Barons win 4-3; Justin Schultz now leads the AHL in scoring

Oklahoma’s power play had been suffering through a bit of a dry spell, going 1-for-17 over the team’s first four games. No longer. The man advantage exploded for four goals on Tuesday night, and by virtue of assists on three of those defenceman Justin Schultz has moved into a tie for the AHL scoring lead.

Game Story

It was all about the power play, on both sides. All four Oklahoma goals came in those situations, and two of three Lake Erie goals were scored on the power play as well. Ex-Oilers prospect Bryan Lerg – who struggled mightily with the Springfield Falcons but has since come into his own as an AHL’er – scored both man advantage goals for Lake Erie.

On the Oklahoma side, it was the kids leading the way. Schultz, as previously noted, recorded three assists but both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle had three points of their own, while Teemu Hartikainen picked up two and Magnus Paajarvi one. Nugent-Hopkins both opened and closed the scoring for Oklahoma off passes from Jordan Eberle.

A shift in coaching likely played no small part in the win. Todd Nelson’s top power play unit previously had featured Hartikainen, Nugent-Hopkins and Paajarvi as the forward line with Eberle and Schultz on the points; Eberle struggled in the role and was switched with Paajarvi for tonight’s game. The result was one goal off a hard shot that just trickled in and two primary assists for Eberle, while Paajarvi picked up an assist from the point.

It wasn’t a perfect game. Justin Schultz looked as human as I’ve seen him and made some definite defensive mistakes, while Antti Tyrvainen started the game off on a sour note with a five minute major for spearing and a game misconduct less than three minutes in to the contest (Lake Erie scored on the power play).

Barons’ Three Stars and Notables

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins not only scored two goals and added a helper, but he’s clearly earned Nelson’s confidence in all situations. With defensive specialists Chris VandeVelde and Anton Lander sitting on the bench, Nelson chose Nugent-Hopkins to take the own-zone draw with 53 seconds left in the game and the Lake Erie net empty. This would be a better story if he’d won the faceoff, but he did have a good night overall in the circle and played his best game yet.

2. Jordan Eberle. He looked far more natural back on right wing on the power play. He made a very nice pass to setup the first goal, took a very hard shot from the slot that was screened by Hartikainen for his own tally, and then crashed the net and just tipped the puck to Nugent-Hopkins for the winning goal. He also led the Barons with four shots overall on the night. Eberle could have had two goals – he scored on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush with Magnus Paajarvi but the goal was waved off after the referee ruled that Eberle had kicked the puck in.

3. Magnus Paajarvi. He didn’t offer as much offensively as Schultz or Hartikainen, but he didn’t have the same defensive miscues as that duo, either. Schultz was repeatedly burned – he got caught standing around on the even-strength goal and made a couple of bad pinches that led to odd-man rushes – while Hartikainen beautifully setup Lake Erie with a stupid pass with less than 50 seconds left in the game. Paajarvi’s still too deferential on offense, too willing to pass rather than shoot, but he did pick up a post on a wrap-around attempt and did fine work distributing the puck from the point on the man advantage. He was also the defensive conscience of his line (alongside Ryan Martindale and Mark Arcobello).

Honourable mention: The kid with this sign. Seriously, it has to be Schultz – while he had a bad game in his own end he’s just crazy good on the power play. Three assists, tied for the AHL lead in total points… given the number of defensive defenders the Oilers have on the left side (Smid, N. Schultz, Sutton and Peckham) he’s likely going to mesh well with his eventual NHL partner and he’s going to put up a lot of points.

Dishonourable mention: The AHL camera guy. Anybody who focuses on a stupid mascot banging an idiotic drum for the first 10 seconds after every commercial break – while the game is being played – deserves to be hit with a stick (Disclaimer: this is hyperbole, not an endorsement of violence). In actual seriousness, it’s Antti Tyrvainen. The last time he played he got dinged for diving, this time he put his team short for five minutes thanks to some vicious stickwork. I know his role is to be an agitator, but he didn’t even manage to record 20 points last year and this sort of thing only hurts his own team (plus Mark Olver, the guy with a stick in the gut).