How about that? In the space of a two-and-a-half hours the Aeros went from 10th place in the Western Conference playoff standings to sixth place. And they did so in rather impressive fashion, dominating the Abbotsford Heat and getting the 4-1 win in a game that wasn't near as close as that final score indicates.
The damage came, again, from the Aeros power play unit as the team's first two goals came off the power play. Justin Fontaine netted both of the power play goals with Jeff Taffe getting an assist on each and Kris Fredheim and Chay Genoway getting the other assists.
Jeff Taffe struck for his third point of the game early in the second when he took the pass from Genoway and stuck it past Heat goalie Leland Irving. And the Aeros final goal came off of the stick of Jon DiSalvatore who blasted a slap shot from way up above the left circle past Irving -- the assist going to, you guessed it, Taffe.
The game was marred by multiple fights -- Almond was hit with two fighting majors -- and it got really, really ugly at the start of the third period when Abbotsford's Akim Aliu went after Almond just seconds into the period. A semi-brawl ensued, and by the time the bodies were separated and the penalties were handed out, it was clear the Heat were beaten -- Aliu got 2:00 for instigating, 5:00 for fighting, and a 10:00 game misconduct, Hugh Jessiman got 2:00 for roughing and a 10:00 game misconduct while Almond got five for fighting and Carson McMillan got 2:00 for roughing (how Drew Bagnall escaped without a penalty is still surprising).
The Heat scored seconds later, but it was clear that it was way too little, too late, and that the Aeros were going to pull out this game.
Justin Fontaine looked really good for the Aeros, but the true star of the game was Taffe and the power play.
"A good power play, you have to stay with it," head coach John Torchetti said. "As long as your power play doesn't take momentum away, you've got to stay with it. And if they just stick with what we keep teaching them -- and they're doing a great job of that -- and just take what's given to you -- once you learn to just take what's given to you -- and you're going to shoot, you have to be shooting first...it starts with the shot."
Torchetti spoke glowingly about the play of Genoway, calling him a big plus who's really smart and who will be really dangerous once he learns to shoot the puck.
And speaking of dangerous, Taffe had his second four point night in his last three games, once again getting a goal and three assists. Torchetti credits this with Taffe getting more aggressive and competing for more pucks. He's challenged the vets to do more on the ice, and he says that, at times, challenging the vets and drawing more out of them on the ice hasn't been pretty because he can't always be nice, but that they have responded.
"I have a rapport with my veterans, and I trust them," Torchetti said. "We had a talk at Christmas -- now that we're down to three [veterans]...I'm going to be harder on you because I expect you to play at a level. I expect our team to still win....You're going to be pressured."
And in goal again tonight was Joe Fallon who stopped 26 of the Heat's 27 shots, including making several tough stops early in the game when the Heat seemed to be controlling the action.
"He played big," Torchetti said of Fallon. "He's getting comfortable, he's being confident. He's challenging. He's doing a good job for us."
The Aeros are now 29-20-3-9 on the season with 15 games to play. They're tied, pointswise, with four other teams who all have 70 points, but the Aeros winning percentage has them in a tie for sixth place with San Antonio, and they're only a point behind Chicago and Peoria, who both have 71 points.
If the Aeros keep playing hockey like they did tonight, aggressive, attacking the net, shooting the puck, they could still be dangerous. But this weekend could be the key as they take on a rapidly improving Rockford club on Friday, face Abbotsford again on Saturday, and Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Jon DiSalvatore said on Sunday that this is all in their control. And it is. They just have to keep winning and getting points. If the bleeding can stop in Minnesota and the guys here can actually stay here and stay healthy, then the Aeros might still be able to pull this out.
As for tonight, it was sure was a fun game to watch.
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