Nightly the playoff seeds change. Nightly I get a little precocious in my hopes that the Barons get a good matchup in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Ironically, last season it was the Barons that were clinging to a final playoff spot during the month of March. With the uneven divisions, the Barons narrowly made the postseason, and played as admirably as any 8th/9th seeded team could have hoped to do. But the tables have turned. The Barons are on top and dreaming of whom that 8th seeded team just might be.
Today we look at the Lake Erie Monsters. Affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche they are (pun intended) eerily similar to their parent club. They don’t have dominate scoring on any forward line, but can unleash chunks of offensive erratically. They play a defensive style of hockey as a result, and can muck it up with the best of them.
As a Northern Division opponent, the Barons have only seen the Monsters four times this season. In those four games our number one goaltender, Yann Danis, only played once. Does LeNeveu face them better? Not really, because two of the games came on back-to-back nights when Danis was ailing from a sore knee following his callup to Edmonton. But when two defensive teams meet, as these two have demonstrated, the defensive core has to be good. Net included. The four meetings favored the Barons as they won the first three, but lost the last in overtime. Having not beaten the Barons in regulation shows the “low and slow” nature of a matchup between OKC and Erie.
Over the arc of the season, one would imagine that this matchup is very similar to that of Abbotsford for OKC. The Barons score more, let in fewer goals, and suffer fewer minor penalties. And although it’s not proved to be true this season, playing a postseason game in The Q in Cleveland sounds like a daunting task in the first round. Perhaps that favors the Monsters where it wouldn’t favor Abbotsford.
Both teams sport identical power play totals, but the Barons penalty kill has been much better. The Barons also have scored almost 30 more goals and let in 30 fewer. This is probably what you’d expect from a 1 vs 8 seed, but the gap is quite large nonetheless.
Philippe Cornet has been really good against the Monsters. Four games, three goals, one assist is noteworthy. As is Ryan Keller with two goals and three assists in that span. In all there, four active Barons that sport a point-a-game or better pace against the Monsters. Magnus Paajarvi (1-3-4 in 3 games) and Josh Green (2-1-3 in 2 games) are the other two pace-setters in this matchup.
The Barons defenders are also very good against Erie only giving up 6 goals in four games. But the troubling statistic for the Barons is something that isn’t all that earth shattering to discover. This season against Erie the Barons have a 2/18 which is roughly in the 11% success category. That will need to be better if these two were to meet. Simply put. You can score against the Monsters, you just have to strike when you can. Those extra attacker opportunities seal the deal. If you can’t better that against a solid, but occassionally wonky defense, you might be in trouble.
The Monsters aren’t without their share of injuries. Several, including netminder Trevor Cann, didn’t crack the clear roster, but certainly might get some time as a result of the “in residence” bunch. Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott can get it done defensively, but scoring might be a problem as it has been for some time.
Nonetheless the Monsters are surging. There is a sense of urgency to their game as they are riding a 6 game win streak as I type this. The Barons, on the other hand, made a play to better themselves after a terrible start to March by wacking the Rockford Ice Hogs on home ice.
Do I like the Erie/OKC matchup better than the Abbotsford/OKC matchup? Not really. Erie has a strong defense, and potential scorers, but over the season have struggled with scoring consistency. Although that’s changed of late I still favor the Oklahoma City goaltending tandem and offensive punch.