The most exciting game of the Barons’ season to date played itself out this morning.
The first period was the worst of the Oklahoma City Barons. They were down 4-0 to Toronto after one period, with the primary culprits being stars like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz. They were better in the second period. The third period was the absolute best the Barons could offer: those four players combined for nine points as the Barons turned a 5-2 deficit into a 5-5 tie in less than three minutes of third period action.
The first period saw the Barons allow goals 36 seconds in, and then three in a span of a minute and a half to close out the third. Olivier Roy wasn’t very good, but was hung out to dry by teammates on the first three goals; Yann Danis got the same treatment less than a minute into replacing him. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins figured prominently in the first two goals against with poor defensive zone play; the Barons NHL line (with Eberle and Hall) was brutal in the early going. They weren’t solely to blame, as outside of the second line (Paajarvi, Lander and Hartikainen) the entire team appeared to still be half asleep.
A respectable effort in the second period helped right the ship. The Barons held an edge both in shots and play, and Taylor Hall narrowed the score to 4-1, but the outcome of the game did not appear to be in doubt. Oklahoma colour man Doug Sauter had suggested earlier that the 4-0 lead might be a test for the Marlies’ discipline, but while the Barons put in a respectable showing the lead was not in jeopardy through 40 minutes.
The third period started quietly enough. In the first ten minutes the teams traded power play goals, with Mark Arcobello scoring for the Barons and Mike Zigomanis returning the favour for the Marlies. Then things got interesting.
The Marlies held a 5-2 lead when Mike Zigomanis took a minor penalty for high-sticking. With the goalie pulled for the spare attacker, defenceman Jordan Henry steamed up the ice to dump the puck in; at the Marlies blue line he was flattened by Korbinian Holzer. A scrum ensued, with matching penalties to Dane Byers and veteran Marlies rearguard Mark Fraser. Carter Ashton took a hooking minor while killing the penalty, and suddenly the Barons had a 5-on-3. Jussi Rynnas was superb and the Marlies’ PK held up, though, and the 5-on-3 ended without a goal.
Enter Dallas Eakins. With a faceoff about to go in the Barons’ zone, Eakins said something that set off the referees. They responded by tossing the Toronto coach from the game and assessing the team with a two minute bench minor. Just like that, the Barons were on another lengthy 5-on-3 and starting in the offensive zone.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored first, batting at the puck until it crossed the goal line. The goal was immediately waved off, but upon review the referees decided that it counted. Todd Nelson pulls Danis, giving the Barons a 6-on-4 advantage; this time a low, hard Jordan Eberle shot through a crowd in front of the net eluded Rynnas, making the score 5-4. Nelson pulled Danis again when the opportunity presented itself; the Barons didn’t look all that good but off a broken play Nugent-Hopkins slapped home another goal, to knot the game at five. Between 16:44 and 19:38 of the third, the Barons young guns tallied three goals and turned a 5-2 deficit into a tie game.
Overtime, regrettably, was a letdown. Alex Plante was assessed a hooking penalty halfway through, and while Yann Danis was excellent the Marlies took advantage of the 4-on-3 situation. As Plante desperately tried to get from the penalty box and into the play, Jake Gardiner fired a tough shot from the point that won the game for Toronto.
Barons Three Stars and Notables
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Two goals, two assists and a minus-1 rating for Nugent-Hopkins, and he was full value for the entirety of that stats line. A brilliant recovery from a terrible first period earns him the nod as the Barons’ best player. Picked up a shot off a post as well.
2. Jordan Eberle. One goal, three assists, and minus-1, and a similar story to Nugent-Hopkins. He also put the puck off a crossbar in the third period. His work in bringing the Barons back late in the game overshadows a subpar first period, one where he described the team’s effort level as “embarrassing.”
3. Teemu Hartikainen. Hartikainen gets the nod for two reasons. He was part of the Barons’ best even-strength line from start to finish – the trio of Hartikainen, Paajarvi and Lander. He didn’t pick up the points but he was also highly useful on the power play as a net front presence.
Honourable mention: Anton Lander. It’s been a tough season for Lander, but he played an excellent game this morning, narrowly missing the far post with one shot and competing throughout. Along with Paajarvi and Hartikainen, his line was a constant irritant to the Marlies; leaving aside their strong play I counted five scrums that this line found themselves in the middle of.
Dishonourable mention: The first period. It was a miserable, miserable start for the team; the only players with a positive plus/minus after the first were Dane Byers and the Lander line. Everyone else was in the red, and the blame for their early struggles was shared by many, many different Barons.
The AHL scoring race now looks like this:
- 1. Justin Schultz: 13 games, 18 points
- 2. Jordan Eberle: 13 games, 16 points
- T3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 12 games, 15 points
Looks like the AHL’s official scorers have decided that the Eberle goal in the third was tipped by Teemu Hartikainen on the way in. This costs Nugent-Hopkins one of his assists (he had the second helper on that goal) so he’s no longer tied for third in AHL scoring.