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.
GF – 28 GA – 39 (diff. 11)
GF – 39 GA – 42 (diff. 3)
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.