After last night’s 5-4, defense-optional victory for the AHL‘s Oklahoma City Barons over the Texas Stars, the Barons have jumped into a third-place tie (15-10-1-3) in the Western Conference’s South Division with the Houston Aeros with 34 points. The Barons will be looking to extend their winning streak to three games when the last-place San Antonio Rampage (11-17-0-3) come to town tonight.
After last night’s offensive explosion, things on OKC’s special teams units are looking both better and worse today. They hit on three of eight power plays last night, to improve to 31 for 128 on the season (24.2%), however they also gave up two power play goals in five chances dropping their totals to 103 penalties killed in 131 chances (78.6%). As long as they can keep outscoring their opponents–be it at even-strength or otherwise–the Barons will be able to breathe a bit easier with regard to their problematic defense. Hell, it worked for the Edmonton Oilers teams of the ’80s and early ’90s, so I guess it could work here for the time being.
Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz continue to be tied for the team and league lead in points (42), while Taylor Hall continues to play at above a point-per-game piece (27 in 21 games) and Mark Arcobello has suddenly caught fire and seems to want to do the same (25 in 27 games). Teemu Hartikainen (20 points) and Magnus Paajarvi (19 points) round out the potent Barons attack.
The Rampage will counter with a balanced attack which features two twenty-plus point scorers in Jon Rheault (22) and Drew Shore (20). Add to this the seven other Rampage players who have scored at least 10 points this season and there are plenty of targets the Barons will need to focus on throughout the game.
It has been an up-and-down season for the Barons thus far, filled with some great offensive stretches and some head-scratching futility on both sides of the puck. Schultz and Eberle have been terrific, Hall’s performance has steadily improved the more he recovers from his shoulder surgery, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was in fine form while with the club and Hartikainen, Paajarvi and Arcobello have all had good if not surprising seasons so far. All but Arcobello figure to head up to Edmonton once the lockout ends, and with the way they have performed so far, you have to like Edmonton’s chances of being able to make some noise in a lockout-shortened season, especially since a number of their key players will be game-ready from the word go while other teams are trying to play catch-up.
Who knows? Perhaps this lockout will be good for something after all. The Oilers did come within a game of winning the Stanley Cup, after all, the last time this sort of thing happened…