Two magical things happened at Toyota Center on Friday night. The Aeros defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 4-1 to raise their record to the .500 mark. But perhaps of greater import was this: the Aeros scored three goals on the power play.
The Aeros power play hasn’t been much to brag about this season. Going into the Friday night game, the Aeros ranked 29 out of 29 teams in the AHL in terms of converting on the power play. And things didn’t look promising as the Admirals were the AHL’s number-one ranked team when it came to the penalty-kill.
But sometimes, things that should be, like the Aeros not being able to convert a power play against the league’s best, just end up not being.
The Aeros got the game off to a roaring start about minute into the first period when rookie Cal Clutterbuck leveled his shoulder into one of the Admirals, sending the man to the ice. From that time on, the Aeros appeared energized, and the Admirals appeared more concerned with revenge.
“It kind of worked in our favor,” Clutterbuck said afterwards. “I got them pissed off a little bit. If they want to run around and chase me, then feel free to run around and chase me.”
As for the physical nature of the play, Clutterbuck responded, “That’s the main reason I’m here. That’s what got me here.”
Coach Kevin Constantine would also credit Clutterbuck. “Someone’s got to start the energy,” he said. “And Clutter right away energized our team.”
But getting to the five hundred mark was also a key factor in the team’s play. “We haven’t been five hundred all year,” Constantine said. “And I think that’s important to our guys, to get ourselves there.”
Then came Sunday’s game when the Aeros were once again playing the Milwaukee Admirals while this time gunning for the chance at a winning record. Once again, the game started on a promising note when left wing Ryan Hamilton scored a power play goal at 5:57 to put the Aeros up 1-0. The Admirals would answer six minutes later to tie the game. And tied the game would stay into the third period.
At the 5:07 point in the third, with the Aeros down a player due to penalties, Admirals goalie Pekka Rinne would drift away from the goal in attempt to clear the puck from his end of the ice. Aeros right wing Joel Ward would get to the puck and fire away, slapping the puck into the goal before Rinne could return, putting the Aeros up 2-1.
It was looking as if the Aeros had acquired the momentum and would now be able to put the game away.
“Anytime you get a goal and take a lead in the game, everyone’s going to be pretty happy about it,” Ward said afterwards. “Especially short-handed. We’re just a little upset we didn’t finish it out from there.”
And didn’t finish it out is fact, as just a little over three minutes later the Admirals would score on the power play to tie the game. And tied the game would stay, thanks to more excellent goal work from Barry Brust, though overtime.
The Aeros would take the lead in the shootout when center Steve Kelly scored the first point. No other Aeros would score, however, while two of the Milwaukee players would get the puck past Barry Brust to get the win for the Milwaukee.
Of the weekend’s games, Constantine would say, “We got 5 of 6 points. We can’t be real, real disappointed in that. But what we do have to check is the trend of our play a little bit. To me, we trended down a little bit after we got the 3-0 lead in the last game against these guys [Friday versus Milwaukee]. We didn’t do much the rest of that game. In this game, we were okay. Not bad. We were okay. But we have to be careful that we’re not lulling ourselves into play below what we’re capable of.”
Joel Ward perhaps summed up the disappointment of Sunday best when he spoke after the game of redemption: “We’ve got another game on Tuesday to redeem ourselves.”
And Constantine was able to put a positive spin on things, noting, “If you look at the standings, we’ve worked our way back into a race.”
But, he concluded, “We’re still in eighth.”
Some Miscellaneous Game Notes:
After 18 games, the Aeros record stands at 8-8-1-1. The Aeros have won five of their last six games at Toyota Center. And while this is good, Constantine noted that “we’ve really got to pick it up on the road.”
Center Steve Kelly continued his hot play, getting a first period goal and a second period assist on Friday night. He also netted the only Aeros goal of the shootout on Sunday. This gives him five points for the last three games.
He explained his shootout goal process as“I just go in and look at the goalie and kind of think what I’m going to do works. If it works it works. If not, let’s hope the next guy gets one for us.”
Kelly’s also been getting lots of ice team with the tandem of Petr Kalus and Peter Olvecky. Constantine likes what he’s seeing from this combination, saying, “I think Steve has looked good with those guys….that seems to be line that works really well.” He’s not sure what to attribute the chemistry of the line, though he thinks it is possible that Kelly’s play in Europe, where Kalus and Olvecky have also played, could be playing a role.
Kelly doesn’t quite see it as getting used to working with that tandem, as he does of the entire team getting comfortable with each other: “Everyone’s getting more comfortable with each other. You’re playing on the ice with everyone. We’re almost 20 games in [to the season]. But the first ten are almost a write-off. You’re learning systems, meeting guys. Trying to get comfortable living here.”
Goalie Nolan Schaefer was once again called up to the parent club. To replace him on the roster, the Aeros recalled goalie Anton Khudobin from the team’s ECHL affiliate in Beaumont.
Also new to the Aeros is center Milan Gajic, who joined the team on Friday.
Former Aero Aaron Voros had an interesting Thanksgiving. The Wild made the decision to send him back to Houston. In a taxi, on his way to the airport, the Wild changed their mind and recalled him to Minnesota.
Marco Rosa also scored a goal on Friday night. That was his second goal of the season, and his second in two games, also having scored in the previous game against San Antonio.
The Admirals have the logo of the Milwaukee Brewers stitched to their jersey sweaters. This is because the Brewers are partial owners of the Admirals.
The Aeros have four games left to play this week, two of them on the road. They take on the Iowa Stars in Des Moines on Tuesday night. Then they play the Rockford IceHogs in Rockford on Wednesday night. They then play the Peoria Rivermen on Friday night and the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday, both games to be in Houston.
“It’s our first challenging stretch with a ton of games in a short time period,” Constantine said.
The Milwaukee Admirals Sunday game against the Aeros was their third game in three nights. Houston on Friday. San Antonio on Saturday. And back to Houston. It was the fourth game of their road trip. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Admirals had lost three straight.
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The key stat to follow for the Aeros is still the number of goals scored in the game. When the Aeros score 3 or more goals a game, they are 7-0-1-0. When they score less than 3 goals, they are 1-8-0-1.
The Aeros opened up the Toyota Center’s upper deck on Sunday. Sunday’s attendance was 8,103. Friday night’s attendance was 5,878.
The announcement of the season came during the second period of Sunday’s game when the PA guy reminded the fans sitting in the upper deck that, if they had purchased pucks for the chuck-a-puck toss, they must come down to the lower level and chuck the puss from down there, and not from the upper level.
I’ve noticed that during breaks in the game, the Aeros are running advertisements for a movie called The Rocket about NHL great Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. But I’ve got to wonder if Houston’s Rocket isn’t a bit pissed that this guy is stealing his name. (Yes, I know, Richard had the nickname first, but I’m poking fun at Clemens.) – John Royal