New Wave-ish band, The Fixx, had this great song about one step leading to another. You may have heard it. VH1 labelled it one of the best tracks of the 80’s, and its hard to disagree with the thought process behind it. The band, from London, had this really great electronic sound coupled with great guitar licks. Ten albums (including one last year) could never quite live up to the hype of their most successful single aptly named, “One Thing Leads To Another” from the album Reach The Beach.
For The Fixx, it was a raucous couple of years in the early 80’s as they tried to balance New Wave respectability and mainstream pop. The keyboards featured heavily on almost all their albums, was at it’s most quirky on “One Thing”. And it’s a song that holds up as a no-doubt-it’s-from-the-80’s example of the early decades sound.
This track in particular seems to be directed at political rigmarole. Leadership take cover! Lies and deceit, hatred and anger, self absorption and oppressive – it’s heavy subject material.
I’ll roll this analogy into hockey form. The Barons were touted as being high and mighty a bit prematurely. They wore this “impression that you sell,” that “passes in and out like a scent”. And indeed one thing led to another. But in the same vein, it’s easy to hate the top dog. It’s easy to hurl stones at the king from his lofty throne. Okay, that’s way too big of a stretch. But I like The Fixx, and I like the thought that one thing leads to another. You win three games, you win one more, and one more, and one thing leads to another. Here’s to that “one thing” leading to “another one thing” as long as they both are wins.
Well hello Houston Aeros. How have you been? We’re good. I see you are chasing us in the South Division. Oh really? You’re doing it with four rookies having really strong seasons? Impressive. You think you’re deep enough to beat us consistently? You might be right. Okay then, nice talking to you. See you this weekend. Love you too.
The Houston Aeros are a formidable opponent for anyone in the American Hockey League. They are young. They are strong. They are dangerous. Recently several news entities have called them “the Barons minus two years”, and that’s likely true. But in the here and now, they are a really good team with some solid NHL prospects. Their prospect status as an organization may actually be greater than that in Oklahoma City. And for that reason alone, I love watching these two tangle.
The last meeting wasn’t so warm and cuddly. Jonas Brodin suffered a broken right clavicle on a hit by “newcomer” Taylor Hall that has him likely sidelined until the new year. Likewise, Mikael Granlund was the unlucky recipient of an ankle sprain that has kept him out for several weeks, and makes him a game time decision against Oklahoma City this weekend. But they’ve survived both defensively and offensively without these two in the lineup — that’s huge. In their absence, Justin Fontaine and rookies Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker (leading PPG amongst rookies with 5) continue to do the heavy lifting. The team has won three in a row, including one against Abbotsford in OT that broke an interesting record. They are just behind Oklahoma City, nestled in third place, in the South Division and sixth in the Western Conference. They only get better as time goes on, if they stay healthy, and the youngsters continue to produce.
And while we are on the subject of things that are good in Houston, the home average attendance is well north of 6,000 a game. That’s the biggest average amongst teams in the South Division. That may not be a big stat, nor may it be a redeeming number given the Toyota Center seats 15,000 comfortably, but it’s something. They have really good fans. Sometimes it’s a pretty pesky environment.
So let’s talk goaltending for a bit. Darcy Keumper hasn’t started more than 19 games in his short pro career, and he’ll probably barely meet that mark this year. Instead, it’ll be the all-to-familiar Matt Hackett who’ll get the bulk of the games. He’s not been great, but his 6-5-1-2 mark is steadily getting better. He’ll be important from here on out. He’ll also need to stay healthy.
Special teams for Houston is not quite as vast a divide as that of the Barons. Their power play is nearly identical to Oklahoma City in completion percentages, but they’ve also had ten more chances. Penalty kill is about mid-pack in the league, but infinitely better than the Barons who are still hovering near the bottom of the league (77.5%). So this weekend, power plays will be highly entertaining. Lots of speed and many scoring options.
