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:
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?
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.