Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

AHL Western Conference Power Rankings

From now until the end of the season, I will post a weekly power rankings column here at The Third Intermission. I only wish I had time to do both conferences, but since I will not see the East virtually at all this season, I will only do this for our Western Conference friends.

The goal is to update this every Monday before games are played that day. Now that we are through the All Star break (speaking of which, Hackett just got beat 5-hole again) I think this is a great time to start. 

I have ranked the teams this week based on their overall performance, of course, but I do favor recent success quite a bit here. For each week going forward, we'll take a look at the past week and any major transactions that may have affected the teams. 

Enjoy. 


  2011-12 AHL Western Conference Power Rankings
                              January 31, 2012 edition
Rank
Team
Record
Streak
Last
Move
For the record …
1
OKC *
29-11-2-3
6-0-0-0
N/A
N/A
Best team in the AHL
2
CHA*
26-16-2-2
0-1-0-0
N/A
N/A
Top home record in West
3
TOR *
23-17-3-2
0-2-0-0
N/A
N/A
Plus-13 goal differential
4
SAT
24-18-2-0
7-0-0-0
N/A
N/A
Never won 8 straight
5
CHI
24-16-1-3
3-0-0-0
N/A
N/A
0-for-3 in shootouts
6
ABB
25-16-3-0
0-2-0-0
N/A
N/A
17-7 road record is killer
7
HOU
21-11-3-9
0-3-1-2
N/A
N/A
11 game trip looms
8
PEO
22-20-2-1
0-1-0-0
N/A
N/A
Think Jeckyll and Hyde
9
RFD
20-21-1-4
6-0-0-1
N/A
N/A
Just traded top d-man
10
MKE
22-18-1-1
0-4-0-0
N/A
N/A
2-11 on road since 11/26
11
RCH
19-17-5-3
1-0-0-0
N/A
N/A
9-3-0-1 since Dec. 31
12
GRR
18-17-4-4
1-0-0-0
N/A
N/A
Rookie Nyquist is a beast
13
TEX
20-20-1-2
0-2-0-0
N/A
N/A
Just 9-14-0-2 vs. West
14
HAM
19-19-1-4
0-1-0-0
N/A
N/A
Absolutely no scoring
15
LEM
20-22-2-1
1-0-0-0
N/A
N/A
See above
                 * Division Leaders (and I changed CLT to CHA to appease MsConduct)

So what do you think? What do you agree with? Better yet, what don't you agree with?

If The Playoffs Started Now

With the All-Star Game over, and being past the halfway mark of the season, I thought I would give you an idea of how the Western Conference playoff seedings would look, as of now.  It needs to be remembered that the first three seeds will consist of the division winners, then the final five spots will go to the teams with the most points.  So...

1.  Oklahoma City
2.  Charlotte
3.  Toronto
4.  Houston
5.  Abbotsford
6.  Chicago
7.  San Antonio
8.  Peoria

The first round matchups would be:

Oklahoma City versus Peoria
Charlotte versus San Antonio
Toronto versus Chicago
Houston versus Abbotsford

So that's where we stand as we come out of the break.  The West Division is, as always, pretty tight, and four of the division's five teams would make the playoffs under this format.  And with the Aeros about to go on the road for a month, this is all subject to change.

Oh, Hackett!

Our friend Matt Hackett probably didn't have to buy any drinks last night. The Sophomore goalie gave up six first-period goals in the West's comeback win over the East last night in Atlantic City.

Hack probably had flashbacks of his last start in OKC, but that wasn't a zero defense All-star game.

Jon DiSalvatore assisted on a third period goal, and two of the three former Aeros that played in the game (Krys Kolanos, Ryan Hamilton and Corey Locke) also had points.

The game went to a shootout, where Ben Bishop stole the show.he stopped all four breakaways by the East.

I think the game and skills competition will be on the NHL Network later today, so be sure to watch the first period for sure.

Congrats to the Houston All-stars and safe travels back to Texas.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Off To Atlantic City

Matt Hackett wants you to read about heading off to the All-Star Game

If you've got the chance, John's got a new story in the Press today about Jon DiSalvatore and Matt Hackett heading off to the AHL All-Star Game after Saturday's game in San Antonio.  It's the first AHL All-Star Game for both.

And for those of you on twitter, go welcome Jon DiSalvatore who has recently joined the crowded field of Aeros, including Matt Hackett, who is reveling in the fun that is twitter, though, it must be admitted, nobody quite yet stacks up to Matt Kassian.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Call-ups (in MIN and HOU) provide spark

So many times we refer to Russo's blog because his information is timely and accurate 99.999 percent of the time.

