Houston Aeros Lose to the Syracuse Crunch (Unless You're Talking about a Penalty Contest)

The Aeros lost to the Syracuse Crunch last night by a final score of 3-2. In many ways, it was the same old story. Aeros commit penalties. The other team scores. Aeros get on the power play. Aeros can’t score.

But in some ways, it wasn’t the same old story.

Coming into last night’s game, the Aeros ranked 29th out of the 30 AHL teams when it came to the power play, having converted only 2 of 50 opportunities for the season. But the game got off to a promising start when the Aeros took a first period lead 1:07 into the game when right winger Danny Irmen got his first goal of the season. And the Aeros got this goal off of a power play.

The Aeros skated hard last night. They seemed to be out-hustling, out-muscling and out-playing the physically superior Syracuse squad. But as the game progressed, what the Aeros weren’t doing was out-executing the Crunch. Yet, after two periods, the Aeros and Crunch were involved in a 1-1 tie. And things were looking promising.

Then came the third period. That time of the game when team captain Erik Reitz feels that the Aeros always fall apart. “We’re trying to win,” he said after the game. But “we can’t play a full 60 minutes.”

The Aeros had already spent lots of time in the penalty box before the third period rolled around, but one can only go around shooting oneself in the foot for so long. At 1:54 in the period, Aaron Voros was sent to the penalty box for elbowing. At 4:20 Troy Riddle was sent off for tripping. Seconds later, he was followed by Danny Irmen who was called for holding. And suddenly the Crunch were on a five on three power play and taking a 2-1 lead.

“We took a lot of undisciplined penalties tonight,” Reitz reflected afterwards. “The guys didn’t see the ref was calling stick penalties, and trippings, and hookings, and stuff like that….We got away from our game plan.”

But trying to rewrite the story, the team refused to give up. And at 10:28 in the third, Erik Reitz tied the game. And, once again, the Aeros would score on a power play.

Coach Kevin Constantine stated the obvious after the game that “we can’t afford to take a lot of penalties.” And at 15:51 in the third, with an Aero player in the penalty box, Syracuse’s Kyle Wharton scored the go-ahead goal.

Reitz believes the main problem was that the team wasn’t mentally focused. “I don’t think we came out with the right mind set,” he said. And he doesn’t believe that the problem lies with the coaching: “I think we’re prepared fine. I think it comes down to the players preparing themselves….We’re too many chains…not coming together.”

“Kevin’s system is proven to work,” he said. But “we’ve got to take a deep down look at ourselves as a team.”

Coach Kevin Constantine expounded on Reitz’s thoughts: “I don’t think everybody’s necessarily on a different page. That would indicate guys are trying to go different directions. I think everybody’s working to get on the same page.”

“What we need to do,” Constantine continued, “is got on the same page ASAP….There has to be a higher standard of accountability for repeat things.”

And Constantine wants the team to hold each other accountable for not being on the same page and for committing mindless error after mindless error. “Every player’s got to be accountable for performance, but we need as a group to...just be accountable to each other. To own up to all of the issues with each other. There’s no way for this team to become a good team as this goes on if we’re going to take these issues and hope maybe they’ll fix themselves.”

But while discouraged, Constantine wasn’t without hope. “To me, if you don’t put together a plan, then your opportunity to succeed is problematic. And when you don’t succeed, and you don’t have a plan, then you don’t have a clue as how to fix it.” Then he paused for a bit. “The good news is,” he continued, “there’s a plan in place.”

So maybe the Aeros didn’t get on the same page tonight. And maybe it was the same old story. But the effort’s there. And the plan’s there.

Some Miscellaneous Notes from the Game:

The Aeros record for the season is now 2-5-1-0.

Announced attendance was 3,066. I think that number is probably high. Way high.

Goalie Barry Brust put on another sparkling display in the net, blocking 29 of 32 shots, only to find his efforts come to naught.

Defenseman Erik Reitz was involved with both of Houston’s goals. He got the assist on the first goal, and he scored the second goal. He leads the team with 10 points. Defenseman Clayton Stoner assisted on the second goal, and he now has 4 points for the season. When asked about the brunt of the scoring coming from the defensemen, and not the forwards, Constantine stated “at least someone’s chipping in.”

For any of you who are curious, the Syracuse Crunch is the primary affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coming into last night’s game, the Crunch had a worse record than the Aeros. That should be changing.

The Aeros were 29th in the league in converting the power play coming into the game. The Crunch were fourth.

Serge Payer, Shawn Belle, Steve Kelly, and Maxim Noreau have been scratches recently because of injury, but Coach Constantine is hopeful that they will all be able to play this weekend.

There was a guy sitting about six rows in front of me wearing ear plugs and reading the Wall Street Journal during the game.

The Aeros are now 3-4-0-0 all-time against the Crunch. Syracuse has won three straight against Houston, but the Aeros have outscored the Crunch 21-20 for the series.

Thankfully, the month of October is over for the Aeros. Historically, the Aeros are now 28-30-8-1 in home games in October, including 8-11-2-0 at Toyota Center.

The director of NHL officiating was at last night’s game.

The next Aeros game is Friday, when they host the expansion Lake Erie Monsters. Friday’s game is also the team’s Second Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Game. – John Royal

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