For Oklahoma City, they are emerging as the dominate team we’d expected. Yann is getting good, and has now tallied 9 wins which has him in a three-way tie in the league for that particular stat. He’s increasingly gaining confidence, while Olivier Roy gets buried a bit. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a split between the two this weekend.
Justin Schultz is mind-bendingly good, Jordan Eberle is not too far behind, as is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The power play unit continues to be deadly, the defensive pairings seem to be synchronized, and a run might be forthcoming well beyond a 6-2-1-1 over the last ten games.
Injuries are key, but haven’t effected the lineup too much. Remember this is a very deep team. Tanner House and Tyler Pitlick both out for some duration with concussions. Ryan Martindale nursing a knee injury. Josh Green nearly healed from some rib injury. And Antti Tyrvainen recovering from arm surgery, have prompted recent callups of Philippe Cornet, Toni Rajala, and the yesterday Eric Hunter. All three “noobs” will play this weekend in some capacity.
Jordan Eberle has been the bluggeoning tool on the Aeros in their three meetings. Four goals and an assist, and no penalties is really sound. But the “X” factor is Mark Arcobello. In those three games he also has five points. Might we see more scoring deeper in the lineup? We have lately, so I’d expect a heavy scoring roll at the top with some deciding goals at the bottom.
Last season, the Barons walloped the Aeros in the regular season. But this year, the teams match up surprisingly well. Houston owns the three meetings with two wins and a loss, but this isn’t the same cohesive team that the Aeros faced in late October and early November. They are scarily anxious to swagger you into submission. Can the Aeros win? Yes. But only if the Barons shoot themselves in the foot with ridiculous penalties.
Oklahoma City will need to shutdown Fontaine, Zucker, and Coyle if they want to survive a full game. And if Granlund is ready to skate in gametime situations, he’ll be motivated to dazzle.
The toughness keeps coming in terms of whom the Barons play. Milwaukee, Charlotte, Abbotsford, and now Houston – there is no rest for the weary. But these are important wins to nab. A big cushion in the standings prior to Christmas would be fantastic. Rough seas ahead, but the mast will hold.
Likely Oklahoma City Barons Lineup (huge thanks to Eric for the practice lines to work from):
Taylor Hall – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
Teemu Hartikainen – Anton Lander – Magnus Paajarvi
Dane Byers – Mark Arcobello – Curtis Hamilton
Philippe Cornet – Eric Hunter – Toni Rajala
Martin Marincin – Justin Schultz
Taylor Fedun – Colten Teubert
Alex Plante – Jordan Henry
“You’re talking about three forwards that are going to be top scorers in the NHL not just in the American league,” said Aeros coach John Torchetti. “They are a good group for us to learn from.”
Read the great quotes from Coach Nelson (mainly on Justin Schultz) over at the Journal. Great great stuff. My personal favorite is the comparison of recent rookie defensemen to Schultz.
“Justin wants to play every minute and it doesn’t seem to affect him right now, although guys are starting to key on him. The only way to wear him down is to have the puck in our end a lot or dump it in and finish the checks on him. He’s quick, though.
“He scored a goal against Charlotte where he was at their blue-line, all of a sudden took two strides and was open and Ebs (Eberle) found him and he scored.
“I shut the kid line (Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle) and Justin down with about five minutes left in Charlotte last weekend and we got a power play and I saw four heads snap back at me … I said, ‘not this time fellas,’ ’’ said Nelson.
In the game against Charlotte, who lead the South Division, Schultz was matched up against Justin Faulk, one of last season’s top rookie defencemen. Schultz outplayed him.
Faulk, who has tons of ability, drew Nugent-Hopkins and Co. and was minus-5 in the Checkers’ 7-2 loss last Sunday.
“There’s offensive similarities with Schultz and Faulk, but all I’ll say is fans in Edmonton will be in for a real treat when they see him,” Nelson said of Schultz, who is in his first pro season.