But as it turns out, he writes actual articles, too. Here is a nice piece about how the Aeros call-ups sparked the Wild to a pair of much-needed wins before the All-star break.

Also, even though the Aeros lost three straight games last weekend, they got points in all three. "Call-ups" or PTO guys chipped in quite a bit, too. Here is a summary:

In Friday's loss to San Antonio: 

Radja, 0+0=0; -1, 1 shot
McKenzie, 0+0=0; -1, 1 shot
Martin, 1+0=1; Even, 1 shot
Stretch, 0+1=1; +1, 1 shot
---------------------------------------------------
Totals, 1+1=2, -1, 4 shots


In Saturday's loss at Texas: 

Radja, 2+0=2; +2, 3 shots
McKenzie, 0+0=0; +1, 1 shot
Martin,  0+0=0; Even, 0 shots
Stretch,  0+0=0 ; Even, 1 shot
Clackson, 0+1=1; +1, 2 shots
---------------------------------------------------
Totals, 2+1=3, +4, 7 shots
(The Aeros were outshot 49-25 in this game!)

And in Sunday's loss to San Antonio


Radja, 0+1=1; +1, 0 shots
McKenzie, 0+0=0; Even, 1 shot
Martin,  0+0=0; -1, 1 shot
Stretch,  0+0=0 ; Even, 1 shot
Clackson, 0+0=0; +1, 1 shots
---------------------------------------------------
Totals, 0+1=1, +1, 4 shots


==========================================
Weekend Totals - 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points; +4, 10 shots
And the most important stat - ZERO Penalty Minutes






Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Temp Returns

The word out of St. Paul, courtesy of Wild best reporter Michael Russo, is that the Wild are reassigning Matt Kassian, Chad Rau, and Jed Ortmeyer to the Aeros. This looks to be a temporary reassignment only as the Wild are currently on the All Star break and the Aeros have two tough games this weekend.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Aeros Lose In The Shootout Again (Yes, I Know, Shocking)

When I was a kid there was this cartoon called The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show which was a Flintstone's spin-off centered on the teenage kids of Fred and Barney.  One of the characters on the show was this kid called Schleprock, who literally walked around with a black cloud hanging over his head.

I bring this up because I'm convinced there's a black cloud of bad luck hanging over Toyota Center whenever the Aeros are playing there.  Like tonight where, once again, the Aeros lost a game in the shootout.  The Aeros have won just one game in the shootout this season, and that win came on the road, in Peoria.  This time, the Aeros lost 4-3 in the shootout, but unlike in games past, the Aeros actually were able to make shots in the shootout -- Casey Wellman and Kris Foucault were able to hit their shots -- but the San Antonio Rampage were able make three, including one that went through the net and was originally called a no-goal but, after consultation, was changed to a goal.

John Torchetti wasn't too sure about the call however, and after the game, he stormed out of the locker room to the ice, where he had them bring him the net for his own personal inspection.  He then had a nice, calm chat with the officiating crew -- way, way, way more calmer than the little discussion that Lane Lambert had with them after Game Five last season.

So of course we asked him about that goal, and about losing again in the shootout.

"You know what, it’s over," he said.  "That’s it.  I can see a puck going through the net on a point shot, but on a shoot-out, there’s no velocity?  It’s hard to do.  I can see if [the netting's] loose, but I just wedged it to get through a puck.  But whatever, it’s a point."

[For what it's worth, when we asked him, Matt Hackett said it was a goal, and the TV replays we were able to see off of the San Antonio TV replay monitors also seemed to indicate that it was a goal.]

The shootout wouldn't have mattered if the Aeros would have been able to hold on to their 3-1 second period lead.  But they couldn't.  There were multiple special teams breakdowns, and for a while, it seemed as if the Aeros were just content to let Casey Wellman do all of the offensive damage -- and welcome back Mr. Wellman.

And thus ended another three-in-three weekend.  The Aeros were unable to get a single win, but they were able to get a point in each game.  All three games went into overtime, and the Aeros were mixing and matching the roster at all times due to the Friday morning Wild call-ups.  And Torchetti offered up praise for the play of some of the newbies.

"Kids that come up, they want to come up," he said.  "[Chris] Clackson’s got a brother that plays in Chicago, so it’s in the bloodlines.  [Mike] McKenzie’s done a great job just working hard and just competing every night, and that’s what the game comes down to."

And as for the return of Wellman, Torchetti once again gushed with praise.

"He just plays hard.  He’s just come down and he’s accepted his role being sent back, and he’s just gone back to where he was.  And that’s kudos to him.  It shows you what kind of character he has as a person."

