The Oklahoma wind has done a number on my nasal passages so gird your loins for some epic grumble / mumbles on all things Tejas vs. Land Runners. But as I take my 24-hour Claritin about three hours to late, I’m suddenly calmed, my heart rate dipping towards normalcy, I’m reminded that things really aren’t all that bad. The Barons are on the ropes, down two games to nil in a best-of-five series, but they’ve taken the best team in the AHL (according to the standings) twice to OT. That’s good news. Great news even. Yet, I’m still not entirely hopeful. C’mon allergy medicine, make me feel better.
The gameplan is magical for Todd Nelson, but perhaps to a fault. Several of the Texas writers (all are fabulous, by the way) mentioned the decision to roll Ben Eager, Will Acton, and Curtis Hamilton against the heaviest offensive force which has been Curtis McKenzie, Travis Morin, and Brendan Ranford.
Coach Todd Nelson played the line of Will Acton, Ben Eager and Curtis Hamilton straight up against the Stars’ top line of Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie and Brendan Ranford. It was effective lineup management for the Barons’ bench boss. They frustrated the AHL Rookie of the Year and MVP, limiting them to just one shot and taking Ranford off the ice with matching minors in the first.
With Pinizzotto serving a two-game suspension it was Ben Eager that got the agitation role, as we have seen for much of the season. Nelson has long been a fan of having a third line dibble and dabble in consternation when necessary. This is an intelligent gameplan.
Yet drink the Kool-Aid slowly because what worked so beautifully in the first one-half of two games ending in the same 3-2 final in OT, was also what seemingly crippled the home team down the stretch. One word – “depth”.
The Barons are playing well above their averages in terms of completeness. Shots are similar. Keeping the Stars PP at 29%. Really grinding the tires on the team’s leading scorers. Giving Nilstorp and Campbell everything plus the kitchen sink. But in game two, in particular, the skillfulness of the Stars was just that much better than the goaltending of Richard Bachman who continues to make impressive save after impressive save in spite of his defensive help-meets.
Here were the defensive pairs in game two:
Gernat – Fedun
Davidson – Hunt
Nurse – Musil
And let me tell you, given full on green tendencies of just about every Barons defender, these guys were pretty quality in the back half of the game when things got dicey. Yet good defenders help protect a lead, and in two games of the postseason they’ve been unable to do that despite my googley-eyed praise of them only one sentence prior. There is real skill on this Stars squad, and that skill took over when Morin potted his second of the game.
In the end, I like the defensive pairs in game two much more than game one. Klefbom would be my only late addition if I had my druthers, and I’m hoping he returns (not entirely convinced) by game three.
To the offensive side of things:
Horak – Lander – Pitlick
Fyten – Stretch – Miller
Jujhar Khaira scored his first pro goal to give the Oklahoma City Barons a one-goal lead just over mid-way through the third period. It was a dazzler, and one that we’ve been waiting to see. Roman Horak, welcoming the return of Tyler Pitlick on his line more than anyone else, was sharp in the opening minutes scoring the game’s first goal.
As I’ve now written nearly 600 words above I suddenly realize that grumbling isn’t an option here. This Barons team is really churning out its full potential plus an extra sized set of heart. I hate saying heart like it is an actual intangible, but good coaching, good goaltending, smart line matching have all been stated. And that may make this the most impressive OKC outfit to date because they are challenging the brick wall, razor wired fence that has contained them for most of the season.
As we turn towards game three, don’t hold your breath that they’ll be resurrected in this series. Do, however, enjoy the remarkable consistency that is emerging. Them’s, we’s, us’s all are better for it.