The Oklahoma City Barons are in Charlotte tonight to play the first of two games against the Charlotte Checkers. OKC continues their seven-game road trip, which began with a 6-4 win for the Barons over the Texas Stars 6-4 this past Wednesday. The Checkers (12-3-0-2, 1st in the South Division) will be looking to build on their AHL-leading points total of 26, while simultaneously expanding their lead over the Barons, who currently sit six points behind the Checkers in 2nd place with a 9-5-1-1 record.
This pair of games will arguably be the biggest challenge the Barons have faced this season. The Checkers lead the league in goals scored (63) and have one of the stingier defenses as well, only allowing 41 goals through their first 17 games. Winger Zach Boychuk (10G, 6A) and defenseman Justin Faulk (3G, 12A) lead a total of eight Checkers players who have scored at least 10 points so far this season, so they have options aplenty.
The Barons, of course, counter with their own prolific scorers, namely Justin Schultz (9G, 14A) and Jordan Eberle (7G, 14A)–who continue to be first and second in the AHL in scoring–and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (7G, 12A), who is fourth in scoring. Teemu Hartikainen and Taylor Hall also continue to show up well in the box scores, and the largely unheralded Mark Arcobello has been a nice surprise as well, putting up 10 points in his first 14 games this season.
Special teams, as always, should be key factors in this matchup. The Checkers (20 for 76 ) and Barons (18 for 70) both have video game-like success on the power play, converting on over 25% of their power plays, but the penalty kill is a different story. The Checkers have killed over 86% of their penalties (10 goals in 73 chances). However, the Barons still rank among the AHL’s worst, as they have allowed 18 goals in 76 chances for a penalty kill rate of 76%. The upside to this point for the Barons, however, is that they have killed 20 of their last 22 penalties, so they have turned a corner in this department in recent weeks.
The Barons continue to be one of the most-penalized teams in the league, while the Checkers are one of the more disciplined teams, so the team with the cooler heads may very well prevail this weekend.