But in the end, the point is that the Aeros were only able to get a point out of a game where they appeared set to get two points.  It's a game where, once again, they failed to get the win at home.  Maybe this is just their Schleprock season when it comes to playing games at home.  Yet things could be worse.  They're still getting points after all.  Not two points, but one.  And one's better than none.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

This was the seventh straight Aeros game decided by one goal, and the fourth of sixth games to go into overtime.  They are 3-1-1-2 for this seven game stretch.

***************************
Marco Scandella appeared to take a shot off of his knee late in the third period.  He was barely able to make it back to the bench, and immediately went to the locker room from which he did not return.  We asked Torchetti about his status after the game, but it was still too early to know anything.

And for the curious, Cody Almond is suffering from a lower body injury and Jeff Penner is suffering from an upper body injury.

***************************
Yes, this game was on television.  San Antonio television, so it was probably available on one of the various Fox Sports Southwest channels.  No, I don't know why it wasn't being televised here, and no, I don't know why Aeros games seem to have vanished from that thing known as a television.  The only games that make it on TV are those when they play San Antonio, and that means getting the San Antonio call of the game.

Rau scores first NHL goal, and then it hits me

I know how frustrating it can be to watch player after player called up to the Minnesota Wild. As a fan, it must be maddening. Surely, you can expect a few guys here or there to get the call as, after all, the Aeros exist for the sole purpose of keeping the Wild stocked with players in case they are needed.

But when seven of the team's best players are up, and the hometown team in Houston just keeps sputtering along with overtime losses and no real flow to their game or season ... that must test the patience of even the most well, patient, hardcore Aeros fan.

Rau, second from left, is all smiles after first NHL goal
As a sportswriter, and one that gets paid to tell game stories to those kind enough to read my articles in the Houston Chronicle, this has been a very tough season. The team is different week to week, they are lousy at home (7-14 after Friday's OT loss to San Antonio) and I don't travel to the away games, where the Aeros are one of the best teams in the AHL.

I would be lying if I said that I don't hope the Aeros win when I cover the games. When you follow a team for 17 years, and you've seen just about every home game for the last 12, you kind of get attached to the home white sweaters. To be sure, I don't allow that to get in the way of how I cover the team, but any sportswriter will tell you - "It is more fun when the home team wins."

Now to get to the point of this article.

Even with how cluster-effed things have been this season, it sure was nice to see Chad Rau score his first NHL goal for the Wild last night. His face was priceless (see the video below). His parents were in the stands. He is FROM Minnesota. And here is a guy that, quite frankly, is only in the NHL because the Wild have been adversely affected by this NHL concussion pandemic (intentional hyperbole).

But wow was that fun to watch. On one screen I've got the ECHL Aeros blowing a 2-0 lead and on the other I am watch the AHL Wild score three goals in 59 seconds to set a new team record.

At that point it hit me. The Aeros last night played with no fewer than five (and probably six) players that should be in the ECHL right now. Their record after the shootout loss last night? 21-9-3-8. The Aeros have points in 32 of their 41 games. They are the LAST team in the AHL with single digits in the "L" column. 

They played with 17 skaters and two goalie on Friday (one fewer than normal) because John Torchetti wants "the players" he knows in the lineup battling for the team. And you know what? They respond. They played their asses off, and even when they should be blown out in back to back games, their goaltending steps up and they score just enough timely goals to get points when they deserve none.

At this point, I don't care about the slow starts and the maddening number of games where they only play 30 or 40 minutes instead of 60. Just consider what this team has been through this season, and tell me now that you are now proud of how they've responded. Think about it. They have points in 32 of their 41 games, and they have not even been close to a full lineup since before Thanksgiving.

To those that criticize Torchetti for referring to his team as "they" and "them" ... he does not do that 100 percent of the time. You have to realize, too, that you only read quotes from him when the team loses (at home). Remember, they have lost 14 of 21 at home, so of course you are going to hear more negatives than positives.

But he loves his guys. He believes in his team, and he'll keep throwing them out there and testing players that should be in AA until the very end of the year. Torchetti is not Todd McLellan or Dave Tippett or Mike Yeo. They are all different and have vastly different styles. But Torchetti is a damn fine coach and is VERY highly regarded by just about everyone NHL circles.

I truly believe that he, Jon DiSalvatore's leadership and Matt Hackett's absolute disdain for losing has propelled the Aeros to where they are right now. They are the third best team in the AHL, and play in what is right now the toughest division in the league. Darcy Kuemper needs a ton of credit, too, for coming to this circus and staying cool as a cucumber.

No, they're not perfect - far from it! But they are No. 3 in the AHL because of their captain, coach, excellent goaltending and a proven system that, when it's executed, is just about unbeatable.

