The Aeros came into this weekend's games at Toyota Center riding high. They'd won their first two games of the season, beating Oklahoma City twice in Oklahoma City. Sure, there were 78 games still to go, but the offense seemed to be clicking, the defense was tight, the goalies keeping the puck out of the net, and the penalty kill was shutting down opposition power plays.
Everything was perfect. Then came Saturday night and the home opener at Toyota Center. There were 7,559 fans just waiting for the chance to watch the new-look Aeros and cheer them onto victory.
What they saw on Saturday was akin to the kind of the game the Aeros played last season, and what the supposed crowd of 3,000-plus saw yesterday afternoon probably couldn't even be described as hockey. So though the Aeros might have started the season at 2-0-0-0, after yesterday, they're 2-2-0-0 and reeling.
The Aeros lost 3-2 to the Peoria Rivermen on Saturday night in the hockey equivalent of a Houston Cougars football game. The guys were listless and fell behind in the first period. They kept the game even in the second, and then they mounted a furious, but ultimately failed, comeback attempt in the third period. And just like the Cougars can't win a football game playing only one half of football, the Aeros can't win when they only play two periods of hockey.
"It's disappointing, and hopefully a lesson learned," said Aeros coach Mike Yeo. "That's what we talked about after the game, and after the first period. This is a good league, and as an individual you have to be prepared and ready to play the game right from the start, and we weren't."
That the Aeros were even able to stay in the game was a testament to goalie Anton Khudobin, playing in a game for the first time in weeks -- Khudobin's been up with the Minnesota Wild while they sorted through injury issues, and apart from playing in a preseason game weeks ago, had seen no real game action. And while the talk has been of the new additions to the team, the two goals came from returning vets Robbie Earl and J-M Daoust.
Things appeared to be a bit better on Sunday afternoon when the Aeros faced the Oklahoma City Barons for the third time in four games.
They were a bit livelier in the first period, though they were still down 1-0 after it ended. The Aeros were down 3-0 going into the third period when Earl and Petr Kalus, another returning vet, scored goals to make it 3-2. Then the sky fell out as the Aeros were hit by a flood of stupid penalties, boneheaded playing, and fights.
The final score was 8-2, but anybody who sat through the third period would swear that the final score was more like 16-2.
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"We have to get better," Yeo said yesterday. "That was painfully obvious tonight. Our special teams have to get a lot better. Our five-on-four penalty killing has been solid, but the way we were killing the five-on-three and the four-on-three and chasing them and running out of position is something we have to address and get much better at in a short period of time. Our discipline is going to have to be much better. You take that many penalties in a game, and when you're putting yourself in a bad position not only, but when we took them, was hurtful to us. There's countless ways where we can get better here. I think that's just the messages."
Rookie Matt Hackett, who had been solid in his previous two starts in goal, took the beating yesterday. And while Yeo admitted to having thoughts of taking him out, he noted that it wouldn't have mattered since the team was playing so bad and it wouldn't have been fair to thrown Khudobin into the fire.
The Aeros don't play again until Friday night when they host Peoria again. The Aeros then play in San Antonio on Saturday night before returning to Toyota Center for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Lake Erie Monsters. But it's not going to be an easy week for the team. Mike Yeo looked about as happy as the fans who booed the team off the ice yesterday, and it seems pretty obvious he's going to be trying to work through some issues with the team this week.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: There were some positives from the weekend. The Aeros now have Ice Girls -- young ladies who wear tight clothes and clean up the lose ice that accumulate around the goal and on the boards....The revelations of the weekend were defensemen Drew Bagnall, who likes to hit and be hit, and Marco Scandella, who was willing to throw his body around the ice to stop shots....And one final thing for the Aeros sound crew: Toni Basil should never be heard at a hockey game. Really, what were you guys thinking?