Oklahoma City Need “2” Against Hamilton, Khaira & Chase Ready For Debut

After losing in back to back shootouts over the weekend to the Charlotte Checkers, the Oklahoma City Barons return home for three straight games, and eyeball a chance at cutting down the lead in the playoff chase. Eight games remain on the schedule, with only two on the road. That means the Barons desperately need two points tonight against Hamilton before galloping back into the loving arms of the Charlotte Checkers for another series this weekend.

With the Hamilton game comes a bit of a roster change on the farm. Wait, scratch that, how about a roster overhaul. Two new defenders, and four new forwards since March ended and April began. Josh Winquist, Jujhar Khaira, Mitch Holmberg, and Greg Chase have been added to the forward core. Graeme Craig and Jordan Oesterle to the defense. Add to the mix Frans Tuohima as the back-up tender to Richard Bachman, you welcome a roster full of future Oilers prospects. That’s quite exciting regardless of the dire straits that the Barons playoff hopes seemingly find themselves in at the moment.

Yesterday I mentioned the potential defensive pairs. Today I’ll try to navigate the the channels of providing an offensive lineup. This will be fun.

Reported by the team following practice today, Jujhar Khaira and Greg Chase are locks for the lineup tonight. The others might squeeze in after a few more practices. Yet don’t rule them out, we might see at least one more in the lineup.

Also worth mentioning is the recall of Steve Pinizzotto to the Edmonton Oilers. This is an odd move, but it allows the youngsters to squeeze in to a spot where there normally wouldn’t be one. It also perhaps points out another knee injury situation for Tyler Pitlick. Ongoing knee issues doesn’t bode well for his future inside the Oilers organization. Fingers crossed.

With Will Acton and Steve Pinizzotto absent from the farm, that leaves Ben Eager with two missing linemates. Do the Barons just insert Khaira and Chase into center and left wing? Perhaps.

The most recent Oklahoma City Barons forward lines looked like this:

Fyten-Stretch-A. Miller
Eager-Acton-Pinizzotto
Combs-Lavoie-Ford
Curtis Hamilton-Ewanyk-G. Miller

2/3rds of the second line are now with the Edmonton Oilers. I like Eager on that left wing, but I doubt Todd Nelson keeps him there if Khaira and Chase play on the same line. I like A Combs-Khaira-Chase line on the second. That’s three pretty solid skillful players. Combs, for the record, is a bit Gumby-like, but he has speed and really good hands. That might be a good threesome.

You’ll recall that Kale Kessy is dinged up so Ewanyk and Hamilton will probably stay at the bottom with Miller. That leaves a left wing hole on the third line if Combs moves up. Fill it with Ben Eager. Lavoie and Ford have both provided offense recently, and that’s really good news. If Stretch can reel in some good maneuvers and play making on the top line, Andrew Miller and Austin Fyten can score some goals. Could we see this?

Fyten-Stretch-Miller
Combs-Khaira-Chase
Eager-Lavoie-Ford
Hamilton-Ewanyk-Miller

This could make for an interesting night of hockey. We’ve not had a potentially electrifying offense in months. This is the most promising a forward group as we’ve seen. I like the mix of young / old / burly / skill. And keep in mind, Todd Nelson is a magician with lineups. This could get interesting.

The Hamilton Bulldogs are .500 in their last ten games despite being third to last in the Western Conference. That span included wins against Milwaukee and Abbotsford, and a few against the tail-spinning San Antonio Rampage. Yet they’ve also been defeated by the Texas Stars, and that same Abbotsford Heat team. They are a team geographically located near the East so they face a lot of Eastern Conference opponents which is an issue when it comes to standings, and the league pretends that it isn’t. Nonetheless, they are a team that the Barons could overlook.

Matrin St. Pierre continues to score points (44 on the season) while rookie forward, Sven Andrighetto is inching closer to the 40+ point club in the coming days. They are a team that doesn’t score a ton of goals, but they don’t give up a bunch either. On a good night they’ll beat a quality opponent by two. On a bad night, they’ll be shutout 5-0.

Like the Barons, the Bulldogs have picked up a few ATO’s in recent hours. Connor Crisps and Brady Vail (both from OHL) are likely to play, and for them the world is their oyster.

Devan Dubnyk, Dustin Tokarski, and Robert Mayer will be the opposing goaltenders with Tokarski shouldering the load mighty fine. With Ricahrd Bachman getting better support from two of the best scoring defenders in the league – Brad Hunt and Taylor Fedun – he has had room to breathe lately. The battle in net will be key down the stretch.

The puck drops in OKC around 7pm with a chance of tornado-like activity outside. Tune in via the radio or the interwebz, this one will be interesting.

Potential Oklahoma City Barons Pairs, Changes Abound

There is a fine line between tweaking and tweaking too much, and sometimes you haven’t realized that you’ve tweaked too much until you’ve, well, tweaked too much. When it comes to hockey defensive pairs, a good rule of thumb is “dance with the one who brung ya”. Simply put, if there are pairs working out well, keep them. If not, make the changes. But what happens when injuries rear their ugly head, and warm bodies are needed? You tweak a lot of things.

Two defensive players have been added to the Barons for the remainder of the season – one AHL contracted, the other Oilers contracted – and both will probably play quickly until the NHL season comes to a close.

Graeme Craig from Red Deer, Alberta, and Jordan Oesterle from Dearborn Heights are defenders with experience in different leagues, but are post-20, and thus headed towards fully realized players. Where exactly might they squeeze in?

Here is the list of available Oklahoma City Barons defenders (Denis Grebeshkov is sidelined by injury):

Graeme Craig, Brandon Davidson, David Musil, Joey Leach, Taylor Cedun, Brad Hunt, Jordan Oesterle, Martin Gernat

The only right-handed shot currently in that group is Taylor Fedun, and he’s played very well in the two recent loses to Charlotte over the weekend.

That’s a total of eight healthy defenders. I would say that Joey Leach is on a short leash, and likely becomes the eighth defender. That leaves seven blue liners, including two noobs.

My suggestion is to keep Fedun with Gernat, whom have moved the puck well, and given top pair minutes playing right / left . Gernat, despite being wiry, has been able to move his frame in appropriate ways of late. No use messing with that formula. So let’s put a traditional pair chart to my thoughts

Taylor Fedun – Martin Gernat
Brandon Davidson – Brad Hunt
Graeme Craig – Jordan Oesterle – David Musil

That’s not an earth shattering proposition on defense, but it seems the most logical. Musil struggles from time to time even in limited minutes. Yet he has many more games of pro experience versus the players in Craig / Oesterle. In the short, I’ll give Craig the start in the bottom two in the first game this week, Oesterle the two this weekend. The Oilers will want to see their contracted player in action immediately, so this bodes well for Jordan’s emergence in the lineup.

The greater conversation will be the forward lineup, and my thoughts on that are forthcoming.

On today’s Lowdown with Lowetide Radio Show, I called Todd Nelson “The Great And Powerful Oz”. ‘Tis true. He really likes the challenge of positioning players in the lineup, but he has rules. The first being that you get an initial shot to succeed. What that means is that Craig / Oesterle or any other newcomer to the squad gets good minutes, and a good chance to find marginal success. The second rule is that if he likes something, he will keep it until he doesn’t. Fedun / Gernat evolved into something special, he wants that to stick around. Likewise, he really likes Hunt or Fedun on the PP handling the puck.

In summation, the next three games are huge for the Barons in terms of postseason potential. More than that, though, they are a team with a incredibly different lineup than less than thirty days ago. That’s truly remarkable – that both of those things can happen at the same time. Godspeed, Barons.