The Oklahoma City Barons regained first place in the American Hockey League's Western Division Saturday night and their newest player is one of the biggest reasons why.
Magnus Paajarvi, the Sweden native who joined the Barons on Saturday from the Edmonton Oilers, showed why he was the Oilers' first round pick in 2009 by scoring a shootout goal that lifted Oklahoma City to a 3-2 win over the Houston Aeros in a battle for first place.
After some brilliant moves on the ice to deke the goalie, Paajarvi gracefully tapped in the Barons' first goal in the shootout, bringing the 4,425 fans in the Cox Convention Center to their feet.
Gilbert Brule added another to seal the victory as Houston failed to score on Barons' goalie Yann Danis in the shootout. Oklahoma City defeated the Aeros for the fourth time this season and the third straight in a shootout.
“That guy can play and I think he showed it,” said Danis, who witnessed from the opposite end of the ice how Paajarvi got the Aeros' goalie to slide to his right before reaching around and sliding the puck with one hand under the goalie's left leg and into the net.
“It was one of the nicest goals I've seen in a shootout in a long time,” Danis said. “He didn't give the goalie a chance. It was fun to watch.”
Paajarvi, who was assigned to Oklahoma City by Edmonton so he could get more playing time, said it was a move he has used before with success.
“I just made up my mind and went for it and it went in,” said Paajarvi, whose arrival in Oklahoma City created a new buzz in arena Saturday night.
Barons' coach Todd Nelson called Paarjarvi's goal the kind “that only creative players can make.'' Both Nelson and Paajarvi said the contest against Houston seemed like a playoff game.
“It had that feel to it,” Nelson said. “Every game this year we have played against Houston has been tight. I don't think it is going to be any different going forward.”
Oklahoma City is now 20-7-0-1 on the season and Houston falls to 16-4-2-7. Although the teams both have 41 standings points, the Barons are first place because of their higher winning percentage.
The Aeros, which made the AHL finals last season, defeated Oklahoma City nine times in 10 games last season. So far this season, it's been just opposite as the Barons haven't lost to Houston in four games. The two clubs meet four more times this season.
“That's the way it goes sometimes,” Nelson said. “Every year is a different team. We have different personnel and they have different personnel. It was good for us to get that monkey off our back the first game (a 2-0 Barons' win over the Aeros in Oklahoma City's second home game of season). I think that was one thing weighing on our minds.
“It's a funny game. Hopefully the trend continues. Everytime we can gain a point on them it's going to help our cause. They are good hockey team and they will be there in the end.”