For six weeks the Oklahoma City Barons were the hottest team in the American Hockey League, but a current four-game losing streak has jeopardized their chances of making the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
After dropping two-game series’ against the top-two teams in the Western Conference, Grand Rapids and Texas, the Barons host last-place San Antonio at 7 Tuesday night at the Cox Convention Center.
“One or two guys can’t make it happen. It comes down to all 20 guys in that room coming together to get on a run,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “We have to make sure our special teams are good and we play stingier defense.”
Before losing twice to Texas and Grand Rapids, the Barons were on a 13-2-2 roll since late January. The run included a franchise record nine-game home “unbeaten” streak (no regulation losses), which ended March 14 against Grand Rapids.
With 11 games left in the regular season, the Barons are in ninth in the Western Conference, three standings points behind Rochester and four behind seventh-place Rockford. Oklahoma City needs to finish in the top eight to qualify for the postseason.
“After getting just one (standings) point the past four games, we have to get on a run like we did before,” Nelson said. “We’re running out of games, but we still control our destiny because we have games against other teams in the playoff race.”
Under Nelson, the Barons have qualified for the playoffs all three seasons since the Edmonton Oilers moved their Triple-A affiliate to Oklahoma City. The Barons have made back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals.
Mark Arcobello, the Barons’ all-time scorer, has at least one point in a franchise-record 15 consecutive games since being reassigned to OKC on Feb. 2. But he sat out last weekend’s two games at Texas with an undisclosed injury. Arcobello is listed day-to-day.
“We were scoring four or five goals a game, but we dropped by more than a goal a game,” Nelson said. “We have to play better on defense and try to get back to where our offense is cranking it up again.”
Veteran goaltender Richard Bachman has started 19 of the past 21 games. Nelson plans to ride Bachman down the stretch, but Ty Rimmer, recalled Monday from Quad City of the Central Hockey League, might need to provide occasional relief.
“I think Richard was maybe getting a little fatigued, so we gave him the game off last Saturday,” Nelson said. “We’ll play it by ear. (Rimmer) will get one game this weekend when we play at Charlotte Saturday night and a quick turnaround Sunday afternoon.”
Regardless who is net, the Barons need to string some wins together if they’re to reach the playoffs.
“We’re still playing pretty good hockey,” Nelson said. “Those losses came against the top two teams in the conference. We’re right there. We now have an opportunity to get some wins against teams below us. The bottom line is we have to take care of business.”