AT THE MORNING SKATE
OKLAHOMA CITY - With four consecutive losses in regulation, the Oklahoma City Barons will be looking to right the ship tonight against the San Antonio Rampage. Last weekend, the Rampage contributed to the slump by defeating OKC twice.
However, Barons head coach Todd Nelson said that exacting revenge on an opponent isn't what's on their mind today.
"Not so much tonight where we're looking at 'oh, this team beat us three times' I think first and foremost is just a matter of getting a win tonight, going out there and playing hard, being ready and playing a solid game," the coach began. "We've been playing some pretty decent hockey but it hasn't been good enough. We have to take that extra step tonight and hopefully that happens."
At the start of the slide, the Barons were in fourth place in the Western Conference but now with only one out of a possible 10 points in their last five, they have slipped all the way to 10th.
"We have to start gaining some points here. The last four games we've been 0-for points and other teams have been winning so it's getting packed tight in the conference."
Another run could get the Barons right back in the thick of the race, however. A win tonight could move them all the way back into a tie for fifth and overall only four points separates fourth from 11th in the West.
"We saw that last year where it came down to five teams that were fighting for two playoff spots right to the last day. We don't want to be put in that position. We want to be in a position where we're going into the last weekend with the playoffs locked up and we just have to focus on who's going to be our opponent."
Curtis Hamilton agreed with his head coach.
"We've struggled a little bit lately and we play against all these Texas teams so much that it's good way to bounce back and get on the right page here," he said of tonight's game.
Hamilton pointed out that the Barons have three games in three days this weekend and could make up a ton of points in a hurry -- particularly since all three are against their Texas rivals.
"It's so close right now throughout these whole standings. These four-point games against division games are huge and we've struggled a little bit against them. We play three of them this weekend so it should be a good chance for us to turn the page."
In an effort to get something going, the Barons are shaking up their lines tonight. The team will be going with the following combinations:
Hall - Lander - Paajarvi
Hamilton - Arcobello - Eberle
Hartikainen - Green - Cornet
Byers - VandeVelde - Pitlick
"We wanted to kickstart some guys and maybe the new combinations will do that," said Nelson. "Sometimes when you play with the same guys for an extended period of time it can get stale. I think five-on-five we have to give San Antonio a bit of a different look. Tonight they're going to have to make the decision if (Nolan) Yonkman plays against Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle since they're on two separate lines."
Yonkman and Strachan gave the Barons fits last weekend in San Antonio.
"Him and (Tyson) Strachan, they're always out there against those guys. They're going to have to make a decision how they want to match-up and hopefully that frees up some guys. But also, with spreading around Jordan and Taylor they have other guys on their lines so hopefully it kickstarts their offence."
But Nelson cautioned that he didn't want the team to worry all that much about match-ups despite having the last line change here at home.
"Sometimes when you have last change it doesn't always work in your favour because if you lose the draw, all of a sudden they get that match-up anyway. But it is pretty important knowing that if those two guys are out there together I can throw a line out right after that shift and maybe catch them off guard but they have six solid defencemen out there, that's not the major focus tonight. The major focus is our team being ready to play and come out to play 60 minutes. Focus on the process and hopefully the outcome will be a good one for us tonight."
Hamilton was excited for the opportunity to play on the top line with Eberle and Arcobello.
"Nelly switched everything up to try and get a fresh look on things and I get a chance to play with two pretty good players," Hamilton remarked. "I'm just going to go out there and try and create some room for them and do whatever I can to help them out."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LAST 10: Oklahoma City 5-4-0-1; San Antonio 6-3-0-1
Season Series: Tonight is the fifth of 12 meetings this season between Oklahoma City and San Antonio. So far, the home team has won each game with the Rampage taking three wins in San Antonio -- including two last weekend -- and Oklahoma City defeating the Rampage back in October at the Cox Convention Center.
Big Story: The Barons are looking to get back on the winning track after going without a win in their last five games. That includes four straight losses in regulation time. The slide has seen OKC move from fourth in the Western Conference all the way to 10th, however only two points separates 11th from fifth. The Barons are also only four points behind fourth-place Houston. After a poor start to the season, San Antonio can climb into a tie with the Barons in the standings with a victory.
Barons: Head Coach Todd Nelson shook up the Barons lines this week following a 4-2 loss Tuesday to Peoria in an effort to spark some scoring from other lines. Nelson moved Curtis Hamilton onto a line with Mark Arcobello and Jordan Eberle. He then moved Taylor Hall on the left side with Anton Lander and Magnus Paajarvi. Teemu Hartikainen skated with Josh Green and Philippe Cornet. Dane Byers, Chris VandeVelde and Tyler Pitlick made up the fourth line.
"With the way we have the lines set up now we have at least one or two responsible guys with a guy that is maybe a bit more creative. We had to do something. We changed the lines up and swapped some partners out on defence," Nelson said.
Rampage: San Antonio came away with two wins in two games last weekend against the Barons. They extended their winning streak to four games and six of seven overall. The stretch was in sharp contrast to the team's play before where they had gone winless in eight in a row (two shootout losses, six in regulation). San Antonio's most recent game was a loss, however, in a morning match-up in Houston on Tuesday of this past week. The Rampage fell 5-1. That loss was goaltender Jacob Markstrom's first in regulation since November 23, also against the Aeros. Dov Grumet-Morris might see his first action since December 1 this weekend. He has not won since blanking the Barons 2-0 on November 4 and is 2-5-2 on the season.
Who's Hot: Greg Rallo leads the Rampage with 10 goals on the season. He has picked up a goal in seven of the team's last eight games, including each of the last three. ... After being held without a point for just the third time this season last Sunday in San Antonio, Justin Schultz bounced back with a pair of assists on Tuesday. Schultz has picked up two or more points in 13 of his 23 games this season. ... Taylor Hall has four points in his last five games. ... Teemu Hartikainen has picked up a goal in each of his last two games and a point in three straight.
Injury Report: Ryan Martindale (knee) is questionable. Antti Tyrvainen (wrist) is out. Tanner House is doubtful. Dan Ringwald (arm) is out. Brandon Davidson (cancer treatment) is out. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is at camp for Team Canada's World Junior squad.
Puck Drop: Not counting empty-net goals, Oklahoma City have only lost by more than one goal three times this season. Each of their last four losses have been by one goal (or two with an empty-netter). Barons head coach Todd Nelson was upset following the 4-2 loss to 14th-place Peoria on Tuesday but put it in perspective.
"You know what, I was pretty fired up and I was watching the game and we played pretty good. It wasn't something where I was looking at clips saying 'how many times have we talked about this?' and there wasn't really a lot on the game that I could really hammer home with the guys," Coach Nelson began. "We did a lot of good things but when it comes to the third period, we have to start understanding that if it's a tie game and in the last five to seven minutes maybe we play for that tie in certain situations and if we have an opportunity to score obviously we go after it but the goal last night was just a flipped puck up in the air and our defenceman was playing the puck versus reading the speed coming into the outside lane. If he reads the speed, that play is squashed. Those are learning curves that we have to go through. It seems to be happening to us in the third period when maybe we're a bit fatigued and all of a sudden mentally you start making mistakes.
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