There are losses and then there are losses. Indeed, this was a loss for the Oklahoma City Barons that is hard to explain. Forget the first round draft picks, the full-time NHLers, and the prospecty goodness – this team has played back-to-back games that leaves the common man scratching his head with such giant 0′s on the scoreboard. Indeed, the Abbotsford Heat blanked the Barons on Friday night with a score of 4-0. They scored three power play goals, killed five man advantages from OKC, and solidified themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the AHL Western Conference.
The first period of the game was quite entertaining. Speedy play, few penalties, two teams jockeying for position – it was very fun to watch. But it was the first period that would eventually set the tone for the remainder of the game. The Barons began to spend entirely too much time in their own end, coughed up the puck entirely too much, and trip-hooked-roughed their way into giving away a goal. The Barons were given a mid period power play, appeared to be getting their act together, moved the puck around, and then Jordan Eberle trips a Heat player in the offensive zone. This immediately negates the man advantage for OKC, and a two minute power play ended about forty seconds too early. Later in the period, Magnus Paajarvi would be whistled for a hook, and the Heat went to work on the power play. Sven Baertschi worked hard to keep the puck in the offensive zone, was able to dig the puck out of the corner, and back to the point. T.J. Brodie and Ben Street cycled the puck around and eventually shot the puck on the net. Dustin Sylvester, scoring his fourth goal of the season, semi-one-timed the opening goal. The period would end with a 1-0 lead for Abbotsford.
In the second period, it again was the Heat power play unit that would score. And again it was a Street, Baertschi, and Brodie doing their part. Moving the puck around quickly, it eventually landed back to a ready and willing Ben Street, who rifled a long distance shot around Barons’ goaltender, Yann Danis. The Heat would score again late in the second period, when Martin Marincin gets caught behind his own net, tries to delve out a long saucer pass, but it bounces off Ben Walter (or Magnus Paajarvi; hard to tell on video) and past Danis. Certainly a bizarre way to score, but it was a snapshot for how incomplete the Barons were playing. Period two ends with a 3-0 lead by Abbotsford.
In the third period it was more of the same. The Barons handcuffed themselves with penalties, and the Heat made the most of it. After Teigan Zahn upends a Heat player, the Abbotsford power play went to work. Then Curtis Hamilton added insult to injury by slashing a player. The Heat would score, this time from a Krys Kolanos power play unit, and the Heat would seal the deal with a 4-0 victory.
The shot totals don’t always tell the story, but on Friday it sure did. The Barons shot totals by period are 8-9-6. Six shots when you’re team is down in the third? That’s ridiculous. It’s a common soundbite, but the pregame comments by Coach Todd Nelson were all about “pucks on net”, “pucks in deep”, “puck protection” — the Barons did none of these things. They often gave pucks away, and at the worst possible moments. Both forwards and defenders were unable to break through on the even strength opportunities, and at times seemed absolutely lost with an extra skater. Taylor Hall takes one shot all night. Not good. Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins had brief moments where they appeared up to the task of willing their team to victory, but they just didn’t have the assistance to get it done. And Yann Danis, he wasn’t great, but it’s hard to blame him solely for a loss when no one can score.
In all, it was another poor performance by Oklahoma City. Nearly every player was mediocre from the get-go which is surprising given both the destination for this game, and the importance of “getting better”. On the flip side, the Abbotsford Heat are the real deal. Brodie, Horak, Baertschi – all are legit prospects, and have the toolbox of players around them to be really really good. That penalty kill and that power play are absolutely fantastic. Well coached, well executed, and highly mobile, the Heat are a team to watch.
In his postgame comments, Barons Coach Todd Nelson said the things he usually does after a loss. Mentioned the need to shoot the puck, the ability to score with an extra skater, and the need to be “greasy”. Greasy is a word that Nelson used a lot last year, and the team bought into the concept. It’s a not-so-pretty approach to getting games won that involves hard work in the ugly spots on the ice – around the boards, in front of the net, on special teams. Might we see the “greasy” Barons return? Hopefully.
The lines at the beginning of the game were interesting to say the least. A week-full of practices couldn’t overcome how badly the offensive lines were concocted. Nelson changed eventually altered them slightly on Friday, but it was likely too late. Look for a more traditional line configuration tonight. The great experiment was fun while it lasted, now give yourself the chance to win.
The Barons fell right into the game plan for the Abbotsford Heat. Terrible penalties, terrible power play equals exactly how the Heat want to beat you. And the Barons seemingly welcomed a defeat by doing both things often.
The same two teams play again tonight, and if the Barons aren’t infinitely better there will be much chatter about what’s wrong with this team (if it hasn’t happened already). I’d be in favor of Olivier Roy in net, but with the lines more akin to what we’ve seen in the past few weeks. The lines that were built to spread scoring out will have to go away. The name of the game is simply scoring more goals than your opponent, and that moment needs to be now.
The Heat are legit. Vets and prospects alike, this team is very very good. Horak and Baertschi can really hustle. Street and Walter are in the right spots at the right times. T.J. Brodie is as ready of an AHL defenseman to play in the NHL as I’ve seen in the Western Conference (thus far). And those special teams…wow. Their movement on the power play is so quick that it’s hard to keep up. The penalty kill is very disciplined with sticks in lanes, heads on a swivel, and stout in front of the net. Well done.