A very wise man named John Blutarsky once said, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no." But after this weekend, even though the Germans didn't bomb the Houston Aeros, it might be getting to that point where it can be said that the season's over.
The Aeros played three games this weekend. Three games against teams they're fighting against for a playoff spot. Three games that, if won, would have come close to putting the Aeros into the playoffs. The Aeros instead lost two of the three -- looking absolutely horrendous and listless against Chicago on Friday night -- and as has been the case the past several weeks, they're barely hanging on to a playoff spot.
Though the Aeros are tied with four other teams for fifth place, if the season had actually ended yesterday -- with the Aeros losing 2-1 in the shootout -- the Aeros would be in eighth place, preparing for a quick exit from the playoffs.
The season didn't end yesterday, and the Aeros are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. But the team hasn't looked good the past month. And there's nothing to indicate the team would have the ability to kick it into a different gear and soar through the playoffs like last season's team, or the 2008-09 team that made it into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the season and managed to make it through to the Western Conference Finals.
The Aeros actually played some really good hockey on Saturday night, defeating Peoria 4-2 in a must-win while getting their first victory in eight games. And if not for some bad officiating on Sunday, the Aeros might have defeated Milwaukee in regulation, instead getting another shootout loss -- their 11th such loss of the season, tying an AHL record.
But they didn't get the win yesterday, and they led 2-1 with just over five minutes remaining in Friday's game to Chicago before blowing it all and losing 4-2 in a fashion they've seen all too often this season. They were sloppy, didn't hustle and depended on goalie Matt Hackett to be superhuman.
The team looks tired. The players are saying the right words, but while they're saying the right words, they don't appear to be following through on the ice. Head coach John Torchetti has been getting on his veterans, trying to get them to step up and take charge, but for the most part, that doesn't seem to be working.
"All the game comes down to is character," Torchetti said after Friday night's loss. "You've got to have character. Their [Chicago] top guys outplayed -- they won the game for them, that's the bottom line. We played a good enough game, and then we did two flybys coming back to our zone in D-zone coverage, they threw the puck to the net and got a good bounce. The third one was, it went off [defenseman Tyler Cuma], they had two guys, and our coverage wasn't there. That's how it's been for us the last seven games. We can find every which way to lose hockey games instead of finding every which way to win it. We're not getting any bounces."
They got some bounces on Saturday, but then came yesterday, when the Aeros, once again, didn't get the bounces.
"The bottom line is you have to work harder," Torchetti said Friday. "That's it."
And right now, the Aeros don't appear to be working harder. Maybe it's just all of the roster shuffling, with seemingly half the team constantly on airplanes to and from the Minnesota Wild as that team's fought off injury after injury. Maybe it's the loss for most of the season of Jed Ortmeyer, the inspirational leader from last season who has been with the Wild for most of this season. Maybe it's the constant turnover in goal which has found the team go through Matt Hackett, Denis Endras, Darcy Kuemper, Matt Keetley, Joe Fallon, Scott Greenham and back to Hackett.
Or maybe it's just something even simpler. Maybe it's just that this team isn't as talented as last season's. There's no player on this squad like Patrick O'Sullivan, who was seemingly able to score at will (Casey Wellman, who was developing into this team's most dependable goal-scorer, was traded during the season). Last year's break-out players, Jared Spurgeon and Nate Prosser, have been with the Wild for most of this year.
The Germans haven't bombed Pearl Harbor, yet. The season's not over. The Aeros (33-24-5-11, 82 points) have three games left to play. Two of the games are at home, and two are against teams fighting for playoff spots and one looking to be a spoiler (at Oklahoma City on Friday, and hosting San Antonio on Saturday and Texas on Sunday).
But if the Aeros don't play harder, play better, then the season will be over. There'll be no playoff run.
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