This season is why there is an AHL. Sadly going to the NHL trumps home wins in the American Hockey League. So far, it's been an absolute success. Just check out the look on Rau's face, and use the comments section below to tell me how you feel about 2011-12.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Extra time thwarts Aeros again, lose 4-3 to Stars in SO

Well, Andrew's unscientific poll on press row last night got put to the test tonight in Cedar Park: If you could choose your goalie for the shootout -- Hackett or Kuemper -- who'd you choose?

I was the only one who chose Hackett, simply because I think the additional year of pro experience he has is more evident in shootouts than in regulation play.

That was somewhat proven out tonight as the Stars scored on 3 of their 5 attempts with Kuemper in net, while the Aeros scored twice for the loss.

That said, in regular game play, I'd take Kuemper all day long right now. I feel like Hackett hasn't been quite as sharp and focused in his starts since his stint in Minnesota.

And to my point, Kuemper stopped 46 of 49 shots tonight. Woof. That's a lotta shots, folks. And it's concerning that many are getting through, but not having seen the game myself, it's tough to judge. All I know is the Aeros were massively out shot, 25-49, so.... it'd be nice to see that number go down.

Still, on the bright side, new guy Mike Radja scored twice, his first two goals as an Aero. And other even newer guy, Chris Clackson, had the first helper on his second goal. Clackson's been in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators and tonight was his first outing with the Aeros.

Also, Taffe had two assists in what was his 500th AHL game.

The only other sorta weird thing is that Kuemper got 2 delay of game penalties and the Stars capitalized on both of those. But then he got the second assist on Fontaine's goal late in the second period to pull ahead just after the Stars tied it.

So, I dunno what that was about. If anybody was there and can fill us in down in the comments, that'd be cool.

Meanwhile, if you need me, I'll be celebrating the first Wild win in about 37 games tonight, thanks to a roster full of Aeros who beat up on a hurting Dallas Stars team.

The big news is that Rau scored in his first NHL game and was named first star. You couldn't smack the grin off the guy with a frying pan afterward. It was really fun to see.

See you crazy kids tomorrow. I don't even know who we're playing, to be quite honest. It's just that time of the season where it all runs together. Either way, I'll be there. Hope you will be, too.

Friday, January 20, 2012

17 skaters and two goalies get point against Rampage

I am going to have to keep this short and sweet tonight. For some reason Google does not get along with Apple, and the iPad and Blogger, therefore, do not work all that well together. You can't separate text. It's like there is no return key. But I digress ... Look at that box over there to your right. See how many Aeros are not with the team right now. And that list does not even include Cody Almond, who is still hurt. The Rampage got the extra point for the OT win tonght, but the Aeros should be lauded for getting the game to overtime after being really outplayed in the first, third and overtime periods. That is what happens when you are a forward short of a full lineup. Torchetti did say they'd sign someone for the rest of the weekend, but that it was his call to "play the guys he knows" Friday. I am not surprised they lost, but I am surprised they got a point. They were outgunned against a very nice (and reloaded) Rampage team. If they can get one more point this weekend, they'll be on their way to surviving this most recent wave of Wild terror. But hey, this is the minors and this is WHY the Aeros exist. You don't have to be happy with the losses (Aeros now 7-14 at home) ... but be happy with all this experience they're getting. The Aeros should be real fun to watch come playoff time.

The Wild's Wild Transaction Train Continues

Just in from St. Paul...next to board the Wild's Wild Transaction Train are Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Chad Rau, and Nate Prosser.  Returning to Houston on the Wild's Wild Transaction Train are Casey Wellman and David McIntyre. 

Frankly, from the way the Wild have been playing, I wouldn't be too surprised if the Wild just send all of their NHLers to Houston and call up the entire Aeros squad.  It's not like the AHL guys could do any worse in the NHL at the moment, right?

What's this mean for the Aeros, well, who needs consistency or chemistry?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weekend wrap-up

A few notes from the weekend:

Colton Gillies was put on waivers by the Wild on Friday and, instead of clearing and coming to Houston to find his game again, the Columbus Blue Jackets snatched him from jaws of the AHL. Gillies isn't without his issues as a player, but he's a mere 22 years old and has plenty of time to mature into a game that works well at the pro level.

He's the sweetest, most "heart on his sleeve" guy I've had the pleasure of covering and is so passionate about the game. I was surprised how sad I was when he got picked up, but it's also sort of a relief. He was drafted too high for his skill level, which isn't his fault, but perhaps expectations get "right sized" with his new organization. Go to the net, kiddo, and grow some patience. You'll be fine.

On the Aeros front, they went 3 for 4 on the road and spent a few hours in a three way tie with OKC and Abbotsford for first place last night. But the other two teams played today and OKC won. And Abby plays again Monday so by 10 p.m. tomorrow, the Aeros could be back in third place.

