Kevin Constantine has told us over the past several years that one of the games he can never predict is the game after the Christmas break. It’s just one of those wild card games in which he has no idea which of the teams is going to show up, or how the game is going to go. And tonight’s game was a perfect example.
The San Antonio Rampage showed up for the entire game -- they especially showed up for the first period as they were up 2-0 just a little over six minutes into the game, and before many of the 6323 fans in attendance had even found their seats. Then Barry Brust came into the game for the ineffective Anton Khudobin and could only watch helplessly as one of those fluke shots that have haunted Wade Dubielewicz all season went into the net to make the score 3-0 at the 9:05 mark of the first period.
That third goal came about when Brust went behind the net to field the puck and send it out to one of his players. But a weird hop there, and strange bounce there, and the puck was on the stick of the Rampage’s Matt Watkins who easily found the empty net.
“It was kind of riding on the dasher,” Brust said of puck. “And it hit a partition and just popped out front. It’s tough luck. We got a couple of those last year, and didn’t have any against us until tonight.”
Luckily, the first period ended before San Antonio could do any further damage. But the damage they’d done would prove to be more than enough.
A different Aeros team came out for the second period, and it was a team that leveled some hits and found a way to get on the board, the first coming when Jon DiSalvatore took a pass from Nathan Smith then snaked his way through the Rampage defense to score a short-handed goal at 1:44. Then Max Noreau fired a shot from way up high, which with the advantage of what appeared to be a nice screen from Duncan Milroy, got past San Antonio’s Justin Pogge at 16:00 to make the score 3-2.
“We came in the room -- we scored two goals in that period which was huge for us,” Noreau said. “Jon had made a great move on that short-handed goal and that was huge for us getting that first goal, and we were only down by one. One more shot on the net, and it’s a goal and it’s a 3-3 game and we come out with the win.”
But that one more goal was not to be. Houston out-shot San Antonio in the second and third periods, and many of those shots were of a high-percentage variety, but Pogge proved to be just too good as San Antonio got the 4-2 win (the final goal came on a San Antonio empty-netter at 19:00 of the third).
The loss dropped the Aeros record to 16-14-2-1 (35 points) and a disturbing 9-9-1-0 at home. They’re now in fifth place in the West Division, two points behind Rockford, Peoria, and Milwaukee -- who are all tied for second -- but only three points up on sixth place Chicago. They’ll next play on Monday night when they host the Syracuse Crunch at 7:05.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
As Andrew mentioned below, Constantine is displeased with the effort of some of his forwards, though he didn’t name names. And it’s a trend that he’s noticed over the past several games. He specifically mentioned the Grand Rapids game.
“We finished the break with a win, but gave up a lot chances against Grand Rapids,” he said. “So it was nice to get the win. But there were little signs of stuff, and I don’t know, if we had checked out a little in the Grand Rapids game. If you remember we had a really poor start -- a bad start to the third period. I don’t know if we had checked out a little bit there, and I don’t know if we’d checked back in yet either. I know that there are circumstances around those, but the trend of the two games, is concerning.”
There are several things bothering him -- a lack of physical play, and a tendency to give up the first goal on the first shot of the game.
“You can take the obvious, which is pucks, lot of first shots or first scoring chances have gone in on us in the last five games,” he told us. “There’s a goalie readiness issue in that. Our physical play is down significantly over the last couple of games. So there is a compete factor for the forwards. There’s some guys whose game has flattened out a little bit or dipped a little bit, so there’s some individual guys whose performance is down right now. There’s a combination of a lot of stuff, and you don’t know exactly how to look at it when you have the circumstances of the break. So you have to grind our way back into the playing the we know we can play.”
I also talked to assistant coach/assistant GM Troy Ward a bit after the game for a piece I’m doing for the mothership next week. And he noted that there’s still a problem with some of the guys who are new to the team still trying to do things their own way a bit too much. He said that last year, guys like Krys Kolanos and Corey Locke had the ability -- especially on the power play -- to do things their own way and still get the points whereas some of these guys -- once again, not naming names -- just don’t have that ability. His hope, and belief, is that guys like Brandon Rogers, Max Noreau, and Danny Irmen -- guys who know Constantine’s system -- will be able to get the newcomers to trust in the Constantine system because they know it works.
As you might have noticed, Barry Brust made his return to action for the Aeros, playing his first game in a Aeros sweater since last March. And except for that fluke goal in the first, he was perfect, keeping the team in the game and giving them a chance to win.
“He was great,” Constantine said. “He had the weird goal against, but -- we gave up two breakaways at the start of the second period and it’s over because then it’s four-nothing [unless Brust makes the save], so we didn’t even have a prayer unless he made five or six big saves to give us at least a chance to come back.”
And as Max Noreau stated, it was a great game for goalies: “[Justin Pogge] made some great saves out there and kept them in the game. Brusty did the same thing for us in the third period and the second when we gave up a couple of breakaways. The goalies played a huge part in the game tonight. Hopefully we’ll get better bounces next game.”
As for Brust, let’s just say that Heather wasn’t the only one happy to see him back in action. For one thing, he’s always a good guy to talk to in the locker room after the game, win or lose, but he’s also fun to watch out on the ice.
And while I’m sure Brust was happy to be back, I’m pretty sure that this is not the way he wanted to make his return. However, playing for Kevin Constantine, a goalie has to follow the Boy Scout motto and always be prepared.
“Here the coaches aren’t afraid to pull the goalie,” Brust said. “So you pretty much have to be ready, no matter what. You’re always into [the game], trying to talk on the bench and stuff like that, and try to stay into it mentally.”
As for the loss, Brust was philosophical: “We battled hard, but the hockey gods didn’t want to give us this one tonight.”
From reading the comments, I can tell that some of you are a bit upset about tonight’s Bikini Contest. Especially with it coming right after Christmas. My response: GET OVER IT. First, the team generally has a great attendance on the night of this contest, so that means there are plenty of people who like it. And I wouldn’t expect them to do anything about a promotion that increases attendance. Second, this isn’t the first time they’ve had this contest on the first game back from the Christmas break. They did it at the same time last season, and they’ve had it on this same night in other seasons.
I’m generally not one to defend the team when it comes to promotions, etc., but anything that helps the attendance and doesn’t detract from the game -- like a lot of the promotions do -- isn’t a bad thing. You didn’t have to walk around a bunch of dogs, you didn’t have to miss work to attend an 11:00 game so school kids could attend, they didn’t have to stop play for many, many minutes to clear teddy bears off of the ice, and you didn’t have to deal with several annoying choirs singing the same damn song during intermissions.
Forecheck, I noted your request for Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” That’s nice, so nice, that I’m going to give that it’s own post, primarily because, several months ago, I set myself a goal of trying to find a suitable Beatles song to play after every game, without repeating a song.
That brings us to tonight’s game. So in honor of several women I know swooning over the appearance of Mr. Brust in goal, and in honor of the guys who were swooning over the young ladies in the Miss Aeros contest, here’s The Beatles with "I've Just Seen A Face.”