John Royal What if they played a hockey game and nobody came?
Okay, there were some fans in the Toyota Center stands yesterday morning. Some, but not many, and nowhere near as many as there were supposed to have been since this game was supposed to be full of HISD high school kids who decided not to show. But seeing as how the Aeros played some of their worst hockey since the first of December in losing 3-1 to the Chicago Wolves, maybe it was a good thing nobody showed up.
The Houston Aeros came into yesterday's game with the best record in the AHL's Western Conference at 32-20-1-3. Yet despite this, they were only in first place by one point, and they were just four points away from being totally out of the picture should the playoffs have started yesterday. So the Aeros, despite having gone 16-5-0-1 since Christmas, aren't in a position where they can take off and not play at their best.
Unfortunately for them, the Aeros did appear to take yesterday off. They started slow, never kicked it into gear as the game got going, and were outclassed and out-hustled by the Wolves throughout the entire 60 minutes.
"That's disappointing, in a game that we stressed the importance of it," head coach Mike Yeo said. "The slow start is something that's crept into our game a little bit here, and I think that the last -- we won in Peoria, but even in that game, we had a slow start. We won in Rockford -- in that game we had a slow start. Some bad habits and some things that are creeping into our game, which happens sometimes when you have some success. And we have to right the ship quickly, here."
It's strange to think that the Aeros could so quickly go from the top of the world to near panic mode, and "panic mode" might not be how the Aeros see it. But they now have only 23 games remaining the season, and after yesterday's loss to Chicago, the Aeros, while still in first place by one point, are only six points out of seventh place. And seventh place means the Aeros don't make the playoffs.
So for the team to come out for the fourth game in a row lacking focus, and for the team to come out for the second game in a row and not be able to kick things into gear at any point is, well, a worrying sign.
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"This is one game, and it's not the end of the world for us by any means," Yeo said afterwards. "But at the same time, there should be desperation and a pride factor on our side that says we've got to get back to our game quickly here. All the nice things that we did in January are great, but they mean absolutely nothing right now."
The Wolves only took 17 shots to the Aeros' 35 shots. But the Wolves made theirs count, scoring once in the first period and twice in the second (the two second-period goals came despite just getting off four shots). The Aeros, meanwhile, appeared listless on defense and a step slow on offense. They actually had several good scoring opportunities in the game, but found the few opportunities stopped by Chicago goalie Peter Mannino or thwarted when they whiffed on passes or shots as they struggled continuously with focus and execution.
John Royal Jarod Palmer tries to make something happen against Chicago, and fails
The Aeros are going to need to bounce back. They're going to need to bounce back quickly because, as DiSalvatore noted, with the division being so close, with one loss capable of dropping a team four spots in the standings, every game truly does count. And with every game counting as much as it does, this could be the wrong time to go on any type of extended losing streak.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Aeros' next two games are in Milwaukee, tonight, and Rockford on Saturday. They return home on Tuesday when they host Milwaukee, the team immediately behind them in the standings....The Aeros' lone goal came on the power play, late in the third period, off of a shot by DiSalvatore....This was the only AHL game yesterday, so the Aeros stayed in first place despite the loss....Though nothing was said, the best guess is that the HISD schools backed out because, after shutting down for Snopocalypse several weeks ago, it was probably better to keep the kids in school for the day.