PREVIEW: Barons at San Antonio
OKC wraps up seven-game road trip with first of two in San Antonio
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PUCK DROP: 6:00 p.m. MST
AT THE MORNING SKATESAN ANTONIO - The Oklahoma City Barons play their sixth and seventh consecutive road games tonight and tomorrow in San Antonio against a Rampage team that has won two straight and four of their last five.
The Rampage are known for their stifling defensive style and the Barons talked about needing to find a way around it.
"That's the big question," said Barons head coach Todd Nelson. "As a coaching staff, we're going to try and safeguard the best way possible and try to get the guys ready. We had a good skate this morning and the message tonight is 'be ready to go at the drop of the puck' because a team like San Antonio, if they get up a couple of goals on you they really pack it in and make you work for what you get."
The Barons are familiar with the Rampage, having faced them in the playoffs last season. Back then, they devised a counter-attack strategy that proved effective with OKC winning four games to one.
"They play very passive -- they're aggressive when they want to be and if they have a chance to be aggressive they will be -- if they don't, they pack it in and play very passive," Nelson continued. "We have to limit our turnovers. They'll thrive on that. And we're going to have to shoot the puck. We'll shoot the puck, great rebounds, penetrate their defence, have two guys at the net. That's the message that we're sending our guys."
Tonight is the Barons' first game since they faced Houston eight days ago.
"We want to get off to a good start tonight. I think the week we had off was time to rest and work on a few things and that's the first thing tonight, to make sure we can go out and have a very strong first period."
RETURN OF HALL AND EBERLE
Absent for most of this week was both Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle but the pair will be back in the lineup tonight against the Rampage.
"I'm pretty good. I'm feeling good in all aspects of my health," said Hall, who tended to a pre-scheduled treatment the past week.
Hall added that he expects a challenge tonight from the red hot Rampage.
"We saw they won their two games in Abbotsford and we know they're playing well and they play a pretty passive system. We know they're going to wait for us to make mistakes and capitalize on them. I think tonight's about limiting our mistakes then playing our game from there."
Eberle agreed with his teammate.
"The standings are so tight right now that any points you can gain ground on are important. This is going to be a big week for us. These guys are coming off a couple of big wins against a good team -- Abbotsford -- so it'll be a good test."
The Barons winger remembered the 2-0 loss the last time the two sides met.
"They play a kind of game where they sit back and make us make mistakes then pounce on them. So we need to do the right things with the puck, put it deep and play in their end. The first goal is going to be key for us tonight and that way we don't have to sit back on a lead. It's going to be a test for us, for sure. It's a different style."
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out, Hall and Eberle will play on the same line as Mark Arcobello.
"I'm just going to keep playing my game. Obviously, playing with some good players here and hopefully we can contribute offensively tonight," said Arcobello. "You always want to play with the best players and it's a nice opportunity. Hopefully we can click a little bit and I can fill the void that Nuge left."
The Barons will welcome back their captain tonight as Josh Green returns to the lineup for the first time since mid-October. Head Coach Todd Nelson remarked that he was looking forward to the addition.
"One aspect is his play. He's a big centerman. He's got skill. His work ethic is impeccable," Nelson began.
"The other aspect is he's good in the room. He's a veteran guy that's going to help out our young guys in the room. If things need to be addressed, he'll address them. He holds guys accountable so I think that's a very important piece for us."
Tyler Pitlick also makes his return.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LAST 10: Oklahoma City 6-2-1-1; San Antonio 4-4-0-2
Season Series: This is the third of 12 meetings this season between Oklahoma City and San Antonio. The two sides have split their previous two meetings, with OKC winning 5-2 at the Cox Convention Center in October and the Rampage shutting out the Barons 2-0 here in San Antonio in early November.
Big Story: The Barons have some reinforcements in the lineup in the form of captain Josh Green and Tyler Pitlick as they try to end their seven-game road trip on a positive note. Green hasn't played since the last time the Barons met San Antonio back on October 19 as he has missed considerable time with a rib injury. San Antonio also has reinforcements in the form of recently-signed defenceman Mike Mottau and forward Jon Sim. Both have considerable NHL experience.
Barons: Following a stretch where they won five straight games, the Barons went into Houston last week and lost a pair (one in regulation and one in a shootout). As a result, they slipped from fourth in the conference to a three-way tie for seventh. Jordan Eberle was named AHL Player of the Month for November, picking up 21 points (10 goals) in 13 games. Just to show how impressive those numbers are, only seven other AHLers have put up more than 21 points in the entire season. One of those is AHL leading scorer and November's AHL Rookie of the Month Justin Schultz who has 31 points in 20 games on the year. No AHL rookie defenceman has ever scored more than 20 goals and Schultz already has 11 20 games into the season.
Rampage: San Antonio is playing their best hockey of the season right now. They're coming off back-to-back wins in Abbotsford against the Western Conference-leading Heat (one win in OT and one in regulation). Overall, the Rampage have won four of their last five -- all on the road -- coming directly off a stretch where they were winless in eight games (0-6-2). Five of those games came in a recent homestand as the Rampage haven't won on home ice since their Nov. 4 win over the Barons.
Who's Hot: Justin Schultz has picked up at least a point in every game that the Barons have scored at least one goal (which is 18 of the team's 20 games this year. He is on a nine-game scoring streak, his second such streak of the season. One of the games were Schultz failed to pick up a point was the team's 2-0 blanking in San Antonio November 4.
Injury Report: Ryan Martindale (knee) is cleared for contact but still questionable. Antti Tyrvainen (wrist) is out. Tanner House (concussion) is out. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains in Edmonton getting treatment on his shoulder.
Puck Drop: The Rampage play a tough defensive style; one that the Barons have been drawing up strategies against all week. OKC assistant coach Gerry Fleming talked about that process.
"We've got to take advantage of the way they play. They sit back on defence and play tight to the house so we've got to spread out the offensive zone and create plays offensively and attack the net."
- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com