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.
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:
0-0-0 -2 2PIM
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.