The Houston Aeros defeated the Rockford IceHogs 4-1 yesterday by using something they've rarely used this season. A scoring touch. And the scoring touch allowed goalie Wade Dubielewicz to relax a bit, which is something that the Houston goalies haven't been able to do often.
After Friday's 2-1 loss to the Peoria Rivermen, goalie Anton Khudobin expressed a desire to see his teammates do as instructed by the coaches -- shoot the puck, shoot the puck, shoot the puck, and keep shooting the puck. Khudobin's desire for the team to shoot came about because he's a bit tired of having every slight mistake of his amplified by a team that is unable to score.
"It's kind of...it's hard when we score just one goal," Khudobin said after that loss. "On the power play we have to shoot more. Shoot, shoot, and shoot all the time. Because for a goalie it's really hard, we have to...actually the coach is saying we have to have a guy in front of the goal, but [the other goalie] doesn't have [that]. Never. Lots of screens, that's what we need."
The Aeros' lone goal on Friday night actually came by way of a power play, but even then, the team needed the five-three advantage to get a shot in, and the team's power play (and scoring problems) are further amplified by the team seeming to always be on a power play. But maybe the power-play problem is being solved as the Aeros also scored on a power play yesterday, giving them two power-play goals in two games.
Head coach Kevin Constantine agrees with Khudobin regarding the power play. "The other difference [Friday night], if you ask me," he said, "we needed to get more out of our power plays. It took us a five-on-three to score."
Watching the power play, one understands the frustrations of Constantine and Khudobin as the power play often seems to consist of the Aeros passing the puck to one another again, and again, and again, until there is about one second left on the penalty and the Aeros take a bad shot. And with the team's problem on the power play, you can't help but wonder if the opposition coaches are directing their players to take a penalty and go to the box.
It would be one thing if the effort wasn't there on the power play, or on offense as a whole, but despite what other problems this Aeros squad might have, effort and hustle aren't among them. But it appears, especially when the team's playing at home, that they're trying too hard to score. That maybe they're trying too hard to get the perfect shot.
And this was something that Constantine echoed after Friday's game, and which Khudobin also mentioned. The team's play at home is also a problem. They're trying too hard, and they're losing. And losing at home is a problem for a squad that has excelled at the Toyota Center in years past.
"We're working hard to try to do what we can to win games at home," Constantine said. The difference, according to Constantine is that the team plays a simpler game when they're on the road. The guys don't try to get fancy. They don't try to be perfect. They just attack the net and swarm the goalie.
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The Aeros have one of the AHL's worst home records -- their 7-7-1 home record is better than only San Antonio, Lake Erie, and Norfolk. And as Constantine noted, by New Year's, the team will have played over half of their home games already, and this could hurt the team in the playoff chase as Constantine says it is hard for a team to consistently gain ground on the teams in front when they're having to win games on the road.
And at 13-12-2-1 (29 points) and sitting in fifth place, the Aeros are going to have to find a way to gain some ground on the teams in front.
The Aeros next play on Tuesday night, when they take on the division's first-place team, the Texas Stars, in Austin -- so if they follow the script, they should win. But their next five games are at home, starting on Wednesday night when they play the San Antonio Rampage.
They then play the Stars on Friday, and on Sunday afternoon they'll go against the Grand Rapids Griffins. They'll finish out 2009 with games against San Antonio on December 26 and the Syracuse Crunch on December 28.