PREVIEW: Barons at Abbotsford
Barons make rare visit to Western Canada, kick off back-to-back set vs. Heat
|ONLINE TV: AHL Live (PPV)
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PUCK DROP: 8:05 p.m. MST
GAME PREVIEWLAST 10: Heat 6-1-0-2; Barons 5-4-0-1
Season Series: This is the first of four meetings between the two Western Conference rivals. Oklahoma City won six of eight meetings last season, including all four in Western Canada -- three at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre and the other at Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome, outscoring the Flames' AHL affiliate 23-14 in total.
The clubs' next meeting will be on Saturday, Nov. 11 back at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. The Barons and Heat won't meet again until well into the new year when the Heat travel to Oklahoma City on Apr. 19 and 20, 2013.
Big Story: It's the Battle of Alberta, BC style. With both the Oilers and Flames missing out on the post-season in 2011-12, look for this weekend's matchups to redefine their NHL rivalry with a glimpse into the future. For OKC, Oilers young guns Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and hotshot rookie Justin Schultz will be looking to counter the Heat's equally as potent offensive attack. Sven Baertschi, a 20-year-old rookie that was originally drafted 13th overall by the Flames in 2011, has collected four goals and 11 points in nine games to this point. He's tied at the top with Roman Horak, whose hat trick vs. Toronto last week has vaulted him to a 10-goal, 11-point total on the season.
Is it enough to stop the Barons? Schultz leads the entire American Hockey League in scoring with six goals and 15 points, while Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle aren't behind after pocketing 10 and 11 points respectively. After signing an AHL deal on Nov. 1, Hall has played in two games with the Barons and has scored one goal -- lighting the lamp only 38 seconds into his first game.
Heat: In a two-game, back-to-back set against the Toronto Marlies last week, Abbotsford won both contests by 3-0 and 4-2 scores. In Thursday's W, the Heat scored two shorthanded goals in a span of three seconds to set a new AHL record -- while on Friday, a natural hat trick by Roman Horak spurred the Flames affiliate to top spot in the League's Western Conference. They now sit in third behind the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) and Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks), both of whom concede a pair of games at hand.
Barons: Still struggling to put together a full 60-minute effort, the Barons find themselves in eighth in the AHL's Western Conference with a 5-4-0-2 record. Last weekend OKC played three games in three nights, winning once vs. Houston and dropping the back half of their back-to-back encounter the next night, 4-3 in a shootout after giving up a 3-0, third-period lead. On Sunday and after traveling over 700km to get to the AT&T Center, the Barons let their weekend record slip to 1-1-0-1 with a 2-0 setback at the hands of the San Antonio Rampage.
As a result, Head Coach Todd Nelson has brought out the blender during Tuesday and Wednesday's practices in OKC and will debut new lines in Western Canada. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will skate with Antti Tyrvainen and Tyler Pitlick, Taylor Hall will be alongside Chris VandeVelde and Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle will play the right side with Teemu Hartikainen and Anton Lander, while Dane Byers, Tanner House and Curtis Hamilton will suit up on the fourth line.
"Teams are matching up real hard against us, so we want to split them up so we can spread the scoring around,” Nelson told edmontonoilers.com's Tom Gazzola Wednesday at the Cox Convention Center. "We need contributions from other people besides these guys. We want the guys to understand that all four lines can contribute and play as a team.
"That was one of the things that made us successful last year. We had four lines that contributed and that's the philosophy that I'm going with in Abbotsford.”
Injury Report: Josh Green (ribs) is out. Ryan Martindale (knee) is out. Anton Lander (illness, food poisoning) missed all three games last weekend but practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and will play Friday night.
Puck Drop: With roughly half of the Barons' season schedule dedicated to Texas-based teams, visits back home to Canada are rare. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a Burnaby, BC product, is excited about the opportunity to come home and play in front of family and friends.
"It's going to be nice to play in front of a 'hometown' crowd,” he said. "A lot of the guys (on the team) are from the lower mainland or the interior. There's going to be a lot of family there and it'll be pretty fun for us.”
White Rock, BC native Colten Teubert is expecting a couple (dozen) more. Pressure? What pressure?
"My dad texted me and he goes, 'We've got 30 people coming, no pressure' -- so obviously there's pressure there," he laughed. "Us hometown guys, we want to play good for our families and it's also like a Battle of Alberta for the AHL, so it's going to be a big two games for us."
- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick