The Houston Aeros defeated the Rockford IceHogs 5-3 tonight before 4504 people inside of Toyota Center. This wasn’t just a normal hockey game. It wasn’t even a normal hockey game for the Houston Aeros. Any game that sees Matt Kassian score a goal can’t be called a normal game. But perhaps the most surreal thing about this game was just how dominating Rockford was through the first two periods.
The Aeros got the early lead at 10:57 of the first when Jamie Fraser scored a goal (his first of the season) on a shot that appeared to bounce off of two Rockford players before getting past IceHog goalie Corey Crawford. Rockford’s Jack Skille tied the game at 9:20 of the second when he got his stick on Brian Connelly’s shot at deflected the puck past Wade Dubielewicz for the score.
Rockford dominated the second period. They got off 21 shots, but were only able to get one goal. Yet it appeared that the Aeros were going to be lucky to leave the ice for the second intermission with the score tied 1-1. But at 17:34, Jean-Michel Daoust fired the puck toward the Rockford goal. The puck hit off of somebody -- there was a dispute as to who it hit - and was deflected past Crawford once again to make it 2-1 as the period ended.
And surviving that second period seemed to power the Aeros the rest of the way as they took control in the third.
“I think, as a group, it was a big step for us, that third period,” Dubielewicz said. “We came out and really took it to the next level.”
That next level included out-shooting Rockford and seeing Jon DiSalvatore knock in the rebound of a Cody Almond shot at 9:58 to make it 3-2, then saw Petr Kalus on a breakaway that brought back memories of Krys Kolanos to make it 4-2 at 12:00, then the moment that Aeros fans had been waiting for all year with Matt Kassian getting a goal on one of those strange shots that bounced over the back of Crawford then rolled into the net at 15:16 to make it 5-2.
Rockford got a goal with 37 seconds left to make it 5-3, but by then, there was just nothing they could do as the Aeros were just solidly in command.
The win moved the Aeros into a three-team tie for third place in the West Division. Texas (21-11-2-4) is on top with 48 points. Milwaukee (20-12-1-5) is in second with 46 points. Peoria (20-13-1-3), Houston (19-15-5-1) and Rockford (20-17-2-2) are all tied with 44 points. And when the Aeros next play, on Sunday afternoon, they will be facing the IceHogs again.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
This was a night of firsts. Jamie Fraser got his first goal of the season with his first period goal. But the talk of the night, in the stands, the bench, and the locker room, was Matt Kassian getting his first goal of the season -- and his first since February 8, 2008 when he scored the final goal in a 6-3 win at Chicago.
“Guys were pretty jacked on the bench about that goal,” Kevin Constantine told us after the game. And Kassian was still jacked after the game.
“It was probably the prettiest goal of my life…or not,” Kassian said. “It helps the team out, and anytime you can chip in it’s good, and it’s a great feeling to kind of get that in there. And finally to have one go in when you have so many chances and so many bounces that just haven’t gone your way to kind of get a lucky one to get the first one -- it’s a pretty good feeling. I’m definitely happy about that.”
Constantine told us that this goal has been coming because he thinks that Kassian is on the best stretch of offensive-oriented hockey since he’s been with the team.
“I think over the last 10 games, if you looked at maybe eight games, he’s actually had a quite a few scoring chances over the last eight games,” Constantine said. “If you looked at any segment of eight games since he’s been here, I’d bet the last eight, he’s had the most, been part of the offense more than he ever has since he’s been here.”
The second period was a tough one for the Aeros, and it was surviving the second that helped power the Aeros through the third. Wade Dubielewicz had his problems through the night -- he wasn’t exactly what one would call steady -- but he was able to hold Rockford to just one goal during that second period barrage.
“I had 20 shots, but I don’t know…at least eight or 10 of them were because I was kicking them straight back out,” he said. “As a goalie, it was just one of those nights where everything that hit me hit me really solid, and nothing stuck to me. But as a group, we were doing a good job of winning those battles 15 feet in front of the net. I made the first save and they were doing a good job of clearing that second puck out.”
One thing that Dubielewicz had to face in the second was a penalty kill shot by Jack Skille after a penalty by Nathan Smith.
“That guy made a good move, and he made a good play. I forced him to put it up high, and he put it up too high…” Dubielewicz said. “I didn’t get a piece of it. I forced him to go high at least, and he missed the spot. I got a little lucky there. I got a few breaks tonight, and you need some breaks to be good sometimes.”
Kassian said it was a matter of the Aeros holding together and not breaking during the barrage.
“They obviously came out in the second period with a lot more fire than we did. They definitely outplayed us in the second period. So really for us it was about a bend and don’t break….“ he said. “But we didn’t break. We did bend a little bit, but that’s okay, and we were able to kind of reset and refocus, and we know our second period wasn’t the best, and we knew that in the second intermission and we just all kind of came together and pulled it out like we needed to in the third.”
Robbie Earl and Clayton Stoner are in Minnesota. The team brought Brandon Buck back up from Florida. Still, the one thing couldn’t afford was injuries. Which is probably why the team got hit by injuries to Jaime Sifers and Ryan Lannon during the game -- injuries which kept them from returning. Constantine had moved Brandon Rogers up to forward for the game, so he was luckily able to shift him back to the defenseman position.
We talked to Constantine about the injuries afterward, but he said he still didn’t know what their injuries were other than upper body injuries. He thought that Sifers had injured his shoulder -- ala Colt McCoy -- but he was told after that the game that it wasn’t the shoulder.
J.P. Testwuide was a healthy scratch, and Rogers can be moved back to defense, so the team can play with a full compliment of defensemen. But with the injuries to Andy Hilbert and Peter Zingoni and the suspension of Carson McMillan, the Aeros are not only short on forwards -- something they have been all season it seems -- but they’re actually short of a full squad of healthy players. So it should be interesting to see what happens on Saturday.
I don’t know if it was discussed on the radio, but Barry Brust was not on tonight’s roster, so I can only assume that means that he’s on his way back to Florida. I’m sure that that’s something Heather and/or Andrew can discuss with a little more authority later.
I thought tonight’s game was kind of surreal, what with a penalty shot and first goals by Fraser and Kassian. So continuing with my Beatles theme, I went looking for a kind of surreal song. Thus I give you “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”
I’ll see you on Sunday.