If you are the Oklahoma City Barons (11-8-1-2), you have to be thankful that your seven-game road trip is over. Despite going a respectable 3-3-0-1, losing the final two games in regulation to the last-place San Antonio Rampage was a horrible note to go out on. Now they find themselves in fourth place in the AHL‘s South Division with 25 points, and only two points ahead of the Rampage.
If there is a silver lining here, however, it is that they are only 4 points behind the Houston Aeros (13-7-1-2), who recently overtook the stumbling Charlotte Checkers (13-9-0-2) for first place in the division, and two points behind the Texas Stars (12-8-2-1). Every team in the division has played 1-3 more games than the Barons have, so a couple of wins could easily vault them to the top of the division.
The Barons will be playing four games in the next six days, and five of their next six games overall will be at home, so this is a crucial opportunity for the Barons to get back in the chase. Tonight’s matchup against the Peoria Rivermen (8-11-2-2) could prove to be the tonic the Barons need to get back on track. The Rivermen currently sit in last place in the Midwest Division.
Justin Schultz (11-21-32), Jordan Eberle (14-16-30), Teemu Hartikainen (7-11-18), Taylor Hall (5-12-17) and Magnus Paajarvi (3-12-15) will lead the Barons into battle tonight. A possible bonus for the visiting Rivermen is they will not have to face Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who recently declared that he will accept an invitation to attend Team Canada‘s development camp for the World Junior Championship, which will be held in Russia and starts on December 26. This could prove to be small consolation however, considering Martin Marincin (3-10-13) and Mark Arcobello (6-6-12) give the Barons seven active players with at least twelve points this season. The Rivermen have six players with at least 10 points as well, however the drop off from their top scorer, T. J. Hunsick (5-16-21), to the next two, Derek Nesbitt and Jaden Schwartz (both 8-5-13), is considerable. Hunsick will be the focus of the Barons’ defensive efforts.
The Barons are 21 for 95 on the power play this season and 22 for 102 on the penalty kill. Their penalty kill has drastically improved over the last month, having only allowed six goals in their last 48 chances; however their once-hot power play unit is only three for their last 25. With Nugent-Hopkins now eliminated as an option for the Barons, the Barons will have to find a way to step up in his absence and become more opportunistic if they hope to defeat the Rivermen tonight.