Hockey’s opening night in Bricktown 2014 was bound to be interesting. A matchup against the Calder Cup champs whom, by the way, swept the Barons in the first round en route to that same Cup always makes for a grand stage. The Stars, a formidable opponent regardless of the season, entered the Cox Center on Friday night with a well-earned bounce in their step. Three periods of highly entertaining hockey were had, but the Barons would come up just short for the second straight game.
A week prior the Barons played a tough San Antonio team who have skill and speed. This pushed the game to overtime, but ultimately only churned out a point for the Barons. Considering the team’s youthfulness, this was a profitable outcome. I’d say the game in OKC, although a regulation loss, was equally as profitable.
Todd Nelson is cautiously aware of the need for quick starts in the opening ten minutes of games. On Friday night the Barons looked red hot for the first 1:30 of play, but then quickly unravelled in an avalanche of un-organization.
Some lukewarm defending and some nervous goaltending gave the Texas Stars an early two goal lead. Starting goaltender, Laurent Brossoit would let in two semi-bad-ones, but received little support in front of him from his supporting cast. The giant gulp taken by all in the Cox Center would only be the dry $1 hot dogs because Brossoit would end the night looking much better than he had on the game’s opening goals.
Following goals by the Stars the Barons really started to seal the gaps, find offensive seams, and turn the ship around. An interference penalty mid-way through the second period earned defenseman Jordan Oesterle a power play goal on a whale of a shot from the top of the key. Nearly two minutes later, at even strength, Justin Williams would wind up, take a long shot of his own, and beat Stars’ goaltender Jack Campbell for the Barons second goal of the night. The change in overall play was back-stopped by better defensive puck movement, the continued goodness of Laurent Brossoit, and some fine work by the forwards. Iiro Pakarinen, and his linemates, played really good high energy minutes that drove the play through the remainder of the period.
The third period would again have the Barons playing from behind. With under 5:00 to go in the game, an unsportsmanlike penalty after the whistle to David Musil would eventually net the Stars their only power play goal of the evening. This hurt, but the Barons courageously fought back.
As the third period soldiered on Todd Nelson squeezed some goodness out of his fourth line featuring Khaira down the middle and Kessy and Ewanyk on the wings. The threesome nearly tied it more than once as the Barons, from top to bottom, charged with desperation. In the end, the highest chance came with only a few second left, but the puck landed awkwardly on the stick of a Baron, and the game would end with the Stars outlasting the Barons in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City Lineup:
– Brossoit had a really bad start. The Barons had over a minute of really great offense, then the wheels came off. This led to a heavy load for the defense. It pushed Brossoit into making big saves. He’d give up two goals in what were basically the first three shots the Stars took. He’d get so much better once the jitters wore off.
– The top two lines were really great tonight, but there’s is a baseline to this team that really has me excited. The fourth line gave the Stars fits for the final 8:00 of the game. As their play got better, Nelson gave them more to do. I continue to believe that Khaira needs a much more active role for more of the game. Time will tell.
– Iiro Pakarinen is a bit of a revelation two games in. He knows how to position himself in front of the net, and champions the fight to get there. Yet, he’s defensively responsible when the puck rushes up the ice. This was evident more than ever in the second period onward. He’s a dandy.
– The top power play unit continues to be five forwards (Pitlick, Miller, Lander, Ford, Hamilton), but after that it goes back to a 1D 4F setup (Gernat/Oesterle the rotating D). The 1-3-1 formation with five forwards gives up a ton of chances, and this is going to have to be tweaked.
– Defensively Simpson-Oesterle were very good. Meanwhile Aulie-Musil struggled greatly. Klefbom-Gernat was somewhere in the middle. Klefbom’s passing skills have greatly improved since last season. This was noticeable mostly on the up-ice passes. I think that pair gets better with time, but like a deep safety in football they can’t let players constantly blow by them. Gotta seal up the edges.
– Opening night crowd of just over 4,500 was decent, and I hope Saturday it swells a bit more.