If the American Hockey League playoffs started Friday, the Oklahoma City Barons would be left out.
Not exactly the start that was expected for a roster some labeled an AHL dream team.
In ninth place in the Western Conference, the Barons view a two-game series against the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday and Saturday at the Cox Convention Center as an opportunity to move up the standings.
“There have been at least three or four games we could have easily won,” said Jordan Eberle, who led the Edmonton Oilers in scoring last season. “We're still trying to identify ourselves as a team. If you go back to that game (last Saturday) with Abbotsford, that's our identity.”
The Barons have NHL-tested talent. The Edmonton Oilers' stars playing in OKC during the lockout were featured on the cover of The Hockey News.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall were No. 1 overall picks in the 2011 and 2010 NHL drafts, respectively. Eberle played in last year's NHL All-Star Game. Rookie defenseman Justin Schultz leads the AHL in scoring.
Eberle, who had four assists in a 6-5 overtime loss to Toronto on Tuesday, sees some positive signs.
“We showed what can be in the second and third (periods),” Eberle said. “We just have to find that consistently. When we do, I think this team will really rise. It's still early in the season. We have two huge games this weekend. Get two wins and you climb the standings.”
Forward Mark Arcobello was on last year's Barons team that earned the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and reached the Western Conference finals.
“The game is not played on paper, it's played on the ice,” Arcobello said. “We have a lot of talent but we also need to do the little things. We have a lot of new faces here. It's tough to come together right away. It takes a little time. We're starting to jell. It's going to start clicking.”
Edmonton players have been productive offensively. Schultz (18 points) and Eberle (16) rank 1-2 in the league in scoring. Nugent-Hopkins (14 points) is in the top 10.
Defensive lapses and the penalty-killing units have prevented the Barons from building momentum.
“It's a really new team with a lot of new faces,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It takes a while to kind of get accustomed to each other. We just need to put it all together. Obviously they were a great team last year, and that's what we want to be this year.”
The most glaring stat is Oklahoma City ranks 29th in the 30-team AHL in penalty killing (72.1 percent). Last year the Barons finished second in the league (85.6 percent).
OKC is 3-1 in games it hasn't allowed a power-play goal but has won only three of nine games when surrendering a power-play goal.
“This is unchartered territory for us,” said coach Todd Nelson. “We're improving. It's coming. The last two games we've allowed only one power-play goal. That's a start. We just have to play better in the D-zone, pop sticks and not let them get sticks on pucks.”
Oklahoma City last season allowed 50 power-play goals. In 13 games, the Barons already have allowed 17.
“Special teams are such an important part of the game,” Eberle said. “We're going to get four or five power plays a game and then the penalty kill. That's almost half the game. You have to be able to kill.”
MILWAUKEE at BARONS
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Cox Convention Center.
Tickets: Available at the box office, starting at $10.
Radio: Friday on KXXY-FM 96.1, Saturday on KGHM-AM 1340.
Scouting report: This is the first two meetings of the season. The Barons and Admirals split four games last season. ... The Barons' Justin Schultz (18 points) and Jordan Eberle (16) lead the AHL in scoring. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (14) also is in the top 10. ... Taylor Beck (12 points) leads Milwaukee in scoring. ... The first 1,000 fans on Friday receive a Barons lunch pail. At Saturday's game, the Barons will give away another car, this time a GMC Acadia.