PREVIEW: Barons hope home cooking results in wins
Barons face Rivermen after seven-game road trip, look to end three-game slide
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PUCK DROP: 6:00 p.m. MST
AT THE MORNING SKATEOKLAHOMA CITY - After a seven-game road trip, the Oklahoma City Barons finally return home to play at the Cox Convention Center tonight where their opponents will be the Peoria Rivermen.
On the trip, the Barons won the first three games, lost game four in a shootout then dropped the final three in regulation for a .500 trip at 3-3-0-1.
"It's a very important game for tonight," said Barons head coach Todd Nelson. "We started that seven-game road swing with three wins. We felt pretty good about it. We finished off the road swing not like we wanted to."
Tonight the Barons play a non-divisional opponent for the first time in awhile. Peoria ranks 14th in the Western Conference but Nelson cautioned that the team cannot overlook the game tonight.
"Hopefully we win the game and feel good about ourselves going into this weekend against our Texas opponents. Those divisional games are huge but we don't want to look past tonight's game. This is a very important game for us, that's where our focus is. Hopefully we go out there and play a good game and get two points."
Last season, Peoria took three out of four from OKC.
"Peoria is a big team. They have good size and work hard. They keep things very simple. We've played against this team in the past and they've got a lot of the same guys back so we know what to expect. They have some gritty people over there that play hard so we're going to have to be ready to go and compete tonight. We're going to have to fight to get in front of the net, get some secondary opportunities."
"They're coming off a big win against Houston and we have to be ready."
Tonight marks the Barons' first game on home ice in 24 days. Nelson talked about the team making sure that they don't suffer from a letdown the first game after a long road trip as happens so often in hockey.
"It's nice but one thing you have to guard against is when you go on the road and play seven games then come back, sometimes there's a letdown when you come home," he said. "We can't afford to have a letdown. We have to play a very strong game. Based on how we practiced today, I liked what I saw. I liked the energy and the way the guys were snapping the puck around, their communication on the ice and what they were doing."
Justin Schultz added that it was nice to be back home.
"It's always nice to be at home. You're comfortable here, you have your routines. It's definitely nice to be back and hopefully we can get a couple wins here at home," he said.
Jordan Eberle agreed.
"We've been a pretty good team at home so far. It's going to be a good test for us to get off this slide we're on."
The Barons struggled to score on the power play on the last road trip but on home ice their power play has been quite good - tops in the league at a 35.9% efficiency rate.
"I thought we played decent last game. We just need to bear down for the most part. Special teams has been a struggle for us. We need to score some power play goals for sure," Eberle continued. "Overall, being at home is going to help a lot."
Olivier Roy gets the start in goal tonight for the Barons. Otherwise, they will likely go with the same lineup as Sunday. This means that Alex Plante would be a healthy scratch.
Ryan Martindale and Tanner House both skated with the team but did so on a fifth line with Cameron Abney.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
LAST 10: Oklahoma City 5-3-1-1; Peoria 5-4-0-1
Season Series: This is the first of only two meetings this season between Oklahoma City and Peoria. Last season, the two teams met four times with Peoria winning three out of four. One of Peoria's wins did come in overtime. Oklahoma City's one win came at the Cox Convention Center in what was the first meeting of the season between the two squads last December.
Big Story: The Barons return home for the first time since mid-November following a seven-game road trip that saw the team go 3-3-0-1. The team faces Peoria, who rank 14th in the AHL's Western Conference but are still only six points out of a playoff spot.
Barons: After winning five in a row, the Barons are now winless in their last four with three straight losses in regulation time. The team's mini-slump has moved them into ninth in the AHL's Western Conference but the conference is very tight right now with only four points separating 4th from 12th. OKC is only two points out of 4th and hold games in hand on every team ahead of them except for Houston.
Rivermen: Overall, Peoria has played decently in their last 10 games with a 5-4-0-1 record and won their last time out against Houston 3-2. Prior to that win, the Rivermen did have a bit of a tough stretch with one win in five. Peoria's leading scorer is T.J. Hensick who has 21 points in 23 games. After that, their offence dries up a bit with Derek Nesbitt and Jaden Schwartz tied for second on the team with 13 points each. Former Baron and Oiler Taylor Chorney is also on the team. He has 6 points in 23 games but is also -20.
Who's Hot: Justin Schultz had his 10-game scoring streak snapped on Sunday but remains atop the list of AHL scoring leaders. Jordan Eberle has 30 points on the season and has picked up a goal in each of his last three contests. With 14 goals on the year, Eberle is one behind Syracuse's Tyler Johnson for the league lead.
Injury Report: Ryan Martindale (knee) is questionable. Antti Tyrvainen (wrist) is out. Tanner House (concussion) is doubtful. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is at camp for Team Canada's World Junior squad.
Puck Drop: The Barons will be looking to bounce back quickly from a tough pair of losses this past weekend in San Antonio.
"I think it's in the back of the guys' minds," said head coach Todd Nelson following Sunday's loss. "Right now the main focus is to try and get back on the winning side. We have to get a win to get us going again. We're playing against a Peoria team that's playing some pretty good hockey right now so we're going to have to be ready."
- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com