At 18:47 of the third period tonight, I saw something that I don’t think I’ve seen while covering the Aeros. Danny Irmen stormed off the bench and hit the ice in full stride, streaking up the middle of the rink toward the Abbotsford Heat goal. Then without breaking stride, he started banging his stick on the ice, demanding the puck. Nathan Smith saw him, fed him the puck, and Irmen banged it into the net to tie the game at 3-3.
The Aeros lost the game in overtime, but they managed to gain a point out of a game that saw them sitting in single digits in shots midway through the third period. More amazing, the Aeros had also given up a two-goal lead, and appeared to be a dispirited team just hoping to make the end of the game so as to get some time off.
But Irmen came out, demanding the puck, and earned the team a point.
Don’t talk to Irmen about earning the puck, however. Or getting the goal. Because this is Danny Irmen, and Irmen’s first thought was to a teammate that he let down.
“The first thought for me: I think Anton deserved better than that….” Irmen said. “Some nights are like that, but we have to play harder in front of him. And we had a two goal lead and we didn’t manage it well at the end of the second. Not me, personally.”
The Aeros got their first two goals off of the power play, the first coming at 13:42 when Robbie Earl knocked in the rebound of a Chad Rau shot to put Houston up 1-0. Then Cody Almond got a nice pass from Jean-Michel Daoust at 17:49, and he buried the puck to put the Aeros up 2-0.
That’s where the score stayed until 15:43 of the second when Jason Jaffray got lose on the Aeros defense and scored the short-handed goal to make it 2-1. And at 17:40, Khudobin blocked Cam Cunning’s shot only to have J.D. Watts stuff the rebound five-hole to make it 2-2. And Abbotsford made it 3-2 at 7:15 of the third when Watts got his second goal of the night on a shot that when under Khudobin’s right arm pit.
“It’s good to get a point,” Irmen said. ‘But we prefer two. We should play better.”
Should’ve. Could’ve. Would’ve. The Heat scored at 2:07 of OT to get the 4-3 win. But for once, the Aeros might have been lucky to get out with just a point.
“I think the point was very, very big,” head coach Kevin Constantine said. “Very big. Based on how deflated you’d be giving up a two-goal lead. And so we get a point, we hang in there, and we’re right in the middle of a really fun season in terms of the playoff race. So I wasn’t that disappointed in the result.”
And now the Aeros get some rest as they don’t play again until Wednesday night when they play the Stars in Austin.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
The Aeros are now 18-15-4-1 (41 points) on the season. They’re still in fifth place by one point, just sitting behind the jumble of Peoria, Milwaukee, and Rockford who are all tied with 42 points. And they’re just five points behind Texas, which earlier this season appeared to be running away with the division.
For most of the game, the most fun we had on press row was wondering whether the Aeros would set a new Houston record for least shots in a game -- the number is 11, set in Detroit in 1999 with the home low being 12 in a 2000 loss to Milwaukee.
The Aeros only had six shots after two periods, and about a third of the way through the third period the Heat had a 32-8 shot advantage. But Houston got off 14 shots in the third and ended up only being out shot 42-21 for the game.
A lot of this can be attributed to the team being tired -- this was their fifth game in seven nights. And the players were clearly gassed when we saw them in the locker room afterwards. Several mentioned not being able to feel their legs. And for some of the new players, like Chad Rau, this is the most games they’ve played in a season since juniors.
“I’m probably the last guy in the world to make up an excuse,” Constantine said.
“To be a good pro, you’ve got to constantly eliminate excuses, all the time. So I’m generally working the other way, but I’ll go the other way, and I’ll say that playing five games in seven nights is really hard, and give our guys a bit of an excuse. Not because, you know, we gave up a two goal lead. We gave it up on a power play.
“There’s some things we can’t do to be a good team. But, the lack of energy, the lack of shots -- and hey, Abbotsford played three-in-three, too, so it’s not like they were really fresh. But five-in-seven is a grind. And so, in many ways I expected the game to look a little bit like this today.”
But Irmen wasn’t necessarily buying the tired excuse, and he was disappointed in his performance. “But there’s no excuse,” he said. “We should have played like that for 60 minutes, and we didn’t.”
And let’s hear it for Anton Khudobin, who has been a bit of a punching bag, lately. Some of the goals he gave up tonight were kind of soft, but the team needed him to keep them in it tonight because they just weren’t capable of doing that on their own, and he did, blocking 38 of 42 shots.
Constantine told us afterwards that, normally, the number of shots isn’t indicative of how good, or bad, a team’s playing. But he felt that the guys couldn’t help noticing the low of number of shots and thus just did what they could in the third to get back in the game.
“The shot clock’s not always the best indicator of how you’re doing, but it’s the only thing that you can stare out,” he said. “And it’s sitting right there in front of you. So it really affects you psychology when you look up, it’s the only like number you get during the middle of the game. And the scoreboard. I know looking at that thing wasn’t enjoyable for the guys at all. And I also know that, being around the group for four months now, they’re not a group that’s afraid to work hard.”
But no matter how hard they worked, they just didn’t have enough gas left in the tanks.
The Aeros currently have three goalies in Houston as Wade Dubielewicz has returned from Europe, and Barry Brust is still in town. Anton Khudobin got the start tonight, and he was backed up by Dubielewicz. Constantine was asked about this situation after the game, and he told us that this is a situation that needs to be discussed between his staff and the brass in Minnesota. But he indicated that, as of now, all three should remain with the team.
Andy Hilbert was scratched more as a precautionary measure than anything. He suffered a bit of an injury during the last game in Milwaukee, so Constantine thought it was best to rest him. Jaime Sifers was scratched because he is suffering from the flu. And not just a slight case of the flu. The way Constantine was talking, it was more like Sifers was doing his best impersonation of Mr. Creosote while the team was on the road (warning, not for the squeamish or the humor impaired).
But otherwise, except for Peter Zingoni, the team is healthy. Healthy, but just tired and in need of the rest that they’re going to be getting before playing again on Wednesday.
So seeing as how tired they are, I think The Beatles “Let It Be” is appropriate to play us out tonight. The Aeros will return home for two games against Rockford -- Friday and Sunday. So until then, let it be, let it be.