Photo by Steven Christy
The Oklahoma City Barons will get Anton Lander back as they prepare to host the San Antonio Rampage this evening in the lone AHL game on March 11th. A funny thing is happening with the Oilers farm team, something that has rarely occurred during the season. The team, despite not changing much in terms of quality in the last two months, has begun to separate themselves just a bit from those outside the AHL Calder Cup playoff picture. One of those teams knocking on the door is the San Antonio Rampage. Yet the Barons have dispatched them recently, and OKC owns one of the best ten game wins vs. loss records as they’ve taken points from Grand Rapids, Toronto, Rockford, San Antonio, Utica, and Rochester – all teams considered to be in the playoff picture with some actually clinching very soon.
So as Tuesday rolls around the Barons eyeball a potential tie with the idle Milwaukee Admirals. Keep in mind that the tie is nullifed as the Barons will have played three full games more come Wednesday morning, and the Admirals have a pretty tame record over the next two weeks. Nonetheless, they are a formidable opponent.
6-2-0-2 is the lead the Barons have on the Rampage this season, which is direct reflection of the four year mark in head-to-head comparisons. It seems that both squads, in recent seasons, have made playoff pushes at various moments, but always end up tangling with each other towards the end. In all actuality the Barons match up with the Rampage (and vice-versa) surprisingly well, and depending on the date, the games are either tight or blowouts. It all seems to come down to execution in the moment.
For San Antonio, they lose forward Joey Crabb and defenseman Mike Mottau to parent club, the Florida Panthers. Crabb is a 26 point scorer for the team, while Mottau is a roving, and pretty good in the minors, veteran defenseman. The loss of both alleviates a vet issue with the Rampage, so this allows more ice time for others. Always good for AHL teams.
The addition of Mark Mancari to the Rampage top line is scary. He’s good. And can propel a team forward. Remember that.
I’m always surprised that the Rampage are defensively sound. Only allowing 177 goals in 58 games is a quality number. That’s a full 30 goals fewer than the Oklahoma City Barons total, and thus you have to point to scoring as a concern for the Rampage. Scoring more, and with more consistency is something that our own baby Oilers have struggled with for most of the season only to see those numbers jump largely in the last two months.
The Barons will be without two players in Tuesday’s game. Both Ben Eager, and former Rampage player Steve Pinizzotto have been benched for a game following some shenanigans in Rochester (video here). They’ll add defenseman Joey Leach from Bakersfield to replace Oscar Klefbom, now with the Oilers. And as stated before, Anton Lander rolls back into the good graces of Barons country having been called up to “potentially fill in for an injured Oiler”. Lander. Arcobello. Both have been fantastic forwards. The loss of Pinizzotto and Eager aren’t huge, and for one game we get a ton of prospects at one time. Kale Kessy, Travis Ewanyk, Curtis Hamilton probably carrying the weight at the bottom. This probably allows Jack Combs, another former San Antonio Rampage player, to move up the lineup just a bit. C.J. Stretch as well. Ironically, the team loses some brawn and age, but gets a bit more offensively creative in my two-bit, humble opinion. That’s good. Especially against a really smart defense (most of the time) in the Rampage.
I think Nelson rolls with Richard Bachman tonight. Although Richard hasn’t been spelled much, with Tyler Bunz waiting in the wings, he’s been admirable. Nelson likes his goaltenders to carry the weight down the stretch, and that seems to be the case here.
At the other end the Rampage lost Markstrom in a deal to Vancouver. You might get rookie Michael Houser or you might Scott Clemmensen. Either way, you are going to have to beat the defense. Breaking down those walls is just as important.
Game is tonight in Oklahoma City. Puck ascends at 7:00pm.