In their magical blue and orange thirds on a magical New Year’s Eve in downtown Oklahoma City, Jordan Eberle ripped off three first period goals in a span of three minutes to decimate any type of chutzpah that the Texas Stars had going. The Oklahoma City Barons would eventually defeat the Texas Stars, 5-2, and secure the temporary runner up spot in the South Division of the Western Conference.
The euphoric nature of getting a hat trick is something that Jordan Eberle hadn’t experienced in the pro ranks until this season. His first, was a glorious endeavor. His second, was a ride on a roller coaster with no seat belt.
With the game newly underway the Stars seemed in full control of the puck, the action in their offensive zone, and the battles along the boards. The Barons, on the other hand, seemed a bit off. Nothing overtly bothersome, but off enough to cause only 7 shots in the first period on the steel curtain of Cristopher Nilstorp. On the other end, Yann Danis was as good in an opening frame as he’s been in a few weeks. Poised, determined, an asset – and this made things much easier on Oklahoma City. After the Barons killed off the first infraction of the game (Alex Plante, interference), Jordan Eberle would find another gear. Scoring goals at will at the 15:44, 15:53, and 18:27 marks were enough to earn him a hat trick in one period in a span of just 2:43. The first goal was care of a great pass to center from Taylor Hall. The second came care of a defensive blunder by Stars defender, Patrick Nemeth. The third, on the power play, with an assist to Justin Schultz. The period would end with the Barons on top 3-0, and Mr. Eberle with another hat trick notched in his belt.
The second period resulted in a johnny-on-the-spot goal for Colton Sceviour who jabbed in a rebounded shot that Danis just couldn’t cover up. Texas showed some life on the scoreboard. But two minutes later, Justin Schultz would put the Barons back up by three on the second power play goal of the game for OKC. Despite a handful of really careless penalties by OKC including a late period cross check by Alex Plante and an even later double-high stick by Colten Teubert, and 21 shots taken by the Stars, the Barons kept the score at 4-1.
With a carryover penalty from the second period in tow, Oklahoma City would give up a power play goal to Matt Fraser as the score now would stand at 4-2. Without slowing the pace, the home team played smarter hockey than it had in the second period. No penalties, and double-digit shot totals kept the Barons in front. They weren’t forced to play a shut down game, but were quick to make smart defensive plays when needed. With Nilstorp pulled, and 6 seconds left on the clock, Josh Green would net the empty netter and place the Barons in a position to beat the Texas Stars, 5-2.
Lots to discuss in this one, but let’s start with Jordan Eberle. Three goals in about three minutes. Two of those scored in a nine second timeframe. That’s just ridiculous. He’s starting to do things that make AHL players (and some future NHL players) look silly. If he were a basketball player he’d be “breakin’ kneecaps”. Even the sturdiest of defenders doesn’t have the necessary footspeed or awareness to shut him down. Ebs is a closer of the finest caliber. He made Nilstorp look silly on the first goal. Just magically forced him out of position. The second goal caused more than a few players to look silly. And that’s a good thing. As Jordan progresses, even in the minors during the lockout, he’s doing great things with his feet, great things with his hands, and great things with his skates. You can’t expect him to force opponents to make mistakes all the time in the NHL, but he’s reassuring the world that perhaps he’s worth his price tag by simply being the best player in the league below the one he’s supposed to play in. Well done kid, and congrats.
Lizon and Gazdic. The goon patrol was bound to take a turn towards reality soon, and tonight it did just that. Here’s my problem with icing Lizon for OKC (not so much Gazdic whom is capable of doing more than punching things) – he’s a one trick pony. Disagree with the need that the Barons have for a tough guy all you want, but he has one goal and that is to be the big heavy. That’s okay in most circumstances, but this is a guy who plays primarily in the CHL stealing so-so ice time from a real(?) Oilers prospect like Cam Abney (again, ?) or Philippe Cornet or Toni Rajala for heavens sake. Now I know that they are trying to give high end minutes to these guys in Stockton, but the quality of compete is much higher in the AHL, thus we get a better picture of how they fare in a comparable league to the NHL. I’d prefer to see as many Oilers propsects in OKC as possible, and when the roster is already so NHL heavy, those spaces are few and far between. Giving Lizon that extra wing spot for more than one game bothers me, and hopefully it doesn’t continue.
Attendance for a 6:00pm start time on New Year’s Eve with the Thunder playing across the street — was pretty good. Just shy of 5,000 at 4,976, the Cox Center was fuller than most nights. Several groups. Several military outfits. It was a good night for hockey in OKC. Man, the AHL is a tough sell.
Tanner House continues to be my underdog pick to click. His passing has gotten better since last season, and he’s become a really solid defensive forward. Those don’t grow on trees. He shows much of the promise that Chris VandeVelde has shown in spurts throughout his career. I like that.
Danis will be overshadowed by Jordan Eberle’s performance, but his 42 blocked shots is impressive. Texas took a ton of shots from the point, and through thick traffic. He seemed to view the puck well, and covered up quickly (for the most part). I’d love for the Barons to get a really good on/off/on/off system of play over the next couple of months. This, of course, requires Olivier Roy to be good more than just on a rare occasion.
The Barons head to Houston tomorrow morning for another early evening start. This one, in the Toyota Center, starts at 5:00pm. See you then and Happy New Year from Oklahoma City!