I heard something on Friday night in Toyota Center I don't think I've ever heard before. The fans were booing the Houston Aeros. Of course, the Aeros were playing some piss poor and rather lackluster hockey, but I'm just not used to hearing fans in Toyota Center boo the team.
And on Friday night, as the Aeros were being outhit and outhustled by the San Antonio Rampage, the Aeros deserved to be booed. They needed to hear that the 8,372 fans were upset. Not that it did any good because the team lost 5-3.
Head coach Kevin Constantine blamed the lackluster play on the holiday break. "It's a game you don't know how to predict," he said after the game. "You don't play hockey with three days in a row of not practicing. It's a weird environment. The predictability is that it's impossible to predict."
But it was predictable. My counterpart with the Chron looked at the stats sheet, noticed that San Antonio had yet to win a road game all season, and stated just minutes before the game started that the Aeros were going to lose. And as the Aeros went a man down due to a stupid penalty in the first period, I predicted the Rampage would score on their first power play shot, which they did.
Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the Aeros. They're playing in perhaps the toughest division in the AHL, and they're still in the midst of the playoff hunt despite a consistent inconsistency on the offensive end. I talk to the players after the game, and the hurt from losses is evident on their faces, and the sweat dripping from their bodies is evident of the effort.
This team has some talent, especially on the offensive end. But it seems that whenever Krys Kolanos is away from the team - and he's back up with the Minnesota Wild where he might be staying for a while as he's actually getting consistent playing time - the offense shuts down. Corey Locke leads the team with 35 points on 12 goals and 23 assists in 30 games, and Jesse Schultz is second on the team with 23 points on six goals and 17 assists in 23 games. But Kolanos, despite playing in only 19 of the Aeros 34 games, is third with 22 points on 15 goals and seven assists.
What's also predictable and consistent about this team is that, except for the December 13 game against Hershey which they won 6-1, the Aeros get off to a slow start while seemingly lacking energy. They'll put in a burst or two of speed at the end of the first, and the second period will be a repeat as they fall behind by about two goals because there's just so much a goalie can do when his defense is a step slow. Then because of the urgency of losing the game, the guys will skate for their lives and make the game close before losing - of their 34 games, 30 have been decided by two goals or less.
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After losing 3-2 to the Quad City Flames in Quad Cities on Saturday, the Aeros scored three goals in the final 2:36 last night to tie the game against the Peoria Rivermen last night, then got the 4-3 shootout win. Their record is now 16-12-1-5 (38 points), and they are tied with the Chicago Wolves for third place in the West Division.
The next game is tomorrow night as they take on the Lake Erie Monsters at 7:05 for their last home game of 2008.
P.S.: I've got to apologize. Friday night was the annual Miss Aeros Bikini Contest featuring beautiful women in bikinis out on the ice. And I hoped to have photographs for all of you, but the Aeros, despite my request, didn't send me any photos, and Fred Trask, who normally supplies me with photos, misplaced his priorities and decided that it was more important to spend the holidays with his family in Florida. (I'm joking, Fred. I hope you're having a nice holiday.)
-- John Royal