On Sunday, the Houston Aeros went to the dogs, somewhat literally, as the Toyota Center was opened up to allow people to bring their dogs to the game. And while the dogs might have had a good time, it's questionable if the fans did as the Aeros lost their second game in a row and their fourth in five games.
The Aeros won the game against the Peoria Rivermen on Wednesday 1-0 as goalie Anton Khudobin and the Aeros defense shut down one of the better offenses in the AHL. The Aeros offense didn't show up until about midway through the third period on Friday as the Aeros lost 3-2 to the Milwaukee Admirals, and except for the final three seconds of the second period on Sunday, the Aeros offense failed to appear at all as the Aeros lost 2-1 in overtime.
But the Aeros have been a damaged team this past week. Damaged in the sense that injuries in Houston and injuries in Minnesota have kept the Aeros playing with a shortened roster and with little room for error.
"We played every healthy body we have tonight," head coach Kevin Constantine said after Wednesday's game. "Including two natural defensemen at forward between [Jamie] Fraser and [Brandon] Rogers. So it's just kind of all-hands-on-deck."
On Friday night, the Aeros weren't even able to muster enough players for all-hands-on-deck. Danny Irmen and Nathan Smith were called up to Minnesota earlier in the day because of injuries to several of the Wild players. The Aeros were able to fly in a skater, Brandon Buck, from a lower-level minor league team in Florida, and he arrived just in time for warm-ups, but then Clayton Stoner got injured and was unable to play in the game, which meant the Aeros played with 17 skaters instead of 18, and the players were skating extra shifts as a result -- for about half that game the Aeros had to play with 16 men as Peter Zingoni was serving 17 minutes of penalty time.
The frustration is beginning to show with the Aeros. When quizzed on Friday and Sunday about roster help coming to the Aeros, Constantine responded that those questions had to go to his bosses. Constantine has said such things in his past two years with the team, but this time there seemed to be a bit more of an edge to his comments.
Constantine has been having to play Brandon Rogers up front as a means of keeping one of his better players in the game, but also because the team has had a severe lack of players available to play up front. Constantine said that he's been trying to get Buck onto the team for most of the season, but it was only when the team was short of actual players that he was able to get him on the squad.
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And even though he likes what he's seen from Buck -- and Buck has seemed to bring a little bit of a spark of energy to the ice -- Constantine is unsure if he's going to be able to keep Buck while, at the same time, he's also dealing with the fact that he never knows from game to game which of his regulars will be in Houston or which will be in Minnesota.
That said, the Aeros record this season is a rather remarkable 10-10-1-0 (21 points). Remarkable in that this team, which has been in flux for the past several weeks, is in a tie for second place in the AHL's West Division. It's also instructive to note that last season's infinitely more talented offensive squad was 9-9-1-1 after 20 games. And the evidence is there that Constantine can work wonders with squads of limited talent -- see the 2007-2008 squad that Constantine was able to guide into the playoffs on the strength of great goalkeeping and great defense.
The Aeros are on the road for their next three games before returning home on December 3 to play the plummeting San Antonio Rampage. And unlike Sunday's game which was one for the dogs, that Thursday, December 3 game will be one for the kids as the puck will drop at 11:05 before a packed house of school kids being rewarded for good attendance.
Anton Khudobin said after his shutout win last Wednesday that every good goalie needs luck. Hopefully he'll not only have some good luck while the team is on the road, but hopefully he'll also have a group of teammates playing more like school kids and less like dogs on ice skates.