Tonight the AHL‘s Oklahoma City Barons (11-5-1-1) will be taking on the Houston Aeros (9-6-1-2) in the first of two games in Houston as the Barons continue their seven-game road trip. The Barons currently sit in second place in the Western Conference’s South Division, two points behind the Charlotte Checkers, while the Aeros sit three points behind the Barons in third place.
The Barons have not fared well against the Aeros in three previous meetings, losing twice, including a 4-3 shootout loss at home back on November 3rd. The other side of the coin though is that the Barons have largely been playing better hockey in the weeks since they last faced the Aeros, with the Baby Oilers–Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz–really turning up the heat on their opponents, combining for 51 points in the Barons’ last 7 games.
The Barons are led by Schultz (10G, 18A), Eberle (11G, 15A) and Nugent-Hopkins (8G, 12A), while five other Barons have at least ten points this season: Teemu Hartikainen (6G, 10A), Hall (4G, 10A), Magnus Paajarvi (2G, 10A), Martin Marincin (3G, 8A) and Mark Arcobello (5G, 5A). They are 18 for 78 on the power play, and while they still have one of the AHL’s worst penalty kills (19 goals in 85 chances) they have only allowed 3 goals in their last 31 penalty kills, so they have definitely turned things around in this department.
The Aeros counter with some firepower of their own however, as six of their players have scored 10 points or more thus far. Right winger Justin Fontaine leads the way with 17 points (7G, 10A), left winger Jason Zucker has 15 (9G, 6A) and center Mikael Granlund (4G, 8A) has 12 points in just 8 games with the team. Brian Donnelly (2G, 10A), Charlie Coyle (7G, 4A) and Johan Larsson (5G, 6A) round out the attack for the Aeros. The Aeros have converted just under 23% of their power plays (20 for 88) this season, while they have surrendered 12 goals in 66 penalty kill opportunities.
Power plays might hold the key to this series for the Barons. The Aeros have received the fewest penalty minutes in the league (219) and have converted 4 of 13 power plays in their previous match-ups with the Barons this season, while the Barons have the fourth-most penalty minutes in the Western Conference (365) and have only converted 2 of their 11 power play opportunities against the Aeros so far.