Though they've owned the best record in the American Hockey League for much of the season, the Oklahoma City Barons have had few comfortable wins this season.
They've generally built their record on tight games characterized by solid goaltending and timely scoring.
Friday night against Houston, the Barons had a bit of room to breath in the final moments and pulled off a 5-2 win over the Aeros in front of 3,905 at the Cox Center.
The win assures the Barons (28-11-2-3) of the top record in the league going into the All-Star break. And Oklahoma City still has one game left before the break, 7 p.m. Saturday against the Texas Stars in the Cox Center.
The Barons, playing with a bolstered lineup Friday night, led throughout, although a pair of Houston goals late in the third period made things interesting.
Earlier in the week, the Barons received Taylor Chorney, Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi from the Edmonton Oilers for at least this weekend's games.
They paid off, as Hartikainen scored a goal and Chorney assisted on a pair to help stake Oklahoma City to a 4-0 lead.
“Coming back from Edmonton, I wanted to make sure that I had picked up where I left off,” Chorney said. “It was fun to get back out there and get back in a win, it was great.”
With just two power-play chances and six penalty kills, Paajarvi's ice time was cut down a bit, but Barons coach Todd Nelson praised his effort.
Nelson was a bit less enthused with the way the third period went, with the Barons being outscored 2-1 and outshot 15-2.
“You try to get the guys as prepared as you can going into the third period,” Nelson said. “The whole thing in the third period is I don't think we won a draw until late in the game. Anytime you lose draws like that, you're chasing the puck down and all Houston did was zip and tip in our defensive zone and they outworked us.
“If we win those draws, the tables are turned. You have to bear down in those situations.”
The season series with Houston is indicative of how the Barons' season has gone. After Friday's win, the Barons are 6-0-0-0 against the Aeros, but three of the wins came in shoot-outs.
“They're a good team, we know that,” Barons winger Mark Arcobello said. “We seem to rise to the occasion every time we play them. We need to keep that up.”
Arcobello scored a pair of goals, including an empty-netter to seal the win. The final goal extended the Barons streak of multi-goal scorers to four games. Arcobello started the streak Jan. 19 at Rochester.
The Barons are seven standings points ahead of the second-place Aeros.
Josh Green got the scoring started, beating Matt Hackett from the high slot less than six minutes into the game.
The Barons added another in the first period and two more in the second period, including a shorthander by Hunter Tremblay.