After ending the 2012 portion of this season on such a high note (four-game winning streak), the Oklahoma City Barons have stumbled out of the gate in 2013 with a 4-2 loss to the Houston Aeros on New Year’s Day, and a 5-2 loss last night at the hands of the Midwest Division-leading Grand Rapids Griffins. Tonight, they look to get back on the winning track against the Milwaukee Admirals and jump up in the tight South Division standings, where they currently sit in fourth place – one point behind the Aeros and Texas Stars, and five points behind the division-leading Charlotte Checkers.
If the Barons don’t come ready to play tonight, their four-game winning streak could quickly be negated by a four-game losing streak with a loss tonight, and another to the Chicago Wolves when they play for the third night in a row tomorrow night. This game could prove to be a turning point in the Barons’ season as they need to build positive momentum going forward, especially if the NHL manages to save an abbreviated season and the uber-talented Baby Oilers–Jordan Eberle (50 points in 33 games), Justin Schultz (46 points in 33 games), Taylor Hall (33 points in 25 games), Teemu Hartikainen (24 points in 33 games), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (20 points in 19 games) and Magnus Paajarvi (20 points in 33 games)–get called up to the Edmonton Oilers.
Special teams will continue to be a big factor in how the Barons perform. Oddly enough, the Barons have been highly successful on the power play in their two losses (3-for-7), and have now scored on 25.9% of their chances this year (37-for-143). They allowed two goals in five chances, however, dropping their penalty kill rate to 78.9% (116 in 147 chances). The Barons rank third in the Western Conference in goals scored (109) while the Admirals are tenth with 87. On the flip side, however, the Barons are tied for ninth in the conference in goals allowed (100), while the Admirals rank sixth (92).
The Barons need to shake off the rust of these past two performances and make something happen tonight against a solid, but beatable Admirals club. If they don’t, this season could start heading in the wrong direction at a breakneck pace.