Coach Todd Nelson really likes Tuesday night games. “Our guys like it because they don’t have to go so hard in practice, and it keeps them sharp,” he mentioned on his pre-game interview. And to some extent that’s true. There’s also less time for recover from a busy weekend, fewer moments to work on things, and little time to prepare against a new opponent. But when your AHL team looks more like an NHL one, a Tuesday night game simply fits the NHL-like viewing bill — even as a fan.
Again it was the Erie Monsters and the Oklahoma City Barons. And again it was a remarkable game. The top scoring line overshadowed the rest of the Barons team as Nugent-Hopkins scored a pair, and Eberle and Hartikainen tacked on two more. All en route to a Barons victory, 4-3 on a lovely early Fall evening in OKC.
Period one began just as the first three games between the two clubs had started. It was fast. It was played close on the wall. Back and forth. And then suddenly the Barons take a major hit. Antti Tyrvainen gets whistled for a five minute major for spearing. The zebras tacked on another ten which sent Antti to the showers early for the evening. It’s hard to tell if there was indeed anything physical that occurred causing a 10 minuter, but it was called nonetheless. So the Monsters now were gifted a five minute power play. The penalty kill for OKC went as follows – Taylor Fedun clears. Anton Lander clears. Danis makes a save. Puck clanks off far Barons post. Danis makes a save. Then Magnus Paajarvi cradled a puck and surged down the right wing with Jordan Eberle on his left. Magnus passes the puck perfectly to Eberle, and they score with ease. But the goal was immediately waved off. The officiating crew immediately went to the video, and indeed, Eberle turned his skate and semi-kicked the puck in. No goal. So the Barons continued the kill. Bryan Lerg of the Monsters, scores for the Monsters with some traffic in front of Danis. Monsters up 1-0. A Luke Walker high stick gave us 4 on 4 hockey before a full three minutes of Barons power play time. And it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who’d take things into his own hands. Grappling the puck off the wall, he gently eased the puck towards the left face off dot, but wrists a shot that hits nothing but net. But the Monsters fire back with an Andrew Agazzino goal that gets stuck under Danis’ pads. Some hitting, some shoving, some hockey slap fighting, and the game began to live up to the hype we’d hoped. The Barons would round out the period with a power play point shot by Eberle that featured a whale of a shield by Teemu Hartikainen directly in front of Erie tender, Calvin Pickard. Period one ends with a 2-2 game.
Period two was all about one goal power plays by both teams. Magnus Paajarvi gave the hockey equivilant of a pump fake, slid to one side, and then fired the puck on net. It bounced around in front of the Monsters’ goaltender, and then Hartikainen tucked it in. Barons take a 3-2 lead six minutes into the period on a dynamo power play opportunity. Chris VandeVelde would perform an inopportune cross check that the Monsters were grateful for. It benefited them greatly as Bryan Lerg again scored a power play goal, his second of the evening, as the ten minute mark of the game quickly approached. The period would end with a 3-3 game.
Period three was a good one for Yann Danis who made two really good saves, including a 3 on 1 break that was spurred on by Ryan Martindale’s coughing up of the puck. He also stopped all 13 shots coming his way in the final frame. In the end it was a Jordan Eberle to Nugent-Hopkins hand off that won the game for OKC. On the doorstep of the goalmouth, Nugent-Hopkins awaited a pass from Eberle, and like clock work the goal was knocked in. The Barons end the night with four power play goals, and a little spring in their step as a result.
That’s a quality win if I’ve ever seen one. Good competition. Good goaltending at the end. A dogfight offensively. And for Oklahoma City, a 4/7 power play total is what the team was looking for. Now, as they soldier on, can they fine tune the sticky areas? Mainly in the defensive end where they seem wildly inconsistent at times. Patience is a virtue, or so I hear.