The Oklahoma City Barons are getting hot at the right time.
The Barons, though, will have to remain hot to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Oklahoma City will play three games in three days, starting with a road game Friday night at Texas, capped by home games Saturday night and Sunday afternoon against the Chicago Wolves.
“We're playing our best hockey right now, but we've got to keep that going,” said center Chris VandeVelde. “I don't want to really compare the teams but it reminds me a lot of last year. We're winning simple things and overwhelming teams with our hard work.”
Last season the Barons got off to a fast start en route to the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference. This season they've hovered around the playoff bubble all season.
Nine teams in the Western Conference are battling for the final four playoffs berths. Oklahoma City is in seventh. Eight teams make the playoffs.
The Barons, though, have been on a roll, going 9-3-3 their last 15 games.
“That's hopefully a good sign for us moving forward,” said defenseman Taylor Fedun. “We really have to bear down and get these important (standings) points. Even though we've been winning games other teams are winning, too.”
One advantage the Barons have is games in hand over all playoff contenders below them in the standings.
“But you have to win those games,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “The reason we've been winning consistently is we've been getting contributions from everybody.”
The differences have been an improved defense that hasn't allowed more than three goals in a game in three weeks; a red-hot penalty killing unit that hasn't allowed a power play goal seven straight games and the return of goaltender Yann Danis.
After the NHL lockout ended Danis spent much of the first two months serving as Edmonton's backup. Since Danis was reassigned to Oklahoma City the 31-year-old veteran has started the past seven games, going 4-1-2 with a 2.09 goals against average and .915 saves percentage.
“Getting Yann back certainly helped,” Nelson said. “And our special teams have been better. All that stuff combined it's starting to come together.”
Veteran Jonathan Cheechoo, who has played in 501 NHL games, said another key factor has been improved play in the third period.
“We've been able to lock down some wins,” Cheechoo said. “When I got here we were letting teams back in games, sometimes losing two points. We've been better on defense and the penalty kill which are big in the third period.”
Instead of focusing on the big picture, Nelson and his staff have broken down the last 25 games into five-game segments the past month.
OKC has 10 games left in the regular season. A new five-game segment begins Friday night against the Stars.
“I think smaller goals have helped us,” Nelson said. “We don't want to get too far ahead. We know it's going to be a dogfight to the end. I like where we're at right now but every one of these last 10 games will be big.”
BARONS at TEXAS STARS
* When: 7 p.m. Friday
* Where: Cedar Park Center (Cedar Park, Texas).
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1, Jim Byers play-by-play.
* Scouting report: The Stars lead the Western Conference but the Barons have dominated the season series, going 7-3-1, although five of the wins were when Edmonton young stars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz were playing in OKC during the NHL lockout... Barons forward Mark Arcobello, who has moved into the top 10 in the AHL in scoring (57 points), has scored 11 points in 10 games against Houston... The Stars' top scorer Matt Fraser currently is with Dallas. Their leading scorer on the roster is Colton Soeviour (44 points)... Texas goalie Cristopher Nilstorp is 18-10-8 with a 2.27 goals against average.