Amazing to watch the battle for the conference lead take place in the same division like this one is doing.

The boys split the weekend in Peoria, winning Friday night pretty decisively, besting the Rivermen in shots through all three periods. Peoria scored in the first, but Aeros answered with two of their own before the period ended, and the score held for the rest of the game.

Scoring came from Fontaine, via DiSalvatore and Penner (power play goal) and Broda.  New guy, Radja, got the first assist, his first point as an Aero, and the third star of the game. Pretty nice start. Kassian got the second assist on the game winner.



Saturday night was a different story. For Peoria, it was the third game in three days, so they had no business coming out and putting up 16 shots to Houston's 8. The Aeros finally showed up in the third, but already down 2-0, their 15 shots to Peoria's 4 weren't enough to get more than 1 goal past Big Ben Bishop.



But all in all, a solid result for most any team for a road trip.

What's notable, too, were the scratches from those games. Cuma was scratched Wednesday in Grand Rapids, and Almond and Genoway were scratched in both Peoria games. Cuma, guessing by his tweets and, IIRC, what Joe said on the radio, was a healthy scratch.

Given that Almond and Genoway were scratched two nights in a row, I'm assuming they've got injuries. And perhaps that explains the Radja signing.

Anyway, I'll have more later, but here are a couple of pictures from Saturday's game courtesy of Chris "Make it Rain" Jerina.

Ortmeyer beats Bishop

Nesbitt's shot gets through Kuemper

As of this writing, Hackett is still with the big club and missing out on the rookie party downtown tonight. Here's hoping the youngsters survive with a few shreds of dignity or at least some fiendish plans for next year's kids. See you Friday!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Searching for Clues and Consistency

I wasn't expecting this to go live until tomorrow, but...

The latest in the mothership is a little look back at the season so for, one in which they currently seem to be searching for clues and consistency.  And as I note at the end of the post, after being negative and dogging the team, it seems strange to note that they still have one of the best records in the league.

So go give it a read.

#RoadWarriors win it 3-2 (SO)

It's almost maddening how the Aeros manage to pulls wins out of their asses on the road but just can't seem to do it at home.

Not only did the Aeros pull out of a 1 goal deficit three times Wednesday night, but they finally won a shootout after 8 failed attempts. Or was it 7? Way too many.

The Griffins dominated the first two periods, putting up 14 shots to Houston's 4 in the first and scoring right as I was pulling into the parking lot of my dry cleaner.

The Aeros fended them off in the second in spite of a 15-6 shot count.

And then in the second intermission, the road Aeros showed up, kicked these guys out of the locker room, and came out for the third period to put up 15 shots and hold Grand Rapids to 6.

Amazing how, when you have actual shots on goal that you also get actual pucks in the net! And indeed, DiSalvatore tied the game early in the third, where it would stay until Grand Rapids pulled ahead with 4 minutes left in the game.

But the Griffins got a call for boarding and after some hard work around the net, Ortmeyer scored with 2 minutes left in the game to tie it.

Overtime was scoreless, so it went to the shootout, a.k.a. the land where Aeros games go to die.

But this time, the Aeros scored twice (Foucault and DiSalvatore) and, after allowing the first shot, Kuemper stopped the remainder for the win.

Kuemper ultimately stopped 39 shots (including the 4 shootout shots, which as a fellow goalie, I'm declaring the right to include in his save count) and was #1 star of the game. Huge win for Walking Sunshine.

This was a huge win for the whole team, actually. Not just for the points, but for proving to themselves that they still have that resilience and honeybadgerness somewhere in there. And, because the Stars beat Abbotsford, it also means the Aeros move back into second place, just one point behind OKC.

Dear Aeros,

Please don't ever come home.

Sincerely,
Your Loyal Fans and Beat Writers

Up next: Peoria on Friday and Saturday.
Bonus: Chris Jerina will be at one of those games so we'll actually have some photos for you sometime after that. Yay fun!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hackett Called Up

UPDATE THE FURTHER (5:15):  Now Michael Russo is reporting that Hackett is on his way to Chicago, via airline, to join the Wild in case Harding is not available tomorrow.  I'm assuming this means Kuemper gets the start tonight.

UPDATE:  Joe O'Donnell says Hackett is starting tonight, and Michael Russo is writing that Harding is ill, won't travel with the team tonight, but could possibly join the Wild tomorrow, so maybe Hackett's not leaving after all.

