When last we heard from the Houston Aeros, they were a beat-up, short-handed squad struggling to score goals, win games, and send a complete roster of skaters onto the ice.
Things change in a week.
The Aeros spent the Thanksgiving holiday flitting about between Canada and New York, and despite the numerous border crossings, bus rides, and plane trips, the Aeros were able to squeak out two wins in three games while earning five out of a possible six points on the road trip.
And while the Aeros suffered some more injuries on the trip -- including an injury to defenseman Max Noreau in the first game of the trip that appeared to be serious enough to make him miss the rest of the games, but which ended up being not as serious as thought -- they still found a way to prosper.
The Aeros started things the right way by defeating the Hamilton Bulldogs last Wednesday night in the only way the Aeros know how to win a game, 1-0. Anton Khudobin, as has become his wont, was stellar between the pipes. He made 26 saves which was a must as, for the 14th time this season, the Aeros were held to less than three goals.
But when the play of the goalie is stellar, a team doesn't need to score many goals.
Which is probably why the Aeros lost to the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night.
It wasn't a bad night for Khudobin as he allowed only three goals. The bad news was that the Aeros needed him to keep the Crunch to the same total of goals as he kept Hamilton as the Aeros were only able to score three goals. Khudobin kept the game scoreless in overtime, but was beat in the shootout as the Crunch got the 4-3 win.
Playing the next afternoon in Toronto, Khudobin's backup, Wade Dubielewicz got the start, and he earned the win as the Aeros defeated the Marlies 2-1 in overtime. This had to be a bit of a bittersweet win for Dubielewicz. He got the win, but he had gone from, before the start of season, to competing for the backup job in Minnesota to being the backup to the guy, Khudobin, who was supposed to be playing in the lower level ECHL. And when he has played for the Aeros this year, he has been hit with bad luck -- in one game, the puck hit high off of the glass behind the net, bounced back toward the net, hit him in the back, and went into the net for a goal.
"He gave up a goal, but he was really solid," Aeros coach Kevin Constantine told The Third Intermission blog about Dubielewicz's win. "That is what we needed. He has played really well this year, but we just have not been able to get a win for him. So I am sure just getting a win feels great for him personally."
So thanks to Khudobin and Dubielewicz, the Aeros survived the Thanksgiving road trip, and they survived in grand style.
The team sits in second place of the West Division with a record of 12-10-1-1 (26 points). And they were even able to gain some ground on the first place Texas Stars.
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Even better, despite the possible injury to Noreau, the Aeros got healthier as the Wild have now returned most of the players they borrowed from the team over the past several weeks (Danny Irmen, Nathan Smith, and Robbie Earl are back with the team). And they return home for a December schedule that sees them playing eight of 12 games inside the friendly confines of Toyota Center.
That December schedule starts today as the Aeros take on their cross-state rivals, the San Antonio Rampage, in an 11:05 matinee match-up. The Rampage, which earlier in the season looked to be one of the top teams in the division, are now a team in turmoil that has seen one NHL club, the Anaheim Ducks, end their affiliation with the Rampage and pull their players out of San Antonio, has seen the firing of their coach, and has seen the club go 1-8-0-1 in their last 10 games while sinking to the bottom of the standings.
And it gets better as the Aeros will be facing the Rampage a total of four times this month.
Of course, this is the Houston Aeros, and the Houston Aeros don't do things the easy way, like beating the teams their supposed to easily defeat. There's bound to be an injury or two or three, and the Minnesota Wild are duty bound to take several of the Aeros players just as they start to get hot. But then again, that's life in the American Hockey League.