It's no story around here that the Aeros are in a tight fight for a playoff hunt. There are six points separating the Aeros, who are in first place, from Chicago, who is in seventh place. Yes, you read that right, six points between first and seventh place. So the Aeros are at a stretch in the season where they can't afford to go off on a long losing streak.
But today, in their 3-1 loss to the Wolves, the Aeros resembled more that team we came to know and loathe in early December than the team we've come to know since Christmas. They came out slow, with absolutely no energy or focus, and things never improved. Sure, they outshot Chicago 35-17 -- the Wolves took only four shots in the second period and one shot in the third period -- but that was not so much the Aeros defense as it was Chicago just focusing on defense.
And while Anton Khudobin didn't have the best days -- he did let in two pucks on just four shots in the second period -- he was most definitely not the cause of the loss. At least he, at times, appeared to be trying to focus. So...
1. The Aeros got off to a slow start. They got off to a slow start on Sunday. And apparently, according to Mike Yeo, they got off to bad starts in the wins over Rockford and Peoria. So while two losses does not a trend make, four slow starting games in a row do.
2. "I think, certainly, you could see it the last two or three games of that six-game wining streak," Yeo said. "You could see that we were starting to get away from who we are a little bit. As it happens, when things are going well for you, you can get away with it. In order to turn things around, and get things going well for yourself again, you better be honest with yourself and approach the game the right way. And make sure, number one, that the work ethic is there, and number two, that you’re committed to playing the type of game that we need to play to be successful."
3. Jon DiSalvatore agreed with Yeo, saying that this is something the team's been struggling with the past week or so, even though they were winning games.
"I think the same reason we were having so much success with our starts was focus and execution, and that’s the same reason for some of the woes that we’ve been having over the past few games is just our focus and execution" he said. "Sometimes you have a tendency, when things are going so good, to forget what got you there. And that’s obviously slipped away from us a little bit these past couple of games. But we’re a team that’s always found a way to rise up to challenge, and right now we’re facing a little bit of a challenge. I’m confident that we’ll bounce back from this."
4. The Aeros need to bounce back from these past couple of games, and they need to bounce back quickly. That's because, as I wrote above, there are only six points separating the Aeros from seventh place Chicago. And with only 23 games remaining in the regular season for the Aeros, a prolonged slump of any kind could possibly doom them.
5. "Every point is crucial," DiSalvatore said. "You really can’t go into any game and feel like, okay, we’re in a comfortable situation. We’re never in a comfortable situation in this division. We’re in a playoff mentality right now where from one night to the next you can move four spots in the standings. It’s crucial to look at every game and every point, as a must win, and a must need point. That’s something that we know, and we’re going to apply to everything that we do in preparation."
6. Still, it seems strange to worry about a team, go into stress over, a team that's 16-6-0-1 since Christmas. But we all knew that the team couldn't keep up that level of play for the rest of the season. The play has been spectacular, and during the stretch, especially in January, they were doing just about everything perfectly. The hope was that, at some point, the rest of the division would start slumping. And for the most part, this hasn't happened. Each team let up just enough for the Aeros to catch up -- and the Aeros have had the number of the Stars this season -- but the Aeros, while catching up, haven't been able to put any space between them and the opposition.
7. We asked Yeo after the game whether he considered pulling Anton Khudobin from the game after that third goal, which came less than a minute after the second.
"My plan was to play Matt [Hackett] tomorrow," Yeo said. "Anyway, so unless something happened – I didn’t think that it was Anton’s fault, and changing the goalie at that time was really going to change the momentum of the game. I thought that it was a little unfair to pull Anton in that situation, given how the team was playing front of him."
8. And Yeo made a good point. Khudobin didn't play that great a game -- he did give up three goals on just 17 shots -- but he played a tremendous game when compared to his teammates.
9. The Aeros didn't seem to have much oomph on offense. We noted during the game that Robbie Earl seemed to be setting up his line mates time and time again with good opportunities, but nothing would happen. We asked Yeo about this after the game, and he admitted that he's worried about the Earl/Daoust/Rau line as well as the Almond/DiSalvatore/O'Sullivan line.
"We need some production from that line, there’s no question," Yeo said of the Earl line. "Even Almond’s line, the last couple of games, five-on-five, we haven’t been generating much. I think it’s a matter – it’s nice to go out as a line like that, they know what their identity is and they know that they’re supposed to score goals. Having said that, you’ve got to respect the process. There’s far too many turnovers from both lines. And far too little commitment as far as getting to the offensive zone and doing it the right way, and doing it the way that we’ve had the success with. And once we get that back, then I think that those guys will see that the results will start to come."
10. The one thing I noticed, and it's probably just me, was that the Aeros were having their best starts when Colton Gillies, Warren Peters, and Jed Ortmeyer were the starting line. I don't know what the starting lines were on the road, but these guys seemed to provide the right tone when it came to starting the game. They weren't going to score goals, but they were going to get the energy level on the ice up.
11. The crowd was non-existent today. There were supposed to be a ton of HISD high school kids at the game, but most of them bailed out. It's my thought that they bailed out because, after cancelling classes for the Snowpocalyse two weeks ago, they couldn't justify pulling kids out of school for a hockey game.
12. And Aeros, a favor. The next time you have one of these daytime matinees, please coordinate things with the Hilton and the George R. Brown Convention Center because parking in the Toyota Center parking garage was virtually non-existent for those of us attempting to get to the game because of some kind of convention that was going on.
13. The good news is that, though the Aeros lost today, since this was the only game played, the Aeros are still in first place.
14. I haven't played any videos in awhile, but since I've discovered another reader who is a fan of Juliana Hatfield, I have to play some Juliana Hatfield before I end this post. So here's the Juliana Hatfield Three with "My Sister," just because.