ORGINAL:  Josh Harding is ill, so Matt Hackett is on his way to the Wild.  No word on what the Aeros will do for a back-up for Darcy Kuemper tonight -- good news is that they're up in hockey territory so hopefully they can find someone under the age of 50.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Wild recalls McIntyre, assigns Scandella

The Wild announced today that they've recalled Dave McIntyre and send Marco Scandella down to the Aeros. McIntyre was instrumental in the Sunday win over San Antonio, and it is more of a numbers game than anything for Scandella, who will see his first AHL time of the year Wednesday in Grand Rapids.

After Friday's loss to Rockford, Torchetti said the team was weak and not willing to "get dirty" to score goals. McIntyre led the way Sunday, setting two two Joel Broda goals. The second was an absolute beauty.

The Aeros could really benefit from Scandella running the power play, assuming that he comes down to work and not sulk.

Speaking of the power play ... it scored twice in the Sunday win. According to my good friend Dan Weiss, who does a tremendous job on the play by play for the Rampage, the Aeros are 11x30 on the power play against the Rampage. Against everyone else, they are 19x136.

That is how you beat a team six straight times and earn points in all seven games.

Aeros beat San Antonio 4-3

Remember how 3 days ago we all felt like the Aeros would never score or win a game ever again?

Turns out we were totally wrong! How great is that?!

Sounds like it was a squeaker, but gosh, I'm just happy to see the Aeros put some pucks behind a goalie. Though Dov Grumet-Morris is not the most terrifying foe in the cage, they've certainly scored fewer goals on equally talented AHL goaltenders. Take it and run.

As for the Aeros side, I was surprised they started Hackett again, but I probably shouldn't have been. He's a terrific "bounce back" goalie and maybe that's what they needed yesterday.

And indeed, he was terrific, stopping 33 shots, including 14 in the third, a period during which there wasn't a single penalty called. Refs must have been Broncos or Steelers fans?

Joel Broda scored twice, including the game winner, while Foucault and DiSalvatore potted a couple of power play goals (I know, right!?! Power play goals!!)

San Antonio has a couple of beasts in Barlow and Rallo though. Barlow had 2 goals and an assist while Rallo had 3 assists. Their offense just hangs off those guys.

If you missed Torchetti talking to Joe pre-game, it was interesting. He lit into the guys for playing soft because they don't want to get hurt and miss a call-up chance. As the frail human and wiener that I am, I get that mentality, but I do not get it from these guys. Especially the veterans, and if those guys can't get it together, there isn't much hope for this team.

Back to Torch, he said, from the veterans to the goaltender to everybody else, he said he couldn't find anything good about anything they did in the two prior games. Woosh.

The funny thing to me is that he said it actually bothers him less that the WHOLE team is stinking, rather than if it's just 4-5 guys who aren't on the same page. He knows if it's the whole team, they'll eventually pull themselves back up again as a group.

So, we'll see. They're back at it in Grand Rapids on Wednesday night, traveling tomorrow.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Two things for this drizzly Sunday

First, my Backhand Shelf piece this week is all about throwing love (and my bra) at athletic trainers. Check it out right here.

Our own Jody Green was generous enough to meet with me and give me some insight into his line of work, so there's a bit of an Aeros angle to it and some great stuff from him, in addition to my usual nonsense. (You can follow him on Twitter, BTW, at @JAGtheATC. Good follow.)

Second, Forecheck's comment the other day of (I'm paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to look it up), "Where have our honey badgers gone?" is ringing in my head. Apparently Torchetti has some good stuff on this issue in Joe's pre-game radio show starting at 3:20.

It's a particularly gruesome time if you're both an Aeros and a Wild fan. You folks who diversify your emotional hockey investments are waaaaay better off right now, lemme tell ya.

But I thought this might cheer me up and remind the boys what it's all about.



Honey badger don't give a shit. It just takes what it wants.

Friday, January 6, 2012

View from the Pressbox - Aeros lose to AHL's worst

First, let's get one thing straight. I am not a hockey expert. I could write a book on the history of the Aeros, and I can tell you one hell of a game story. But outside of stats and stories, I'd be fairly worthless as a scout or a coach.

But I can tell when I am watching a team that has a few broken parts, and right now, the Aeros are a bit tattered and bruised. And my God, their record really masks the big picture.

This team, in its current state, is not capable of making a long run this Spring. Their special teams are weak, and they can't win at home. Last two games at Toyota Center? They have been outscored 10-1 in front of more than 17,000 fans.

That does not bring people back to the games.

The Aeros were outworked last Sunday. Simple as that. Friday night, they were outworked and they played dumb hockey. Torchetti first complimented the IceHogs on a very good game. And he was right, the last-place IceHogs - the worst team in the AHL - played a wonderful hockey game. Then he got down to business.

Listen.

"We've got to get tougher mentally ... We're not mentally tough yet. "When you are asked to push, you have to find another level to your game. We're not finding it, and all the other teams are passing us right now."

