Matt Hackett stops a wrap-around attempt by San Antonio's Bracken Kearns. Photo by Chris Krafcik
Much likefans, Aeros fans are in that painful early-season process of looking at the product on the ice and trying to find the balance between "OH GOD, THEY'RE NOT GETTING IT!" and "Hey, it's been 4 games. Chill the hell out."
It seems like only yesterday, we were watching the Aeros operate with machine-like efficiency and a complete understanding of Mike Yeo's system as they battled for the Calder Cup. And with that memory fresh on our minds, what really sticks out are the new guys who don't have the system burned into their brains.
So, I spend a lot of time during Aeros games going, "Bahhh, what's that guy doing? Terrible decision-making!" and then realizing, "Oh right, he's a new guy."
The smooth operation we're used to is there in fits and starts, but the success of last season has me (and I'm sure many others) wondering when it's going to click for THIS group. And hoping it's not in January like it was last year.
Now that I've laid the groundwork for my perspective on the season thus far, let's look at what's happened in the first four games to get the Aeros to this 2-1-0-1 record they're currently sporting.
The Games: In spite of a seemingly endless parade to the penalty box, the Aeros won their first two games of the season, beating Chicago in the home opener and Texas (in Cedar Park) at the start of last weekend's 3-in-3.
The team was edged out by San Antonio in an 11 round shootout (only 3 goals between all 22 shooters) at home Saturday. Then got blanked in OKC after busing all night and playing at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Jarod Palmer hasn't made it on to the score sheet but boy is that guy a honey badger. Worked his tail off Saturday against San Antonio and was constantly in the mix, making like difficult for the Rampage.
Jed Ortmeyer and Warren Peters spent the summer training together, and they're obviously not sick of each other yet because they put together one of the prettiest goals I've ever seen on Aeros ice in the home opener. Imagine this:
Dangerous but extremely nifty spin-o-rama no-look pass from Kris Foucault as their line is streaking past the hash marks to Peters, who centered it to Ortmeyer for a one-timer in the low slot. It was breath-taking. And as a goalie, I sorta hate that stuff, but it was too pretty to hate.
Keeping an Eye on: I hate to call anyone out yet because either every single new guy on the team is inept (very unlikely), or they're still learning the system and still having to think too much about what to do with and without the puck. Jeff Taffe, who was brought in as Patrick O'Sullivan's replacement, has been quiet, but shows flashes of why he's been a scoring machine in the AHL all these years.
Jordan Hendry has got to be a better defenseman than I'm seeing so far. And I'm still not sure I understand Joel Broda. For a kid built like a tank, I really expect him to be stronger on the puck. And then he turns around and fights (and wins) in the home opener? Just not sold on his game at the AHL level yet.
However, like I said, all the new guys need a break. It takes time to commit the details of this system to muscle memory and to get your reactions not only correct and instinctive.
What's Coming: Regardless of a little duddery right now, everyone has shown glimpses of what's special about their game. Kris Foucault, for instance, has amazing hands. He's not the galloping power forward Gillies was on that Ortmeyer/Peters line, but adds some fearless finesse that will be fun to watch.
With goalie Darcy Kuemper sent to the ECHL Ontario Reign for ice time (and already tweeting pictures of Laguna Beach and has his first win... so I guess he's not hating life too much), I'm excited to see Dennis Endras play. He's only had one game so far and it was away, but he should challenge Hackett for ice time and that should keep both of them sharp.
And in breaking news, word just came down this morning that Carson McMillan has been suspended 4 games for an "illegal check to the head" Saturday night against the Rampage. I saw the play and it was a shoulder to shoulder, open-ice check. I couldn't believe he got a penalty for it, and am in even more disbelief that he's getting a heavy suspension for it. His "repeat offender" status didn't help his case, unfortunately.
The Coach: Torchetti hinted that he's not 100% pleased with the commitment he's getting from all four lines, and as such, he can't roll all four evenly right now. He wasn't going to throw anyone under the bus, and I won't speculate, but it will be interesting to see how he deals with that in the coming weeks.
Two good practice days this week before the team flies to Charlotte for the Aeros first- ever meeting with the Checkers Friday and Saturday. I'll catch you up on that action same time next week!