Tomorrow night’s battle between the Oklahoma City Barons and Houston Aeros could end up being a one-sided affair. Houston has already defeated the Barons in four of their five match-ups this season, and have won seven of their last ten games overall. The Barons, at the time of this writing, had lost five in a row and there seemed to be no signs that the bleeding was about to stop until they defeated the San Antonio Rampage 5-1 Friday night. Still, things are shaky at best in Barons Land.
Despite the fact that their once-abysmal penalty kill has turned into an altogether stellar unit since the beginning of November, the Barons seem to have forgotten how to be effective on the power play. Add to this the fact that they will be without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a while–he was just named the captain of Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, which start December 26th in Russia and conclude on January 5th–and you start to get a sense of how much trouble the Barons could be in if things continue in this manner.
The Aeros, on the other hand, have dialed it up several notches in recent weeks. Justin Fontaine and Jason Zucker lead the team with 21 and 20 points, respectively, and are averaging right around a point a game. They have also scored 10 of the Aeros’ 22 power play goals this season, so they are a potent pair the Barons will have to figure out how to stop if they want to have any hope of winning this match-up. Zucker and Fontaine lead 11 active players on the Aeros who have scored at least 10 points this season.
At the time of this writing, the Barons are still relying on the AHL’s and team-leading one-two punch of Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle to provide the majority of the team’s scoring touch, having tallied 36 and 33 points each, respectively. Taylor Hall, Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi will be counted on to pick up the slack during Nugent-Hopkins’ absence.
Time will tell if their effort will be enough, but by the time the Barons have completed their trio of games this weekend, we could have a much better idea of how the rest of their season is going to shape up.