Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Game Day - Aeros begin three in three weekend against the Texas Stars

Over the next week, including twice the weekend, the Aeros and Texas Stars are going to see a lot of each other. While there is still a lot of season left, don't underestimate the importance of these games ... especially for the Aeros, who later this month will start a stretch where they will play 18 of 23 games on the road. (If I could figure out how to make that last part blink, I would ... )

For you that means get to the Toyota Center while you can. Your only option for a good stretch of the season will be trying to watch AHL Live, arguably THE biggest #failure in all of sports technology.

The Aeros are 4-1-0-0 against Texas
For the Aeros, that means they better stock up on points while they can. Since that hot start on the road, the Aeros have lost five straight road games (outscored 17-8) and have just one regulation road win since Nov. 13.

To be fair, they have been really good at home since then, so they have been able to keep pace with the league. But if they don't turn things around before the end of the month, they are going to need all of those home games at the end just to make the playoffs.

Back to the Stars ...

They match up well with the Aeros, even though Houston has won four of the five games this seasons (two in OT). In the series, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker lead all players with seven points each (both have three goals and four assists). Cody Eakin has been good against the Aeros this season and has three goals and an assist in the series.

The Stars are slightly better defensively, allowing just 86 goals to the Aeros 91. But the Aeros have scored 18 more goals than their intrastate rivals, and since Texas has the worst PK in the AHL (78.8 percent), the Aeros should be able to get goals if and when they can get to the power play. (Note - the Aeros have the fifth best PP in the league at 20.6 percent, but those numbers are much better on the road).

The Stars' Cody Eakin is ... good. 
The Aeros have points in four straight since losing badly at Lake Erie before Christmas. Texas, conversely, has struggled recently, going just 1-4-1-0 in their last six, including an 0-for-3 mark against OKC during that stretch. As good as Houston has been against the OKC Oilers, the Stars have struggled against them.

The goaltending favors Texas, as Nilstorp is 12-10 with a 2.24 GAA and a .913 saves percentage. Hackett has more wins, but his numbers look a lot more like half the people you'll see at LA Fitness this month. His saves percentage is OK at .905, but his GAA is 2.60 ... He and the defense need to clamp down and just play better early and with the lead.

I think many people, including myself at times, are just too hard on Hackett. This is not the same team that was here two years ago, folks ... not even close. The 2011 playoff team was LOADED with AHL ringers. This is a very young team with a lot of injuries, and Hackett, despite a pedestrian GAA, has the team in position for home-ice advantage in the first round.

Hackett is doing just fine. The biggest concern the Aeros have to have right now is the atrocious penalty kill numbers. They are just four spots from the AHL's bottom at 79.3 percent ... That has to get better, especially when you consider how many one-goal games this team plays.

The key to a successful weekend for the Aeros is tonight's game against Texas. And to get the win, the Aeros have to play a good first period and put the Stars down early. Texas is 13-3-2-2 when tied or ahead after the first period, and the Aeros are just 7-6-0-2 when down after one. Conversely, when leading after 20 minutes, the Aeros are 7-0-1-0; the Stars are 3-8-1-0 when they are on the other side.

In closing, I think Zucker and Granlund can dominate this season as they have done so far. MiG is heating up too. Remember when I sort of accused him of coasting last week? Well, he's only put up six points in his last four games and he's making good things happen for the Aeros.

My money is on the lockout ending by the middle of this month, and the Aeros better get the most out of Granlund while they can.

Also, here is a link to the Texas perspective from Hundred Degree Hockey...

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