THE TEAM TODAY: Swagger Regained
Barons return home for a day of practice before heading back on the road to Houston
SWAGGER REGAINEDOKLAHOMA CITY - Following a successful weekend during which the Oklahoma City Barons rolled into Charlotte and dominated the AHL-leading (at the time) Checkers, the squad finally felt like it had regained its mojo.
"That's the biggest thing that I've noticed with our team in the past three games is we've got our swagger back. It was very evident in the dressing room today after practice where guys were having fun, joking around with each other, feeling confident and feeling good about themselves. That's what we're striving for," began Barons head coach Todd Nelson.
"Over the first 10 games or so, we were trying to figure out things. Players were figuring out 'what do I bring to the team? What role am I playing?' and now that we're down to numbers due to injury, we have some pretty good combinations with our lines and our defence are improving with their partners."
The Barons are rolling right now with seven healthy defencemen and 13 healthy forwards. On Saturday and Sunday in Charlotte they used the exact same lineup both games. No surprise as Nelson was very happy with the results.
"Looking back to our last game in Charlotte, we got things moving in the right direction. The only negative from that game (7-2 win on Sunday) was that we didn't score a power play goal but penalty kill's been a lot better. We did allow one goal in that game but it was on a five-on-three opportunity against. We killed off two five-on-threes the night before."
The Barons have now won five straight games and picked up points in each of their last seven dating back to a 2-1 overtime win over Abbotsford at the beginning of the month.
"We are (playing good hockey) right now," said Nelson. "I think the turning point was probably that Saturday game against Abbotsford where we came out and played a really strong game and from there on we've been doing a lot of good things, getting better in certain areas."
Taylor Hall agreed with his head coach's assessment and added that the roster depth has really contributed to the team's success also.
"We've gotten production from all four lines," said Hall. "We don't just have one line chipping in every game, it's 12 forwards and six D that are playing really well. And we've had some good goaltending as well. You can see why they were a good team last year with strong goaltending. Our depth is very strong and so far in these last seven games we've been utilizing that."
FAME OF HALL
Hall was named the AHL's Player of the Week yesterday after putting up nine points (1 goal, 8 assists) in his three games played.
"It's exciting," he said of the honour. "I'm glad that I've had a pretty good start to my campaign here in OKC and like anyone watching the games can tell, our line has been really good lately. It'll change every game who's getting the points and who's getting the chances but for the most part that's what we're worried about is getting chances. This weekend was a really good example of that."
Eberle also had a strong week with seven points.
"We're going to try and keep it going. I know that we have a couple of tough tests this weekend before a nice break and hopefully we can get some more goals."
Hall added that it was a big confidence boost for the team to sweep the AHL's top team in their own barn last weekend in Charlotte.
"They are a good team. I don't think they played their best but we came in really prepared. We had a good couple days of practice before we got there and a good game in Austin. We had a good game plan and we really executed it well. Those are tough teams that we're going to have to beat if we want to keep climbing up the standings and this weekend is going to be no different."
A familiar face was at practice on Tuesday as Josh Green skated with the team for the first time since sustaining a rib injury in early October. Coach Nelson said his return had an immediate effect on the team.
"It's very important. He's excited to get back and play. You talk about his work ethic and how it's contagious, I thought our practice was excellent today. A lot of good energy out there. It was a practice where we tugged on him a bit but the guys were having fun working hard together and there was good execution. Having Josh out there certainly helps," said Nelson.
"He looked pretty darn good today in practice. That's the great debate. We only got to see him in one practice. We're probably going to hold him back so we can get him into some more contact next week. He's lobbying to play, he wants to play. I think he'd be fine but right now it's a 50/50 thing. It's a bit early and we don't want to risk it."
Green said that he felt good on the ice.
"I've had about a week of skating hard on my own so it's nice to be back out here with the fellas," he said. "I still need a couple practices with contact. Still probably a week away but it's feeling good so far."
Nelson wanted to be patient and not rush his captain.
"I said we'll get you ready for San Antonio and he said that's one week too late. He wants to play, just like any hockey player, but I think the smart move is to have him do his own thing with the conditioning coach and then jump into practice on Monday, full-fledged total contact and see how he reacts to that but I think he's going to be ready to go in San Antonio for sure."
MORE INJURY UPDATES
Coach Nelson had some more updates as his injury list remains long. Antti Tyrvainen is still a long-term injury with a cast on his wrist.
"Tyler Pitlick and Tanner House are still a ways away," Nelson said of the forwards who both sustained head injuries against Milwaukee on November 16.
Nelson did state that Ryan Martindale was getting closer.
"Martindale is starting to skate on his own," he said, hinting he could be back for the San Antonio series but pointing out that Josh Green was likely the closest to returning. .
"Besides Josh, we could look at a couple other guys being back in against San Antonio. With these injuries, like anything we want to make sure we do the right thing and don't rush guys back. It's not dire straits like playoff time right now and plus our team is rolling pretty good."
In other news, Taylor Fedun did not skate due to illness but should play this weekend. Dan Ringwald was recalled from Stockton while Teigan Zahn was sent to the Thunder.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com