Aeros Watching a Playoff Spot Slip-Slide Away

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Hackett Goal.JPG
John Royal
Matt Hackett watches the puck slip past him early in last night's game.
The old Paul Simon song goes "the nearer your destination, the more you're slip-slidin' away." He wasn't writing about hockey, but at this moment, there's nothing that applies more to the Houston Aeros because the nearer they get to the playoffs, the more the playoffs keep slip-slidin' away.

Just two weeks ago, the Aeros were in keen position to clinch the fourth spot in the Western Conference of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs. This would give the Aeros the home-ice advantage for the first round, and leave them in a good position, like last season, to get home ice in the other rounds should the higher seeds lose.

The Aeros promptly went out for four games on the road, going 0-3-1, dropping into sixth place with the ninth place just two points behind and the 13th place just a mere seven points back (only eight teams from each conference make the playoffs). And last night, with just eight games remaining, the Aeros came home to Toyota Center and watched things just slip-slide even further away, losing 4-3 to the Lake Erie Monsters in the shootout to go 0-3-1-1 for their last five games.

And it's now quite possible that come the end of Sunday's game, the Aeros could be on the verge of dropping out of the top eight, thus losing a playoff spot, and leaving them with just six games to get the ship righted and their destiny back under their control.

Though, if you ask head coach John Torchetti, the destiny's been under their control, and they're just letting it all slip-slide away on their own.

"We've been giving up points for the last five games that way," he said after last night's loss, continuing with "we're giving away goals...we're certainly trying to make it hard enough to make the playoffs, that's for sure."

The Aeros team that hit the ice last night looked tired and looked to be missing zip, which was somewhat understandable seeing as how they had lost a game in overtime in Milwaukee Wednesday night. And as the game went on, they began to show some spark, but the spark more often than not resulted in a member of the Aeros squad heading off to the penalty box.

Ass to Hackett.JPG
John Royal
Matt Hackett does the best seeing that he can't see anything.
The Aeros trailed throughout the game, down 1-0, then 2-1 after one. They tied the game early in the second, only to see Lake Erie jump back into the lead minutes later. The Aeros were able to tie the game midway through the third period, but were powerless once the game hit overtime, and their shootout shot attempts were easily stopped by Lake Erie goalie Cedrick Desjardins.

Lake Erie jumped up to seventh in the playoff standings, and is only two points behind the Aeros. The Aeros gained a point by getting the game into the shootout, so despite the loss, they're now actually in fifth place, with 78 points. But San Antonio, Peoria and Lake Erie are perfectly positioned to blow past them in the standings this weekend, while teams that were thought to be out of the playoff hunt just a week ago (Grand Rapids, Milwaukee) are just mere points away from catching the slipping and sliding Aeros.

The Aeros shouldn't have to be scoreboard watching. Not like this. The team's failure to win games the last week can be put to the feet of no one but the Aeros. They've had excellent goaltending, whether it be from Joe Fallon (now injured), rookie Scott Greenham and Matt Hackett, just returned from Minnesota. But the offense has disappeared.

"I told them before the game, we're in sixth, and we put ourselves in sixth," Torchetti said. "And if we want to play our team system, we'll make sure we get to -- top four, that's our goal. We want to finish fourth so we get first round [home-ice advantage].

The Aeros actually gained ground in the standings with the loss, but the fourth through 13th placed teams are tightly, tightly grouped, and with only seven games remaining in the season, the Aeros can't afford to depend on other teams to lose. They need to take control of things, and with six of those remaining games at home, that playoff spot is just there for them to control.

Then again, it's been there within their grasp, under their control, for several weeks. But the nearer they've gotten to their destination, the more it's seemed to slip-side from their control.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Aeros host the Hamilton Bulldogs tomorrow night at Toyota Center, then host Chicago, Peoria and Milwaukee next weekend....This was the 36th game (of 69 played) this season the Aeros have played that has been decided by one goal.

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