Time: 8:00pm MST
Location: Abbotsford Entertainment Sports Complex
Broadcast: abbotsfordheat.com, teamradio.ca
Still no NHL hockey of course, but that doesn’t mean the Battle of Alberta is dead. Tonight, the Heat play the first game of a back-to-back series against the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton’s AHL affiliate. Both games are in Abbotsford are are sold out affairs.
Record-wise, the Barons struggled a bit in the early going, managing a medicore 5-4-1 record through the first 10 games. That said, they boast an intimidating line-up of future stars including current AHL lealding scorer Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Teemu Hartikainen are also expected to be on the parent club when the NHL returns, while Anton Lander spent much of the season as a 4th line center for Edmonton last year.
As discussed yesterday, everything has gone right for Abbotsford so far this year. The PP is potent, the PK is nigh unbeatable and the club is scoring on more than 13% of their shots on net. The Heat have banked a lot of points as a result and a re league leader in almost every category heading into this weekend’s action. That said, it’s clear they will need to strive to improve in a number of areas, particularly shot generation, if they want the good times to continue.
Ryan Pinder noted on twitter today that Paul Byron is ready to return to the active roster (Greg Nemisz isn’t even skating yet, however). Troy Ward doesn’t share his line combinations before games, but Pinder says the coach suggested Byron may skate with Krys Kolanos and Dustin Sylvester.
- Baertschi – Walter – Horak
- Kolanos – Byron – Sylvester
- Aliu – Reinhart – Street
- Olson – Laing – Ruesegger
- Brodie – Piskula
- Breen – McCarthy
- Callahan – Lamb
With the inclusion of Byron, the Heat have two legit scoring lines and a decent two-way third unit as well (assuming Street lands there). Horak’s hot streak has seen him elevated to the first line with Baertschi and Walter while Dustin Sylvester gets the slight bump downwards.
It’s anyone’s guess how the bottom-six actually turns out. My lines are an approximation based on previous games, although the need to constantly shuffle vets in and out of the line-up makes it a bit of a fools errand.
Despite all their firepower, the Barons have failed to put together any kind of consistent win streak so far. As a result, Todd Nelson has shuffled his lines heading into the weekend, spreading the attack across three of the four forward units:
- Hall – VandeVelde – Paajarvi-Svensson
- Hartikainen – Lander – Eberle
- Tyravainen – Nugent-Hopkins – Pitlick
- Byers – House – Hamilton
- Plante – Fedun
- Schultz – Ringwald
- Teubert – Zahn
"Teams are matching up real hard against us, so we want to split them up so we can spread the scoring around…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.”
That’s Todd Nelson via the Oilers official site, explaining why he has his big guns spread throughout the roster.
Not included are Hamilton, Ryan Martindale and Anton Lander for various injury/illness reasons.
On the back-end, OKC is just okay (outside of the phenom Schultz). Plante and Teubert are former first rounders, but continue to struggle to justify that lofty draft ranking. Neither is overly mobile or good with the puck on their sticks, although Teubert has been getting some good reviews for his physical game this year. Still, once you get past Schultz, it’s certainly not an all-star group and probably represents the team’s biggest weakness.
Yann Danis might get the call in net, although he’s been abysmal through his first six starts (likely the main reason for the Barons so-so record) with just an 0.895 SV% so far. Danis is an established veteran goalie who has put up good numbers in the AHL previously (two straight seasons of 0.924) so he should improve at some point. If not, rookie Olivier Roy will get a chance to run with the ball. He’s played four games and stopped 91.5% of the shots he’s faced so far.
Sum It Up
The Barons are star laden but haven’t been able to make that translate to a great record yet. The Heat don’t have the same number of big names, but have managed to get out to the best start in franchise history. Tonight the Barons will hope to finally break out of their rut of mediocrity while the Heat will hope to keep the good times rolling.
PS – Join us here and OilersNation tomorrow for a cross-posted gamethread.