Because of NHL-star-caliber talent playing in Oklahoma City during the lockout, the Barons have a target on their backs.
Now it's the Barons turn to target an opponent.
Oklahoma City hosts Houston for two games Friday and Saturday to close out a seven-game homestand. The last time the South Division rivals met a week ago, the Barons were thoroughly outplayed in a 6-4 loss.
“We didn't have a good game,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “It's a great opportunity moving forward to redefine ourselves as a team to play the game the right way. I don't think Houston saw what our team is able to do. But give them credit. They played a good, strong game.”
Houston out-hustled OKC and outshot the Barons, 39-20. Despite the Barons' lackluster effort, the game was tied 4-4 before the Aeros scored two third period goals.
“This is big for us,” said Barons forward Jordan Eberle. “They're a team we didn't bring our best and they played pretty well and handed it to us pretty good. We need to get four points against them and move forward.”
Charlotte (6-2-1) currently leads the South Division. Houston (4-2-1) is one point in front of Oklahoma City (4-3-0).
“I wouldn't say it's revenge, but we want to make a statement that we're better than the last seven games overall,” said forward Magnus Paajarvi. “A 4-3 record isn't really good enough for us. We want to be better than that. I think it's good we have that attitude.
“But they have a really good team. They have (Mikael) Granlund on the PP (power play). He's a really good player.”
Granlund is among the American Hockey League scoring leaders with 10 points. OKC counters with what some are saying is the most talented team in the AHL.
Barons rookie defenseman Justin Schultz (12 points) leads the AHL in scoring. He was named AHL Player of the Month after collecting 12 points in October. Oklahoma City also has six first-round NHL draft picks, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Alex Plante, Colten Teubert, Eberle and Paajarvi.
Nugent-Hopkins and Hall were taken No. 1 overall. Last year, Hall played on the Edmonton Oilers No. 1 line alongside Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Hall makes his Barons debut Friday night.
“He has that energy and passion in his game that many players don't,” Eberle said. “He has a huge shot, and his speed is a huge characteristic. There's a reason he went first overall.”
The Barons will play three games in three days, traveling to San Antonio on Sunday afternoon after the two home games with Houston.
“The last time (against Houston) it came down to shortcuts,” Nelson said. “I thought we made it easy for them. Our team has to be hard to play against. Last time we played them we were very soft in a lot of areas. You don't win games like that.”