By Tyler King
It’s not enough to make you press the panic button. After all, the Oil Barons have had slumps and still pulled off successful seasons before. But when a team gets only one win out of its last six games; and that one win required yet another third period comeback (a 4-3 home win over Lloydminster), it’s more than logical to worry a little bit.
In their last six games, the Oil Barons have lost in Spruce Grove and Whitecourt, won against Lloydminster, then lost in overtime in Drumheller, in regulation in Canmore, and in a shootout in Calgary against the Mustangs.
But these haven’t been blowouts, save for the 7-2 loss in Spruce Grove. Every other loss has been by 1 or 2 goals, and with the exception of the team’s first loss of the season, that goes for every game it has lost this year.
Shots have been an early concern, with the MOB allowing an average of 38 shots per game, and producing an average of only 30 of their own per game. In 12 of the team’s 16 games, it has been outshot.
But the team is actually 6-3-2 when it gets outshot. It’s a shocking 1-3 when it outshoots its opponent.
Of the 16 games it has played this year, the MOB has only had 5 in the cozy confines of the Casman Centre; and it’s 4-1 there. A whopping 69% of the team’s games have been away from home, on a minimum of four and a half hour bus rides. It’s also the only team in the league that has played 16 games; everyone else has had a lighter schedule.
It’s not an excuse for the team’s early struggles, but the fact that the MOB’s schedule will gradually start to soften in intensity and increase the number of home games certainly bodes well for a mid-season surge.
Let’s not forget as well that last year’s outstanding goaltender Jesse Gordichuk is still some ways away from returning from his injury he suffered late last month.
This isn’t a team incapable of controlling games. The Oil Barons have scored the first goal in 9 of their 16 games so far. The issue is that in four of those games that early lead has not held.
Bright spots abound on special teams, where the MOB’s penalty kill dominated the league, before an uncharacteristic stretch of struggles saw it post just a 42% efficiency rate through a 4-game series, before rebounding with a 5-for-5 performance on Sunday afternoon in Calgary.
The power play ended up surging at the same time as the PK struggled, with the man advantage unit going 8 for 28 in the last five games; nearly 29%.
While the MOB hasn’t dominated yet, it continues to show flashes of the potential of being a dominant team. Captain Jetlan Houcher leads the league in scoring, while Mitch Vanderlaan went on a nine-game point streak that saw him surge into the league’s top five in scoring. Former WHLer Trent Lofthouse rebounded from a minor slump and is now averaging more than a point per game.
But this is still a young roster, with a bevy of 17-year old players, a 16-year old defenceman in Mark Drohan quarterbacking the power play, and a dearth of 19-year old forwards apart from Vanderlaan and sophomore winger Danton Ayotte.
GM Curtis Hunt will likely be active in the coming weeks to both improve and pare down his roster. There is plenty of time before we get a better idea of what roster will represent Fort McMurray at the Western Canada Cup this season. Hunt doesn’t need to be down to 23 players until December 1st, and has until January 10th to make trades.
Until then, Barons fans at least have a bevy of home games to see a potential resurgence by the Barons for themselves.
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