Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle may yet light up the American Hockey League, but it didn’t happen for them in their first game of the season. Instead, both were held off the score-sheet despite a seemingly limitless run of power plays, and the Oklahoma City Barons dropped their opening game.
It was a night for special teams, with the Barons and Lake Erie Monsters combining for 13 power plays. For both clubs, ultimately the penalty killers were the ones who enjoyed the primary success, though, with the lone power play goal coming on a 5-on-3 advantage for the Barons.
The best player on the ice was Lake Erie’s goaltender, Sami Aittokallio. Edmontonians may remember Aittokallio from the World Juniors, where he put in a solid performance for Finland; he made his North American professional debut tonight and turned aside 29 of 30 shots. He was a fourth round pick by Colorado back in 2010.
Martin Marincin was a victim on both goals against; he was merely part of the problem on the first one as the Barons’ entire third line got caught running around, but he was the primary culprit on the winning goal against with a bad pinch that left Justin Schultz to play a 2-on-1. Schultz took away the pass but Andrew Agozzino beat Yann Danis cleanly on the shot.
Barons Three Stars & Notables
1. Jordan Eberle. Earlier I said he “might” light up the AHL, and by that I mean he will. As play-by-play man Jim Byers put it in the third, “Eberle just makes room if there’s no room.” He did his fair share of dancing around defenders tonight and while only credited with two shots he put the puck just wide at least three more times.
2. Justin Schultz. It might seem an odd distinction on a night where he finished minus-2 and the power play was largely stymied, but Schultz looked really good. He carried the puck spectacularly, pinched smartly, shot and passed with equal aplomb and finished the night with five shots. He looked like an NHL defenceman.
3. Magnus Paajarvi. Cut to the net twice, power-forward style, and was flying all game. Did not look out of place with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins.
Honourable mention: Mark Arcobello. His size and track record shout ‘career minor-leaguer’ but there’s no doubt that he’s an effective player at the AHL level. Aside from Eberle he might have been the most elusive guy with the puck against Lake Erie; he also finished off a gorgeous Shultz pass nicely for the Barons’ only goal.
Dishonourable mention: The left side of the defence. Alex Plante, playing on his off-side, was probably the best of the Barons trio and he wasn’t particularly good. Brandon Davidson had trouble with speed and made ill-advised decisions with the puck; meanwhile Martin Marincin looked well out of his depth as Schultz’s partner. The team was rumoured to be looking for a veteran guy to play on the left side this summer; this game made it clear why. There’s an awful lot of youth at the position and that youth showed up in a myriad of mistakes.