Photo by Steven Christy
The Oklahoma City Barons defeated the Iowa Wild on Saturday evening, and that was a good thing. Although the loss was handed to the Wild, and the Barons were given the two points, it was nearly undone by a sideways third period where Iowa manhandled players left and right. This led to some scary moments, and nearly a loss for OKC, but they survived. This had me worried as the two teams squared off less than 24 hours later in the same rink.
Would Oklahoma City be able to play a full three periods? I hope so.
Three straight heated shifts to begin the game were just what the Barons needed to get the cylinders firing in their second game in less than 24 hours. Richard Bachman would again ease in to the lineup in net, and face the Iowa Wild whom in the previous game seemingly heated up in the third period. Andrew Miller would make good on a hooking penalty at 9:12 of the first period, and score quickly to put the Barons up 1-0. The white hot power play for Oklahoma City would continue to be solid. An undisciplined too many men penalty would allow Zack Phillips to score his second of the year for the Wild, and bring his team neck-and-neck with the Barons. But with some solid puck carrying via Martin Gernat and David Musil, the Barons would again take the lead with less than three minutes remaining in the first period. After twenty minutes the home team was up 2-1.
Steve Pinizzotto and Kale Kessy, who can be dicey at times, have recently been really creative with the puck. Testy and persnickety, yes, but altogether really good forward positioning and passing. They would both assist on a high-end shot and goal from Jordan Oesterle, his third of the season, to increase the lead by two goals. Back-to-back cross checking penalties from the Barons would allow every opportunity for the Wild to get back in to the game, but some really good PK work from several guys including C.J. Ludwig, would keep the lead at 3-1. Curtis Hamilton would retrieve the puck on the boards, and somehow get it to C.J. Ludwig for his first professional goal, and as the second period came to an end the cushion was now 4-1.
A three goal lead never feels completely safe if you’re a fan of the Barons, especially with twenty minutes remaining in the game. Indeed Iowa would figure out a way to apply heavy pressure on Richard Bachman, but it was the Barons D core that resembled a really good D core in the final minutes of the game. Michael Keranen would score an even strength goal for the Wild just pass the five minute mark to begin the period, and then the “buckle down” mentality of the Barons kicked in, but with a chancy side that kept Iowa at bay. The Barons were gifted several power play chances in the third, but were kept quiet simply because they wanted to protect their lead properly. Then a nasty Kurtis Gabriel (“Sledgehammer” pun here) hit on Martin Gernat left the defender woozy, but okay, and also gave Iowa a five minute plus a game misconduct to all but seal their fate. The hit was for charging, and it was pretty brutal. In the Barons zone, Gabriel would dash straight at Gernat, and immediately the zebra blew the whistle. No word on if Gernat was seriously injured, but he did require attention on the bench.
In the end the Barons would win their their second straight game, their fourth win in just five games, and points earned in five straight. A 4-2 victory over the Wild is just what the doctor ordered. That’s good news.
Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:
Scratches: Moroz (healthy), Yakimov (2-4 weeks; right shoulder injury), Pitlick (day-to-day; concussion-like symptons)
This was one of the most complete defensive games that the Barons have put together. David Musil, the second star of the evening only recorded a single assist, but did what he hadn’t done in a while – play with more success than error. Muscle, finesse, good hands, smart intangibles – this was the Musil we were hoping would blossom to begin the season. Although he wavers from game to game, his overall growth curve is trending up. Like.
C.J. Ludwig scored his first pro goal on Sunday evening, Anton Lander scooped the puck, handed it to him, and Ludwig would have a game to remember for a while. Todd Nelson is using forwards and defenders in all different types of scenarios. I wouldn’t place Ludwig on the PK in a million seasons, but Nelson has done it, and it works. Heads up coaching right there.
Iowa isn’t a wet blanket, but they aren’t a juggernaut either. This is the team that struggles mightily this season, and quite frankly, remind me of the Barons we saw through January a year ago. Good pressure, low skill.
The Barons powerplay went 1/4 on the evening which is less than the current success rate in terms of percentages, but it sure is nice knowing that the team can get it done when given the chance. Hovering at around 35%, it is tops in the league, and by a country mile. This holds up, things will be just fine.
The penalty kill is bit lumpy, but was 25% on Sunday night. With Bachman’s return, the defensive betterment, and forwards learning to uphold their responsibilities – this will get better. For most prospects, scoring goals comes a bit more naturally, killing penalties does not. Hence Nelson has motivated people like Curtis Hamilton and C.J. Ludwig, two guys needing to prove worth, to be trumpeting heralds of penalty killing.
2632 in attendance isn’t an entirely awful 4:00pm Sunday start for Oklahoma City Barons fans. Yet league-wide the Barons remain in the bottom three with winter and Thunder basketball gaining momentum (Westbrook!! Durant!! No!!). Averaging over 3,000 month-to-month is key.
The Barons host the Toronto Marlies next Saturday followed by a trip to San Antonio on Sunday. As of next Saturday, the team will play five games in the span of a week. That’s a tough sell, and a true test for the increasingly fun to watch Barons.