AT THE MORNING SKATE
HOUSTON - The Oklahoma City Barons season-high road swing continues with a game against the Houston Aeros tonight. The Aeros are coming off three-straight victories as they try and chase the Barons in the South Division and Western Conference -- three points behind.
"They're playing really well right now and we're coming into their building. We haven't played here yet this year but based on past experiences, they play really well here and we're going to have to be ready," said Barons head coach Todd Nelson following the morning skate.
"We've got a pretty good thing going right now and we just have to keep it up. It'll be nice to get this first one tonight and we can keep the momentum going as we go along in this road trip."
Jordan Eberle agreed with his coach, noting that the Barons have seen Houston five times this year already (including twice in pre-season) but haven't played any games here as of yet.
"We haven't played them in their home rink and they've been playing really good hockey lately. We're ready for a good test tonight. We know they're going to come out flying. Three points separates us so it's really close. It should be a good test. We haven't played here and I've heard that they've got really good fans. It's a nice building, too," said Eberle.
The last time these two teams met was in Oklahoma City at the start of November. Both nights, the Barons blew 3-0 leads in the third period. They pulled it out with a 4-3 regulation win on the Friday but ended up losing Saturday in a shootout.
"When you look at that game where we blew a 3-0 lead then we won the game with a late goal, I didn't feel too good after that game even though we won the game," said Nelson. "But since that time, I think our team has improved in a lot of areas. I'm very curious to see how we come out tonight. It's a good test for our hockey team. We want to see how mature we are after coming off a really good game in Charlotte."
Eberle talked about the team's increased confidence coming off the wins against the Checkers.
"Five in a row now. Any time you go into Charlotte -- I think they were first in the West at the time - and put a pretty good lickin' on them, you gain a lot of confidence as a team. Hopefully we can carry that into tonight and tomorrow."
Looking back at the last meeting between the two sides, Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund were both injured against the Barons and remain out of the lineup. The duo are some of the Wild's best prospects and top players on the Aeros.
Despite that, Nelson didn't believe there would be much in the way of fireworks or the Aeros seeking retribution.
"I don't think something like that's going to happen tonight. You never know but both teams are fighting for points. Right now we're just focused on the win. We're not looking back on that."
Eberle concurred with his coach.
"I think they have enough depth that they're not going to worry about it. They've been playing some pretty good hockey the last little bit here. We're going to expect a push."
Yann Danis gets the start in goal for the club once again.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LAST 10: Oklahoma City 6-2-1-1; Houston 5-3-0-2
Season Series: This is the third of 12 meetings this season between Oklahoma City and Houston. The teams split their previous two meetings, both in OKC in early November. In both games, the Barons had 3-0 leads in the third period that they saw evaporate. On the Friday night, a late Jordan Eberle goal in the third period gave the Barons a 4-3 regulation win. On the Saturday, Houston brought the game into a shootout where they ultimately won 4-3.
Big Story: The Barons look for their sixth straight win, having picked up wins in each of their last five outings. The club has also won their first three games of this current seven-game road trip.
"It was against Milwaukee (at home)," said Barons assistant coach Rocky Thompson of the start of the team's positive play. "They came really hard at us and played a great game. We were able to find a way to win that one. Then we played better that next game (against Milwaukee) and dictated the pace of that game. Then things just started to roll. We went into Texas, scored some goals and persevered. We were blowing some third-period leads earlier in the year and those were things that we stopped doing here over the course of the streak."
Barons: Oklahoma City has picked up points now in seven straight games (13 out of a possible 14 points). Taylor Hall is the reigning AHL Player of the Week following a stretch of three games where he put up nine points (1g, 8a). Despite having only played 10 of the team's 18 games, Hall is now ranked fifth in team scoring with 15 points (4g, 11a) -- one point behind Teemu Hartikainen. Justin Schultz continues to lead the league with 28 points (10g, 18a) in 18 games while Jordan Eberle is second with 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in 18 games. … The team's second line of Anton Lander, Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi has also put up some impressive numbers of late. Notably, Lander scored his first goal of the season on Saturday in a multi-point effort.
"I think we know each other, how we play. Teemu is really strong in the corners," said Lander. "Maggie's a really good skater and strong with the puck. I try to fit in there with my kind of game and try to work hard defensively."
Aeros: With injuries to Granlund and Brodin, the Aeros have had to look elsewhere for offensive output. RW Jason Fontaine has emerged as the team's leading scorer with 17 points in 17 games (7g, 10a). Rookie Jason Zucker has shown some promise as he tries to make a case for joining the Minnesota Wild roster at lockout's end. Zucker is second on the team in scoring with 15 points in 14 games. He also leads the team with nine goals. Another rookie, Charlie Coyle, is tied with Fontaine for second on the team with seven goals. … The Aeros have won three games in a row, including a 3-2 overtime win against Abbotsford and 2-1 victory in San Antonio this past weekend.
Who's Hot: Oklahoma City now boasts the top three scorers in the AHL. Justin Schultz has 8 goals and 21 points in 15 games, Jordan Eberle is second in the league with 19 points in 15 games and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is tied for third with 17 points (7 goals) in 14 games.
Puck Drop: The last time the Barons played the Aeros, it was a weekend that saw both sides lose some key players due to injury. But Houston was hit the hardest, losing Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund for extended periods of time. The Aeros will no doubt be looking for answers from the Barons when they square off tonight. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Houston remains only three points behind Oklahoma City in the standings.
"They always play hard. They have a ton of skill. They've lost Brodin and Granlund, which are their two top players but they seem to have battled through that themselves since we saw them the last time. They're right behind us in the standings. You look at our conference and just a couple of points separates fourth from 11th. Every point is so important. We don't want to give up any points. We want to play hard, continue with the momentum that we've created and the results will always end up being there."
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