PREVIEW: Barons at Texas
OKC starts seven-game road swing tonight in Austin against the Texas Stars
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PUCK DROP: 6:35 p.m. MST
AT THE MORNING SKATECEDAR PARK, TX - After a day of travel and a six-hour bus ride, the Oklahoma City Barons arrived in Cedar Park, Texas - north of Austin - last night and were on the ice this morning for the morning skate.
There were some new faces on the ice with the Barons dealing with an injury situation after losing three regulars on the weekend. Tanner House (concussion), Tyler Pitlick (concussion) and Antti Tyrvainen (hand) are not on the trip. Coming up from Stockton to fill the gaps are Toni Rajala and Cameron Abney.
Tonight will mark Rajala's first career AHL game. He has been on a tear with the ECHL's Stockton Thunder, putting up points in 11-straight games and being named ECHL's Player of the Week.
"Everything was working pretty well over there," said Rajala. "The first three to five games wasn't so good but after that it was pretty awesome for me and the whole team. Just a couple tough losses but otherwise we did pretty well."
Rajala has 23 points in 14 games for the Thunder but anticipates it won't be that easy at this level.
"I'll try to continue that but the game here is a little different. I have to play better here than what I played in Stockton. I'm going to try my best and we'll see what happens."
Rajala will wear number 25 and plays tonight with Mark Arcobello and Curtis Hamilton on his line.
"Toni's a skilled guy so we want to have him on a skilled line," said Barons head coach Todd Nelson. "He's going to get a good opportunity. We want to see him continue scoring points. He's done very well down in Stockton so we want to give him every opportunity to help our team."
Rajala remarked that he's excited about his linemates.
"Arco is a very smart guy and very fast. Small guy like me too. We have a good line. We just have to shoot the puck and makes some plays."
The top two lines remain the same with Hall, Eberle and RNH along with Lander, Paajarvi and Hartikainen. Fourth line is Dane Byers, Chris VandeVelde and Abney. Yann Danis gets the start in goal.
ROAD TRIP BEGINS
Tonight marks the first of seven straight on the road for the Barons but Nelson cautioned that the team can't look that far ahead.
"We just can't look ahead. We have to focus on tonight's game. Texas plays very strong in their building and they're playing pretty good hockey right now," said Nelson. "Against Charlotte after the first two periods -- Charlotte's a very good hockey team -- they put up 23 shots and only allowed nine," he began. "It's a very energetic building here so we're going to have to keep our focus and just play hockey for 60 minutes."
Nelson said that if the team can take care of business tonight, it will only help with the rest of the trip.
"When you get on the road, it's always good to get that first one and get on a roll. Once you get on a roll on the road, it's contagious. That's why tonight's game is so important. We want to get two points tonight, go to Charlotte and keep the ball rolling."
RNH CAGE FREE
For the first time since suffering a mouth injury early in the season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skated without a cage this morning and will wear a visor tonight.
"It feels a lot better to be able to have clear vision. I had the cage on for awhile but happy to have it off," Nugent-Hopkins began. "It's definitely tougher to see your peripherals and when the puck's at your feet and stuff like, too. After a couple games you kind of get used to it."
If defenceman Taylor Fedun keeps up his current output -- two goals in his last two games -- the blueliner jokes that he might need to keep his moustache past the allotted 'Movember' time period.
"The weekend games against Milwaukee, they were a team that really pressured us hard. For us on the back-end that gave us an opportunity to jump up and join the rush because they were pressuring so hard and finally getting some pucks through to the net," Fedun began. "But most importantly, it's the 'moustache magic' that's working for me."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LAST 10: Oklahoma City 5-3-1-1; Texas 4-5-0-1
Season Series: This is the second regular season meeting out of 12 between these two teams. In their only previous meeting, the Barons defeated Texas in OKC by a score of 4-2. ... Last season, Oklahoma City won eight of 10 meetings between the two sides, including each of the last six. Texas won the season opener for both squads last year by a score of 7-0 and a week later, the Barons returned the favour with a 10-1 shellacking of the Stars.
Big Story: The Barons open a seven-game road trip tonight against their Texas rivals. With their strong performance of late, the Barons have moved from out of the playoff picture into sixth spot in the Western Conference and with a win tonight could move as high as fourth.
Barons: Oklahoma City has picked up points now in four straight games (7 out of a possible 8 points). Their power play ranks second in the AHL at 25.0%. With a rash of injuries on the weekend that saw Tyrvainen, House and Pitlick all go down, the Barons called up forwards Toni Rajala and Cam Abney. Rajala ranks fourth in the ECHL in points with 23 (11g, 12a) in 14 games. Rajala, who has also picked up points in 11 straight games, was named ECHL Player of the Week yesterday with five goals and six assists in four games over the previous seven days.
Stars: Texas is led in scoring by Cody Eakin, who has 10 points in 13 games so far this season. Second on the club is former Oil Kings forward Tomas Vincour who has 9 points in 13 games. ... The Stars have won each of their last three games heading into tonight's contest. In their most recent outing, they defeated the league's top team in the Charlotte Checkers 1-0 in a shootout.
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.
Injury Report: Josh Green (ribs) is out. Ryan Martindale (knee) is out. Antti Tyrvainen (wrist) is out. Tanner House (concussion) is out. Tyler Pitlick (concussion) is out.
Puck Drop: Tonight marks the first of seven straight games on the road for Oklahoma City. Head Coach Todd Nelson mentioned on Monday that it was good for the team to get wins in both games at home on the weekend, setting the stage for what they hope is a successful trip.
"It was very important getting both games here at home, especially now that we're going for seven games on the road. Hopefully we can keep this thing going. It was a good two wins. I thought Saturday we played a more complete game and hopefully we can build off that," said Nelson. "The guys have found some confidence and we're going to need it going into Texas on Wednesday and Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday."
- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com