Photo by Steven Christy
Robust. Full featured. Long suffering. After reaching the second weekend of games without a win, one could use many words to describe how the team needed to play to finally earn a “W”. “We have to play a full, complete game to compete against Texas,” said Todd Nelson on Friday, “We know we can do it, we just have to prove it.” And prove it they did, defeating the Texas Stars twice this weekend in a home-and-home format.
Friday it was the Oklahoma City offense, and surprise insertion of Frans Tuohimaa that landed the Barons in the win column. Jason Williams scored an early first period goal to get things rolling, but three unanswered from Iiro Pakarinen, Curtis Hamilton, and Tyler Pitlick would push the Stars towards the edge of the cliff in the second. Despite Steve Pinizzotto taking a mindless roughing/cross checking penalty of the five minute variety, the damage had been done for Texas, and a third period power play goal from Iiro Pakarinen gave OKC the eventual 5-3 victory.
Frans Tuohimaa was magnificent stopping 39 of 42.
The Barons and Stars would pack up their belongings, head to the bus, and prepare to play each other again in Cedar Park Saturday evening.
Saturday was nearly a parallel comparison to Friday – Tuohimaa good against stingy Stars, Barons stiff with the puck offensively – and thus the game was highly entertaining, and eventually favoring OKC.
Travis Morin would score for Texas after eight minutes of play, but Dillon Simpson, Andrew Miller, Bogdan Yakimov, and Kale Kessy would all score their first goals of the season. The switch from Jack Campbell in net to Jussi Rynnas had little impact on the Barons consternation with the puck. However, Travis Morin would score two more in the third period to collect the hat trick, inspire Greg Rallo to net one, and somehow push the game in to overtime. Matt Ford, a guy who a year ago was a huge part of the Barons late season success, would punch in the game winner over four and a half minutes into overtime to give OKC a 6-5 narrow victory.
Two wins against the Cup winners from a year ago is quite remarkable. It also hints that perhaps the Barons are rounding third base after a pretty sullied start to their 13-14 campaign.
Laurent Brossoit, battling a back situation that is still semi-undisclosed, watched as Frans Tuohimaa embraced 93 shots in just two games. Winning both of those games sounds impossible on paper, and it nearly became just that. But when the sticks get lucky, the defense gets good when needed, and you yourself find a way to overcome multiple goals, great things happen. The story of Tuohimaa vs. Brossoit now gets interesting, but the real story hear is health. Here’s hoping Brossoit is well soon.
Lots of “first goals” scored on Saturday – Simpson, Kessy, Miller, Lander, Ford, Yakimov – and that’s good news for a team that had relied on two or three to do the heavy lifting. It is also nice to see all lines contributing offensively. This is a huge statement from Nelson’s young Barons.
Defensively there are still some problems, and is is compounded by he fact that Tuohimaa can’t face a high number of shots, and be the savior of the team on a nightly basis. Is he good? Yes. Is he surprisingly good? Yes. But there are so many leaky gaps in the defense that things will need to be patched quickly or else. This same thing happened last season, yet the big difference is actually offense. A year ago this team had wonky defense and low-skill offense. Now they have wonky defense but highly skilled forwards. This means that on some nights, like Saturday, they can simply outscore opponents.
There are six players with a point per game or better through four to five games. The most interesting of the bunch being Iiro Pakarinen. Two power play goals on Friday earmarked his journey as one of the best AHL rookies to open the season. Not since Teemu Hartikainen, another Finn, have the Barons had a rookie with this much upside not just in the minors, but in terms of major league value. He might be the one wrinkle to the season that no one saw coming. Unless of course you read this site, in which case you’ve been cheering “Iiro The Hero” since mid-summer.
On the flip side of the roster is a guy like Mitch Moroz, who was supposed to dominate offensively, but has received interestingly low TOI. That’s not because he’s played bad, but because there are just so many bodies to insert in the lineup, that he gets the short straw some nights. But I must admit, there are times he does seem to be a bit like a “fish out of water” which is probably a result of facing some really challenging competition in a “man’s league”. He will be fine, but as is the case with a lot of prospects, it’s gonna take some time.
Scratched: Brossoit (injured); Musil, Ford and Miller (all healthy)
Scratched: Brossoit (day-to-day); Pinizzotto, Williams & Musil (all healthy)
The Barons play Texas again on Wednesday in Cedar Park before returning home Saturday and Sunday to play Iowa.