Teams are passing them in in stats, they are passing them in how they've progressed since Day 1, and they are passing them on the ice and in the standings.

I know, I know ... they are still third in the division and it looks like they won't lose any ground in the division tonight. But they are not as good as their record right now, and anyone that really follows the team knows this.

Part of that is because of all of the call-ups, yes. But at least four times since Thanksgiving, Torchetti has called out the team for not being tough, and he did it again Friday. He even called out his veterans. He didn't say names, but Taffe, DiSalvatore, Ortmeyer were all below average Friday.

Here is some more from Torchetti.

"Right now, we are making mistakes when we don't need to ... our veterans have got to play better.

"And you are not going to win many games when you go six periods, and you've only got one goal. Sooner or later, our team is going to have to understand that we are not a goal-scoring team.

"You have to work harder, and you are going to have to get some more nicks and cuts and take a look in the mirror. That is the bottom line; we're just not working."

Torchetti said that kind of passiveness led to the IceHogs first goal. I didn't see who did it, and he didn't say, but instead of taking a hit and getting the puck out, a player took the easy way out and dumped it in. Moments later, the IceHogs had their first goal after Hackett allowed one of two softies Friday.

The Aeros had a closed-door meeting after the game tonight to care care of what Torchetti called a "film session." I can't go into particulars, but if you want to see if it made a difference, be sure to make your way over to San Antonio Sunday. That game will be telling either way.

The Aeros are a good team with a well-above average record, and there is still plenty of time to turn things around at home. Let's hope they grow a little more in the next six weeks or so.

Game Day Preview - Aeros vs. Rockford

Tonight is the first of six four games against Rockford this season. On paper, the Aeros have the upper hand; Rockford is the league's worst team in terms of points, penalty kill and goaltending. What they do have, though, is a decent power play, and if there is one area in that the Aeros are weak, it's special teams.

Miss these great photos from Mr. Fred? Yeah, me too. 
The IceHogs have just three wins (two in regulation) since Thanksgiving, and they have allowed at least three goals a whopping 10 times during that span. That. Is. Crazy. Their leading scorer is Brandon Pirri; he has 32 points this season (14 goals, 18 assists), and he just keeps getting better. Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes are both on recall to NHL Chicago, and I don't think will be send down for the game tonight. Another dent? Two of the IceHogs top five scorers (Brett MacLean and Brandon Segal) are both minus-11.

As I mentioned before, the IceHogs' penalty kill is dead last in the NHL at 75.7 percent, and they have allowed at least 35 goals in every regulation period. By contrast, the Aeros have allowed more than 35 goals in just one period (36 in the second).

But ... they don't play games on paper, do they? The IceHogs start a nice long road trip tonight; they'll be in Texas Saturday and Sunday and looking to get things off on the right foot tonight. They have lost five straight overall, and are due for some points. They are 2-3 in shootouts compared to the Aeros AHL-worst mark of 0-7.

Good news for Aeros fans? The Aeros have had four-plus days to think about that embarrassing performance from last Sunday. And they've got five points in the three games following their last three shutouts again. Rockford does seem to give the Aeros their share of problems, as they are just 13-11-2-2 all time against them.

The Aeros are fourth in the AHL in attendance at 6,689 per game, so off-the-ice, the Aeros have done really well at home.

In closing, it's worth noting that the Aeros got Kassian and Prosser back from Minnesota. But three key players still remain on recall in the NHL. Warren Peters, Jarod Pamer and Casey Wellman are up, and don't expect them back any time soon. Palmer will likely get re-assigned when he is healthy, but it will take some time to work back into game shape after than upper-body injury.

My useless prediction says 4-2 Aeros tonight with an empty-netter late. The Aeros have to rebound from last Sunday. They've done it three times before now, and I think they get it done again before hitting the road to San Antonio Sunday.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

All Star Aeros

The AHL All-Star Game rosters have been named, and Jon DiSalvatore and Matt Hackett will be representing the Aeros for the game to be played in Atlantic City on January 30.

Starting tomorrow, fans will have the chance to vote on the starting lineups for the game.  And you can do that by visiting theahl.com and completing the ballot. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kuemper wins AHL award / Wild getting healthier / Looking ahead in January

Congrats are in order for Aeros rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper, who today was named the AHL's rookie of the month. I really hate to point this out, but it's a really good thing that Sunday was Jan. 1. Those six goals allowed  would not have helped much, but as Heather noted in the post from the game, he was not to blame for that whitewashing.
DK will get another something like this on Friday. 

