Frustration is starting to mount for the Barons.
The hottest stretch of the season has been followed by the longest drought of the season.
Peoria scored with just under six minutes left to break a tie and added an empty-net goal to post a 4-2 win over the Barons on Tuesday night at the Cox Convention Center.
It was Oklahoma City's fifth consecutive loss. In three of the last four losses, opponents have scored the go-ahead goal late in the third period.
“That's been happening quite a bit this year,” said coach Todd Nelson. “That's the thing that's bothersome. Teams are scoring timely goals against us. I know we're young. But we have to recognize as a group you have to weather the storm.”
All five losses would have been by one goal if the Rivermen hadn't scored an empty-netter with 21 seconds left.
“These last four games I don't think we've deserved a better fate than we've gotten,” said team captain Josh Green. “We're losing tight games because we're not working hard enough to find ways to win.”
The turning point came midway through the second period. The Barons led 1-0 and were in position to take a two-goal lead.
Taylor Hall, who scored his sixth goal of the season to give OKC the 1-0 lead, used some nifty stick work to get Peoria goaltender Jake Allen down, but Hall's pass missed Mark Arcobello.
“I didn't see a yawning (open) cage. I saw a half-open net,” Hall said. “My backhand probably isn't my strong suit. I have a pretty big curve on my stick. If I had gotten the pass to Arco, he would have had an empty net. I just missed (Arcobello) by a millimeter.”
Nelson said: “If we pop that one in, it's a 2-0 game and it's a bit different.”
A few seconds later, on the same shift, Hall was whistled for a hooking penalty. Peoria capitalized with Andrew Murray's power-play goal. Two minutes later, the Rivermen's T.J. Hensick put Peoria up 2-1.
“We stopped doing some of the things that made us successful in the first period,” Green said. “We didn't work hard enough. They outshot us, outworked us. We have to find a way to get through this stretch we're in right now.”
In late November, the Barons went 6-0-1, collecting 13 of 14 possible points to soar up the AHL South Division standings. But in the last five games, OKC has collected only one of 10 possible points to fall to fourth in the South.
“We have to get through this,” Nelson said. “We're not playing horrible hockey. But I don't know if the guys realize the significance of where we're at right now. This was kind of a heartbreaker. ... We have to put the brakes on this.”
Both Barons goals were on the power play. In addition to Hall's goal, Teemu Hartikainen tipped in Justin Schultz's shot late in the second period to tie the game 2-2.
The Barons play three division games this weekend. They host San Antonio Friday and Saturday followed by a road game Sunday at Houston.
“We've got to find a way to win some of these games in the third period,” said Schultz, who had two assists. “Until we do that we're not going to be one of the top teams in the league.”