pen, then the consistency will come. This is not a Western Conference Final squad in OKC, but it is indeed fully capable of making the playoffs. But it is going to be close…very close.

Game is tonight (originally scheduled for Wednesday) at the Cox Center. GO Barons!

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