Darcy Kuemper tracks the puck in the corner during the 2-1 SO loss to the OKC Barons last Thursday. Photo by Morris Molina/Houston Aeros
I didn't walk away from the weekend with a feeling in the pit of my stomach like, "Uh oh, the Aeros suck." But now that I look back at the 2-1 SO loss to Oklahoma City, the 1-0 win over San Antonio, and the 3-2 SO loss to Peoria, I'm sorta questioning my memory.
Like the Wild, the Aeros are just scraping by right now, in a number of ways, including a problem the Wild don't really even have.
Here are the Aeros woes:
- Callups: Wellman, Prosser, Almond, and Hackett being up with the big club puts a real dent in the Aeros offense, defense, AND goaltending.
- Injuries: Ortemeyer, McIntyre and (at least as of Sunday) Palmer are out with injuries.
- No extra bodies: At this level, extra bodies means competition for ice time and without it, everybody plays regardless of how their last game went. Unlike the Wild who can swap out one call-up for another who will be freshly hungry to stay up, the Aeros have zero extra healthy bodies to push that competitive button. Talking to Torchetti, this seems to be his biggest concern.
- Lack of practice time: This is getting remedied this week, with 4 days to rest and practice and work on some things.
- Lack of chemistry: With no practice time and LOADS of turnover and new faces on the bench, a team that used to be able to look like mind readers is now failing to connect more often than not.
- Horrible power play: This is, from the looks of it, a spin-off of the chemistry and practice time problems. But whatever the case, the power play is 20th in the league at home and 14th on the road (where they actually play well).
- Horrible in shootouts: Oh my God, is this team helpless in shootouts. The first one they win (they've lost all 6 so far) will be a glorious day. I expect a jubilant celebration from these guys when they finally get that monkey off their back. They tell us, "Oh, you can't think that way" when we ask if this shootout problem is now sort of becoming a mental problem, but how can it not be?
- Keep getting points: As Warren Peters pointed out to Joe O'Donnell after Sunday's SO loss, if the team keeps getting points (they got 4 of 6 points this past week but only won one game), it's hard for the young guys to learn any lessons from the games. You're "good enough," which as Peters especially knows, having been on teams challenging for the Calder Cup the past two seasons, won't cut it come playoff time.
Other than that, though, everything's GREAT!
Seriously though, the Aeros are blessed to have had Darcy Kuemper waiting in the wings, but they have a 3 in 3 this weekend that looks like this: Home Friday, bus all night to OKC for Saturday night's game, and bus all night back to Houston for Sunday afternoon game.
So that's a bit concerning from a goaltending standpoint. The backup they brought in, Rob Nolan from ECHL Chicago, may be just fine, but it would be nice to have Matt Hackett back. Having the NHL #2 star of the week and the AHL Player of the Week in net would go a long way toward overcoming some issues with roster depth.
At the end of the day, things are a little hairy down here, I'm not gonna lie. But the Aeros are in a good position still. Just 1 point out of first place in the division and in the league (thank you Texasfor beating OKC last night) and as time marches on, the Aeros get closer to getting some important players back in the line-up.