One Of The Best In The West (Utica) Rolls In To Town

Photo by Steven Christy

UPDATE: Per team, Kellan Lain struggling with a wrist injury. Might be out of lineup tonight.

A quick gander at the AHL standings reveals a few very interesting things, and one really large thing. Let’s start with the elephant in the room, and that’s the amount of games remaining on the schedule. The Barons have only played 1/4 of the games they will play this season. There is so much ice to be had that heralding one team over another seems frivolous at this point. But we are indeed filling ours sails with the winds that blow from the West where some really admirable hockey is being played.

On to the bits of interesting things.

The Oklahoma City Barons, with a sideways / Oilers-like start, have resurrected themselves as most Todd Nelson helmed teams tend to do this time of year. The Barons have played one North Division opponent in that span, and that was the Toronto Marlies. The game ended in an OT thriller, and reminded me of all the times the unfamiliar opponents of the North (and to a similar extent, the Midwest) give us the best games of the season.

Arguably one of the best teams in the AHL to start the season will be the Barons opponent this evening, the Utica Comets. Like many teams in the geographical northeast, but for “evens stevens” play in the West, the Comets are want to dip their toe in to some Eastern Conference play. A completely unfair approach to scheduling (since most teams in the West Div don’t play East opponents), the team from Utica seems to take their porridge straight up – they are well weathered.

This makes for an interesting match-up for OKC, and potentially a problematic one for Utica. The teams seem to be trending up as we reach the end of the year, and the likelihood that either deeps fiercely is extremely low. Long story short – this will be one dynamite of a game.

We could talk wins and losses until we are blue in the face, but the Comets are a product of finite things.

They are a low penalized team averaging under fourteen minutes per game (one of the lowest in the league). They play very well at home (only a solitary regulation loss in ten attempts). On the road they are above .500 (although on a bit of an away losing streak as we speak). They play well beyond the first period. They have allowed the fewest number of goals (44 or 2.10 per). They allow few shots (solid D, smart F). They are offensively sound down the center (Cal O’Reilly with eighteen points, Dustin Jeffrey at thirteen, but only in 14 games). Have good scoring on both wings. And they have defensive players that tend to do what you want a defensive player to do, and that’s be a defensive player. And they have Jacob Markstrom in net who always tends to be an “X” factor. They are just a well balanced, well coached, well manned squad. Thus their success is due.

This will also be game filed under “AWKWARD” for a few players with the recent swap of Mitch Holmberg and Will Acton for angsty center, Kellan Lain. Having recently scored a goal against Albany, in which Darren Archibald delivered a head check and earned a three game suspension, Will Acton seems to be settling in nicely. Holmberg has only been a scratch in their lineup. As for Lain, he has been okay at best, but seems to be ready to take the reins of his time on the Oilers farm. Look for him to have a perky game, and for him to go all NUCKS on his former squad.

This is an important time for the Oklahoma City Barons to claim a home victory. They’ll play four times in the span of eight days with three of those games coming in the form of a whistlestop tour through Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, and back to Cedar Park, Texas. Frequent flyers, UNITE!

All players appear to be healthy. The Barons get recent waiver clearee Jesse Joensuu in the lineup as well as Baron favorite Martin Marincin on defense. This is going to be a good test for players like Lain, Joensuu, Pakarinen, and Lander whom have some theoretical value to the Oilers whom are only a few losses away from a complete dumpster fire of a season (again).

Defensively speaking Martin Gernat, Dillon Simpson, Brad Hunt, and the rest of Scobby’s gang need to really play a full 60 minutes of shut down hockey. Hunt, who’s goodness is skewed by his ability to play the “fourth forward” role on the ice, is becoming what J. Schultz was during the lockout – good offense, sub par defense.

The pucks releases from the refs hand (nay to your “puck drops” rigmarole) at 7:00 central time in Oklahoma City. We will update as necessary here with lines, pairs, and Cox Center snack evaluations as they are given. Visit all the cool stuff in downtown OKC with the #DowntownInDecember campaign opening at full tilt. Fun stuff.

Godspeed, and GO BARONS!