The Aeros have two games this weekend, and barring the unforeseen, they could get up to two players back in time for their first game against Rockford. Casey Wellman, Devin Setoguchi and Clayton Stoner are back and skating with the wild. I think Kassian will be returned before Friday, and maybe, just maybe, Warren Peters. Jarod Palmer remains out with an upper body injury, so don't look for him anytime soon.

Latendresse won't play for awhile, so you can expect Wellman to remain in the Twin Cities for the long term.

Here is the release from the AHL/Aeros on Kuemper. You have to think Torchetti will roll with Hackett on Friday; but you never know ... Friday would be a real good chance to see how the rookie rebounds from a bad loss.

Looking ahead a bit more, the Aeros do have a normal, yet road-heavy schedule from now until the end of the month. Seven of their next ten games are on the road, but as we all are painfully aware, they are much better away from their own building.

And I don't know how many of you realize this, but the Aeros are not very good against teams not named Texas, San Antonio, Charlotte and Lake Erie. This factoid got cut from my Chronicle story on Sunday, but the Aeros are 14-1-3-1 against those four teams. Everyone else in the league is 11-6 against the Aeros.

The good news? The Aeros play San Antonio (4) and Texas (1) five times in January. They also see Grand Rapids and Rockford, who both have really struggled at times this year.

Three of their next ten games are against Peoria (two above .500) and OKC (own the Aeros this year). If they can get three points out of those games, the Aeros should/could/would finish the month as one of the four best teams in the AHL.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Aeros lose 47-0 to OKC

It was the sort of game that lends itself to hyperbole, so here are the things I know to be gospel:
  • The Aeros are never scoring ever again. 
  • OMG THE BURNING MAKE IT STOP.
  • AHL refs are the worst ever.
Okay, so really, what I saw was an excellent first period with both teams playing their cans off, the Aeros playing smart, crisp hockey.

The in the second, I saw a turnover just inside the neutral zone that led to a very quick breakaway, a goal for OKC, and the Aeros looking rattled. And then those yips turning into penalties.

And more penalties. And more penalties. In front of 10,715 people.

So, they lose 6-0. It's Yann Danis' second shutout this season against the Aeros and he wasn't tested too badly except for a handful of times. The Barons were clicking so thoroughly on offense, they couldn't even find a game star for the shutout-pitching goalie. 

And when a team's offense is clicking and they get 153 power play chances like the Aeros gave them tonight (okay, 7) and turnovers and open back doors, boy, you're lucky to get out of that one healthy (and I'm told that at least they managed to do that).

One thing I want to be clear about, as the patron saint of baby goalies, is don't be laying this loss at Kuemper's doorstep. He was hung out to dry more times than I can count and had some big saves to keep it from being even worse than it was.

You can certainly ask a young goalie to  make every save a big one, but you're probably not going to get it. Also doesn't help that he hasn't played a game in quite some time. That's tough for a kid who hasn't played at this level for long and is still acclimating to the speed.

In the midst of all that ugly, I have to give props to Cody Almond, not only for the decisive victory in his fight at the end of the second period (for some reason I LOVE to watch him fight... he just gets a ridiculous amount of power behind his punches). He also brought noticeable hustle all game and I feel like he's getting back to the player he was under Constantine two seasons ago. 

Anyway, we only talked to coach after the game and Torchetti liked the start but said the effort level, the sacrifice, wasn't there.

"We played one good period and then, I dunno. That's about all I can say: We played one good period," he said after the game. "We didn't really battle for Kuemps; we didn't let him see shots. Special teams was the difference tonight... bottom line, it came down to discipline on the penalties again."

Our conversations with Torchetti tend to go the same way pretty much every game. Have you any new insight as to why you suck at home? Nope. Still don't know.

"Maybe we have to stay downtown in a hotel or something. Our focus at home has got to get better," he said. "The bottom line is, we've got to play harder for our fans... We don't even have a nick on our faces at all. We're not competing at all. We gave away 2 points. They wanted it. They lost to San Antonio the night before and we were probably thinking about ringing in the new year."

Dreadful game that will have a week to simmer as the team is in practice mode until Friday. All I know is that if Darcy Kuemper has to pay for a single one of his drinks tonight, the team has failed him miserably.

Happy New Year

I can't make it to today's game since I'm heading off to Dallas to cover the TicketCity Bowl tomorrow morning between the Houston Cougars and Penn State Nittany Lions for the mothership.  I'm sure that, if you're nice, Heather and/or Andrew will kindly post stories and notes following the game.

That said, I want to wish everybody a Happy New Year, and may 2012 be a better year than 2011.

Here's a little music video to get you going on this day, U2's "Beautiful Day."  While the band's "New Year's Day" has the appropriate title, "Beautiful Day" has the more appropriate tone and lyrics, I believe.