The Houston Aeros' Thanksgiving weekend was emblematic of their 2010 season so far -- too many losses, but at the end hope for the future.
They lost to the Texas Stars in Austin 5-3 on Wednesday night, lost to the San Antonio Rampage 5-3, in Houston on Friday night, but came back to defeat the Milwaukee Admirals 2-1 in the shootout on Saturday night.
Through 23 games, the Aeros record sits at 11-9-1-2 (25 points) and they're in the middle of the pack of the Western Division, just barely sitting on the outside if the playoffs were to start right now. But luckily, the playoffs aren't starting now, and the Aeros, who are on the verge of seeing multiple players return from injury, are poised to make a run for one of the eight available playoff spots in the AHL's Western Conference.
"I like the group of guys we've got here," defenseman Max Noreau said after Friday's loss. "I've been here four years. We've got a lot of young guys this year. But [we have a] great new coaching staff and a lot of enthusiasm in the dressing room. We had a slow start, then we had a couple of wins in a row and we had a good streak going. We've had a letdown this week, but we'll get right back on it tomorrow and finish with a win [which they did]. I'm pretty positive about the team that we've got so far put together."
As it was last year, the team is being led offensively and defensively by Noreau. Noreau's the team's leading scorer with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points, and he's been helping to lead a revival of the power play which has been arising from the dead to become a useful offensive weapon -- two of Friday's three goals came on the power play, and Noreau had a goal and an assist on those power play goals.
"One of the biggest keys is we're shooting the puck a lot now," he said. "We're not looking for the pretty play all of the time now. It doesn't have to be a tap-in goal. It could be a point shot with guys in front of the net shot. I'm thinking that's our bread and butter so far, so just keeping doing that. When teams see that we're shooting the puck a lot, we'll try the pretty plays."
And after starting the season 2-5-1-0, the Aeros have started turning into a winning club as they've gone 9-4-0-2 for their past 15 games.
Despite their recent string of success, head coach Mike Yeo hasn't been entirely with some of the play that he's been seeing from his club. He's seen some sloppiness, and he's seen a lack of urgency at times that has disturbed him, such as in Friday's loss to San Antonio. But he like what he saw on Saturday night, and he made it clear that he's willing to live with losses if he sees the appropriate effort and sees the team and he sees them doing the right things on the ice.
"If we a lose game, it's going to be fine," he said Saturday night. "Tonight for example, if we lost that game, it's okay because the intentions of what we were trying to do [made it] pretty clear that everybody was all in. The work ethic was there, and guys were committed to playing the system in the way that we want to play it."
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Yeo thinks part of the problems the Aeros have been having relate to a lack of time for practice due to the team's recent travel and playing schedule. And now they've got a few days off to regroup.
"Part of where our game has slipped a little bit has been the schedule. We've had very little practice time lately" he said Saturday night. "We've been trying to sandwich video into times when we feel that it's not going to mentally challenge our guys. This schedule has been so demanding. The most important thing for us is to take advantage of this practice time."
The Aeros return to action on Thursday when they host the Rockford IceHogs for the first of two games at 11:05 a.m. at Toyota Center.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Peter Zingoni and Tyler Cuma, who have yet to play this season because of injury, have been cleared by the team doctors to play, and should be returning to action as soon as they are in game condition. Chad Rau, who hasn't played because of injury since early in the season, is awaiting only doctor's clearance before he returns to action....The Aeros have a power play goal in five of their last six games.