Oklahoma City Barons Are Rolling, Who’s Driving This Tractor?

Photo by Steven Christy

A funny thing happened about a month ago. The Oklahoma City Barons got good. They went from basement dweller in the AHL standings to darlings in about four weeks time. A testament to the parity found in the West…for the most part. When things get tight, and playoffs begin to be discussed, the teams start to jockey for position. It’s a glorious sight to behold.

This past weekend they outscored both Rockford and San Antonio in a three-in-three set at home. The games were tight, but in all honesty, the better team prevailed in each, and for at least a brief moment – Oklahoma City is really good.

How has this happened?

A lot of people want to point to Coach Todd Nelson, and that’s a good target to fixate on. He has a knack for getting his team to respond (given the right tools) at the right time, and a seed in every playoff since the Barons existence is proof of that. Just when it seemed that the team was destined to disappear prior to the Calder Cup Playoffs, the team is starting to trend up in a hurry. Indeed, Todd Nelson is a huge part of that success.

The players on the ice are partly to blame as well, but just exactly whom is the question. It seems that all – fourth to first – lines are contributing in ways that we’ve not seen in an entire season of hockey. Some defensive support now exists as well. Here are the stats in the last three games that kind of hint at whom might be driving this big tractor we call the Barons.

Players On Ice GF Even Strength

[one_half]

Forwards

Tyler Pitlick – 4
Anton Lander – 4
Roman Horak – 3
Mark Arcobello – 3
Matthew Ford – 3
Will Acton – 2
Steve Pinizzotto – 2
Curtis Hamilton – 2
Travis Ewanyk – 2
Kale Kessy – 2
Jack Combs – 2
Austin Fyten – 2
Denis Grebeshkov – 1
Ben Eager – 1[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Defenders

Brad Hunt – 5
Oscar Klefbom – 4
Brandon Davidson – 4
David Musil – 3
Martin Gernat – 2
Taylor Fedun – 2[/one_half_last]

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Players On Ice GF Power Play

[one_half]

Forwards

Matthew Ford – 5
Anton Lander – 5
Mark Arcobello – 5
Roman Horak – 4[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Defenders

Brad Hunt – 5
[/one_half_last]

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Players On Ice GA Even Strength

[one_half]

Forwards

Matthew Ford – 4
Will Acton – 4
Mark Arcobello – 3
Curtis Hamilton – 3
Anton Lander – 2
Austin Fyten – 2
Jack Combs – 2
Steve Pinizzotto – 2
Roman Horak – 2
Ben Eager – 2
Tyler Pitlick – 1
C.J. Stretch – 1
Travis Ewanyk – 1
Kale Kessy – 1
Jack Combs – 1
[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Defenders

David Musil – 5
Brad Hunt – 4
Oscar Klefbom – 4
Brandon Davidson – 3
Taylor Fedun – 3
Martin Gernat – 2
Denis Grebeshkov – 2
[/one_half_last]

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Players On Ice GA Power Play

[one_half]

Forwards

Anton Lander – 1
Austin Fyten – 1
Roman Horak – 1
Mark Arcobello – 1[/one_half] [one_half_last]

Defenders

David Musil – 2
Oscar Klefbom – 2
[/one_half_last]

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A couple of things worth mentioning here. A lot of where guys position themselves in +/- ratings (which is basically a less detailed version of what you see above) system is based on whom they play with. But when you break down the rating into the four categories above, you can see two things. First, you see where guys are being used. Klefbom is everywhere except the PP, which has been pretty good in the three game span above. Even strength and penalty kill are where you see him the most. On the flip side of that, a defender like Brad Hunt is a mainstay on the power play, while completely absent from penalty killing (in general). Second, the stand outs at even strength and the power play really start to, well, stand out. For instance, Tyler Pitlick gave up very little in terms of goals allowed (in terms of him personally, realizing linemates matter), but was on the higher end of ice time for goals allowed from the forward group. That’s kind of interesting.

Let’s break down some more things worth noting.

The nineteen points in nine games by Mark Arcobello is crazy Justin Schultz circa 2012 (in the minors) numbers. A huge chunk of his success recently, mind you, has come on the power play. That’s a trend we saw in previous seasons where Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Justin Schultz weren’t dominating the PP totals. Arco is a sneaky good power play guy, and he’s helped the team get better in that department. He also wasn’t playing top line minutes, rather centering the second line with Roman Horak and Steve Pinizzotto when at even strength.

The top line of Curtis Hamilton – Anton Lander – Tyler Pitlick spent two of the three games together until Hamilton and Austin Fyten were swapped in game three. Interesting to see the consistency in Pitlick and Lander. Also interesting to see that Nelson has put some OOMPH on both wings in those three games.

Oscar Klefbom and Brandon Davidson, playing vastly different defensive minutes (Davidson w/ Hunt; Klefbom third pairing w/ Musil), have somehow driven similar on ice behaviors when goals are scored. Matchups are a huge discprencey to this whole thing, but the fact that Klefbom carries David Musil is pretty interesting. Likewise, Klefbom and Musil were on the ice for the only two power play goals scored over the weekend. The PK was several ticks above it’s normal 78.7 rate at 83 during that same time span. Good stuff.

Brad Hunt is an offensive defender, and a pretty iffy defensive defender. Things that Oilers fans saw in the big leagues.

Musil is still struggling offensively, but being aided greatly by Klefbom. I think this is important to point out daily.

Gernat is defending better, Denis Grebeshkov is barely making the lineup once in four games.

Lander continues to be one of the league leaders in power play goals scored, and if Arcobello remains in OKC any longer (I don’t think he will) those two will have a fine rip down the stretch.

C.J. Stretch has been buried lately, but the bottom scoring threat has emerged just enough to keep the Barons dangerous through all four lines.

The short and sweet version is this. The Barons are playing better, but it seems they are besting some of the best in the Western Conference in two ways – outscoring at even strength (barely), winning the special team’s battles. This is huge, and to go back to a previous point, might just make Todd Nelson a wizard. Knowing that the team has defensive issues, he’s been able to squeeze as much offense as he can out of specific players (SEE: Lander and Arcobello). Likewise, the defense is giving scoring support (Brandon Davidson notched two goals in one game, he hadn’t scored a non empty netter ever as a Baron. Thanks Candace!). So the team is good momentarily, and with the “good” package that Nelson has put together, this is a team that I can honestly see making the playoffs. You lose one or maybe two forwards, the season takes another turn towards terrible.

The road gets a little easy for the Barons before it gets treacherous. Utica, one of the worst in the league, welcomes them on Wednesday while Hamilton and Rochester come calling to round out the weekend. Then things go crazy. San Antonio, Grand Rapids, Texas, San Antonio, and Charlotte all wait in the wings, and we all hold on for dear life.