Get a cup of coffee, a soda or even a hot tea. Let me apologize up front for being a little long-winded today.
Clearly there were a ton of questions about how the Aeros were going to compete with the rest of the AHL when they failed to restore the fire power when Corey Locke, Jesse Schultz and Krys Kolanos were not brought back with the new regime.
Those questions still exist, but I think the Aeros offense has fared better than many of us expected or predicted before the season got underway. Right now, they are 21st in the league is scoring at 2.63 goals per game. That is up from dead last in the league after about the first month or so.
Their goals against numbers are great, and they are fifth in the league in that category with two of the best goalies in the AHL. They have the best goaltending tandem in the West division, and only the Hamilton Bulldogs (statistically) have two goalies have a better tandem in the AHL.
While Anton Khudobin's winless streak continues to grow, I have to believe that he will right the ship sooner or later. I hate using that cliché, but the Aeros defense is just too good for him not to make the necessary adjustments. When the Aeros were being outshot 32-8 at one point Sunday, he kept the game from being 5-2 or 6-2 after two periods.
There are going to be tough stretches for this team offensively, but the team fights hard enough every night to keep itself in the middle of the playoff race.
And newly named captain Jon DiSalvatore is a big reason for that.
Last month, he wore the "C" for the first time Dec. 13 in a 4-1 win over the Rockford IceHogs. Since then, the Aeros are 6-3-2-0 (points in eight of 11) and he has scored three game-winning goals in half of those wins. When someone says they like to lead by example ... that is what they are talking about.
Of everyone on the team this year, DiSalvatore (pictured above batting former Aero Joel Ward when he was playing for Peoria) has played the most games against the Aeros since the 2003-04 season. That is the first year the team played downtown, since moving from the holy land that is now Lakewood (mega) Church.
When Aeros GM Jim Mill told me that he nabbed DiSalvatore, I was instantly excited about the kind of leadership he would bring to a team that has a good mix of older and (mostly) younger players. Mill told me that he brought in DiSalvatore to use his wealth of AHL experience to keep a consistent locker room. In case you haven't heard this before, it's never too good to get too high or too low during the season. Get too high and you can get complacent ... get too low and you end up with a 17-game losing streak. Amazingly there have been two of those in the AHL the last two years.
DiSalvatore has been a pest for the Aeros to play against in the past, and coming into the year he had 33 career games against the Aeros under his belt. Four as a member of the Cleveland Barons, then two while playing for the Worcester IceCats. After that, he was with the Peoria Rivermen for two years. Then, two years ago, he helped lead the San Antonio Rampage to their first-ever season series win over the Aeros. (Note - they won the season series on a technicality. They had identical records against each other, but the Rampage had one more goal in the season series.)
In those 33 games, DiSalvatore had eight goals, 11 assists and was 1-for-2 in shootouts. His teams were 19-12-1 against the boys in bomber gear, and he helped the 06-07 Peoria team to a 7-2-0-1 record against the Aeros in Rob Daum's second of two years at the helm.
Again, I was glad that Mill picked him up after he spend one year playing in Lowell. This year, DiSalvatore is on pace to pick up 57 points and a career-high 27 goals. He had better assist numbers when he was with the Rivermen, but he seems to be right in the middle of every scoring chance the Aeros generate, especially on the power play.
I don't know where DiSalvatore's career will take him after this year. He has been nomadic since leaving the Blues organization, and my guess is he'll sign another two-way deal, hope for the best and then start looking for something more lucrative over in Switzerland.
But if this team gets to the playoffs, and DiSalvatore likes playing for Kevin Constantine and Co., then maybe Mill will find a way to get him back for another season. I don't know if Mill called DiSalvatore first or second after Mill replaced Tom Lynn, but the Aeros new captain was certainly one of the first.
Cheer for No. 14 the next time you see the Aeros. He is one of the main reasons why this team is better than you thought they'd be.