Oklahoma City, OK - 34-year-old veteran Josh Green tallied a goal and two assists, while linemate Magnus Paajarvi collected one of each (including the game-winning goal), as the Oklahoma City Barons cruised to a 5-2 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center.
Green picked up a helper on Mark Arcobello's opening period goal when he redirected a Hunter Tremblay shot past Thomas McCollum to give the home side a 1-0 lead at 10:17. The Barons opened up a 2-0 edge late when Triston Grant sifted a long-range wrister past the unsuspecting netminder at 17:59.
Grand Rapids scored a pair in the middle period, but so did OKC on the back of the Barons' dynamic duo. With the home side up 2-1, 37 seconds after the Griffins sliced their lead in half, Green hunted down a loose puck, beat Logan Pyett and centered a pass to an in-chase Magnus Paajarvi; No. 16 connected, chipping the puck up and over the goaltender to reestablish his squad's two-goal lead.
The pair connected once more early in the third, as a similar play allowed Green to rifle an in-close shot and scoop his own rebound by McCollum 1:24 into the third.
"We're starting to mesh together as a line. We've only been together the past four games or so, but it's all predicated on hard work, and right now we're getting it done because of that," Green said. We're going to the net, and obviously I'm playing with two great players (Ryan Keller on the right side), so that helps as well.
"That's where most goals from, is going to the net. Those guys can make the pretty plays, but I try to go to the net and bang in rebounds like I did tonight. Maggie, on his goal, it was the same thing -- going to the net hard and he made a nice tip on it. I think when you look to make the pretty play, a lot of the time it doesn't work out.
"It starts with hard work, going to the net and getting the dirty ones right off the bat."
Teemu Hartikainen was the duo's linemate prior to his recall to the Oilers, but Keller had been an admirable fill-in. No kidding. The 28-year-old notched an assist tonight, boosting his team-leading point-scoring total to 47 (19 goals) in 65 games this season.
"I felt pretty good when we were playing with Hartikainen; that was a good line, we created a lot," Paajarvi said. "It hasn't been a problem with Keller coming in to replace Hartikainen at all. We're still creating a lot. We didn't score right away, but now goals are starting to come. We kept going and are playing good hockey. It's great playing with them."
"It's been a work in progress," added Head Coach Todd Nelson. "There wasn't a lot of chemistry early on, but now they're starting to get going. That's a great sign and if we get that line going, it's not only a good thing for us, but it also takes a bit of pressure off (Mark) Arcobello's line. They've been playing very well."
Green, still gushing from his three-point outing, kidded that he needs to stay out of the way while his linemates' skill takes over, as it did in setting him up in this evening's contest. No. 16, however, sees a heck of a lot of value in the veteran's skill-set when it comes to complementing his own speedy style.
"He goes to the dirty areas, he's all over the ice and he wins puck battles all over the ice, too," he said. "It's really great to have a player like that on my line. I'm trying to skate as much as I can, create as much I can and open up some space. So far it's working out pretty well."
Coming into Saturday's contest against Grand Rapids, Oklahoma City had an incredible 26-1-6 record when scoring at least one power-play goal. The home side bumped it up another notch, recording their 60th point of the season when doing so with a pivotal man advantage marker late in the second period.
With Chris Conner off serving a tripping minor, combined with Garnet Exelby's subsequent unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Barons were granted a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage with only 2:28 to play. It took them only 39 seconds to score, as Philippe Cornet tipped home Bryan Rodney's one-time blast at the doorstep. Rodney, who was acquired in a trade to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Ryan O'Marra on Feb. 16, recorded three assists.
It was the goal that silenced Grand Rapids' attack once and for all.
"It was a big goal. It was good to capitalize on that one," Nelson said.
"We had the lead, but making it bigger was really good," said Paajarvi, who's now collected 22 points in 26 games with the Barons. "I think we started off really well, we played really well. We dumped the puck where we needed to and we really kept them off their attack and transitions, and that was the main key.
"We did that from the start and that's why we won."
Yann Danis made his second start in as many nights, posting 31 saves to collect his 24th victory of the season. The 30-year-old came up huge in the second's waning moments, turning aside Jamie Johnson with a wicked point-blank opportunity (and own rebound) in the slot. Grand Rapids recorded 25 shots through two periods, adding eight in the final frame, all of which were stopped.
"I thought Yann played well again and we got some goal support for him, which was good," said the bench boss. "All in all, it was a good team effort."
With the win, OKC's record improves to 41-17-9 for 91 points. 41 wins surpasses last year's mark of 40 with nine games still to be played. The Barons remain in top spot in the AHL's Western Conference with an eight-point lead over the Toronto Marlies.
Tyler Pitlick didn't get on the scoresheet tonight, but the rookie played an exceptional game. He used his 6'2", 195-pound frame to drive to the slot, put pucks on net and follow up on his rebounds, all the while creating havoc down low and in the corners. Nelson, who's seen a surge in the youngster's game of late, was quite impressed.
"He played a good game tonight. He was getting frustrated at times because he had some real good opportunities to score and he didn't. But I'm not concerned with that. If he doesn't get chances, then I'll be concerned with it. Right now he's generating chances and those ones are going to go in for him soon. He's a young guy, he's got to learn from it and stick with it. Eventually, when you have that many chances, the goals are going to start to happen."