Having your goose cooked in a hockey game should be a humbling experience. It should be a moment where you look at your teammates, coaches, and comrades and vow to be better. Putting the past behind, trudging onward to bigger and better things, and ultimately taking responsibility for how badly you executed your game plan. Indeed, the Barons got their goose cooked on Saturday night. But it only lasted forty minutes, and luckily for the Oklahoma City Barons, a hockey game is a full sixty.
After an opening power play goal from Ryan Martindale, the Oklahoma City Barons would fall behind 3-1 after the first two periods, look bad along the way, but roar back to life in the final twenty minutes by scoring six goals in the final frame, and ultimately beating the Grand Rapids for a second straight night, 7-5.
The game the night before featured a valiant comeback, but it was done with the Barons playing skilled and calcutaed hockey. Jonathan Cheechoo piggybacked his fantastic goal scoring abilities in that one, as the team punched the Griffins in the mouth late in the game. And in this game, 24 hours later, the comeback was even more poignant.
As mentioned above, Ryan Martindale opened the scoring with an early power play goal for the Barons. Ryan, scoring his fifth of the season, is having a fantastic stretch of games that has earned him more ice time, as well as time on the special teams units. His goal, halfway through the first, was after a teammate drew a hooking call, and it appeared that OKC was going to put together a solid night. Instead, the Griffins rattled of two straight goals to end the period. The first from Brett Skinner, his first of the year, and on the short handed opportunity, and the second from the consumate professional, Francis Pare. The first period ended with a 2-1 Grand Rapids lead despite the Barons only facing six shots by their opponent.
Yann Danis, after a sulky first period, seemed to play a lot better in the second period. However, he’d give up the lone goal of the second twenty minutes to rising star Gustav Nyquist, his sixteenth of the year, to put Grand Rapids ahead 3-1. The Barons didn’t do themselves any favors by handing the visitors two straight power play opportunities and losing their cool thanks to a Theo Peckham unsportsmanlike penalty (that was eventually evened out by Triston Grant’s). But despite playing on their heels, the team managed to kill those opportunities yet remain in a two goal hole.
In between periods I told my wife the same thing twice, but said it two different ways. “The Barons are done tonight” followed by “I can’t believe the team is going to lose this one”. And it appeared that’d happen…until it didn’t.
Josh Green kicked off the momentum swing by scoring eight seconds into a Grand Rapids high sticking penalty to put the Barons one goal closer to evening the game. But Nyqust would nab his second of the night, a power play goal after an ill-advised Kristians Pelss trip. Grand Rapids was back to a two goal lead quickly. Both teams buckled down and played smart hockey, but it was Oklahoma City that had the edge. Jonathan Cheechoo, Toni Rajala, Philippe and Dane Byers scored consecutive goals with the last three coming 48 seconds apart. Not only did the Barons overcome a two goal deficit, but they placed the Griffins in the same spot. The swing was incredibly impossible, but it was done in fine fashion. Brent Raedeke would show some life for the visiting team, but the damage had been done. Jonathan Cheechoo, with his second of the night, would finish off the Griffins with an empty netter as Oklahoma City defeated Grand Rapids 7-5.
Yann Danis was back, and that’s good. He got the victory, but it wasn’t a great performance. Indeed he had a great second period, and moments where he looked like the old Yann. However, based on the low shot totals in this one, the score shouldn’t have been as close. Or rather, we’ve come to expect him to be better. Perhaps he was rusty. Or perhaps we are seeing the Barons defense getting better. Much like Niko Hovinen in the two games he’s played with the Barons, low shot totals are the new fad for Barons opponents. Outside of the final twenty minutes, the Barons kept the Griffins out of double digits in the first forty. Goaltending and shot totals might be the late season story line for the Barons. Can they keep them low enough to prevent having to rely heavily on their goaltenders. So far, that’s been the case. (side note: almost 30 shots isn’t a small number, but 15 for the combined first two periods might be).
Jonathan Cheechoo is on fire. Four goals in this weekend series (5 total points) has staked his claim as the offensive leader of the squad. But Ryan Martindale has been solid, as has Phlippe Cornet and Toni Rajala. Getting scoring from several different people has caused some issues for opponents. Combating a balanced scoring assault is tough, especially with such talent throughout (yes, I’m considering Cornet and Martindale as “talent”). Rajala in particular is dazzling to watch. His fake out, edgy angle goal tonight was one of my favorites of his. The guy has never met a puck he couldn’t playfully manipulate. More!
A six goal period is a first for the AHL this season. When you look back on the season, see that record (assuming it’s the only time it happens this year), you’ll be surprised to see that Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle or Schultz weren’t any of the scorers. That, my friends, is the season in a nutshell. The Barons soared (although struggled to consistently win), looked dead on arrival post-lockout, but have slowly stumbled back to looking really good. February is a sort of mirage for this team. Not many games, lots at home, with divisional rival heaviness kicking in halfway through the month. But the combustibility of the situation is at a high. Will they explode or implode? So far, they’ve done the former.
And that brings us to the rest of the February schedule. Texas next weekend, then Houston, then Texas for a week day game. THAT’S where the team needs to be good. They have to prove they can win divisional match ups but more importantly, the South, where the best teams are being made. Fingers crossed.
Defensemen were responsible for seven assists tonight, including three from Brett Clark. It’s nice seeing those guys pitch in, especially on the two power play goals on the night. Theo Peckham even lent a hand. Thanks Theo.
The Barons get another full week off to prepare for two on the road. They’ll face the Texas Stars next Friday and Saturday.