|The Aeros know how Steve Martin felt|
It's probably safe to say that the AHL hates the Houston Aeros. Or rather, the schedule-makers hate the Aeros. Along with playing a frightening number of three-games-in-three-nights, the Aeros have also had to deal with the month of December, in which the AHL eagerly slapped with them a total of 15 games, 10 of which are on the road.
Amazingly, despite multiple plane and bus trips to various states and countries -- they've been in and out of Canada multiple times -- the Aeros have found a way, somehow, to hang on. And last night, playing their 12th game of the month, the Aeros held on for the 4-3 shoot-out win over the Texas Stars to increase their record to 17-15-1-2 (37 points) and to move back within mere points of a playoff spot.
The Aeros came into yesterday's game not having scored a point in 158:43, which equates to two complete games and most of a third. And the team had been struggling to break not only the scoreless streak, but a four-game losing streak. So when Warren Peters put the Aeros up 1-0 thirty seconds into the game, you could hear the loud sigh of relief from the Aeros bench way up in the press box.
"That was real big," head coach Mike Yeo said of that goal. "But the other thing I'm very happy about with our guys is we bent a little bit early in the game, but we didn't break. It could have been very deflating for us when they all of sudden came back and made it 2-1 after we have a great start."
And this being the Aeros, who have never done things the easy way, they did let Texas leave the first period with the 2-1 lead. But Jon DiSalvatore tied the game at 2-2 with a minute left in the second period then put them in the lead at 3-2 when he scored again at the 8:56 mark of the third period.
The Stars put on a rush at the end of the game - even attempting to pull the goalie for the extra skater with over two minutes left - yet it looked like the Aeros would escape with the win until Francis Wathier scored with 18.3 seconds remaining in the game to tie it 3-3. Yet the Aeros didn't give in and held the Stars scoreless in the overtime before getting the win in the shootout.
"They fought hard," Yeo said of the Stars. "I was disappointed that they found a way to get that last one. I thought for [Aeros goalie] Matt Hackett's sake, I thought he did a nice job in the third period there, and give him credit for standing tall in the shootout as well, but I was pretty impressed with our guys for the most part in the game."
The Aeros looked to be a bit rusty as the game started, befitting a team that hadn't really practiced since their 5-0 loss to Hamilton last Tuesday night. But the effort was present and evident throughout the game, and the team's play sharpened as the game went on.
"Details real early in the game weren't real sharp," Yeo said. "But I thought, second period especially, we really started to take the game over."
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But the Aeros won't be getting in rest time this week as the AHL continues to punish the team for some odd and unknown reason. They're playing in San Antonio tonight, Milwaukee on Wednesday, Rockford on Thursday, then they head back to Houston to play on New Year's Day as the team struggles to make the end of the month, and the end of 2010, in one piece.
"This month has been a grind. I will say that," Yeo said. "This month has been a grind. But that's where I'm hopeful, this stretch right now, four games in five nights coming out of this break, is going to be -- we're not getting off any easier here -- but I do think, more than anything, it's probably mental. And having those four days off for our guys, more than anything, has come at the right time and at least gave us the right attitude coming back to make sure we're ready for a push."
If the Aeros can make it through New Year's Day then, maybe, things will get a bit easier. They'll have a week off between games which should give them some much needed time off. And maybe during that time someone can figure out just why the AHL schedule-makers hate them so damn much.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Wings Casey Wellman and Matt Kassian were scratched from the game due to lower body injuries....The next home game is Saturday night when they host San Antonio. That game will also feature the team's annual Miss Aeros bikini contest which is held between periods.