Here's the beauty part of paying attention to the Aeros in addition to the Wild: Sometimes the Aeros give you something to smile about when the Wild seem hell bent on giving you permanent frown lines.
It's not that the Aeros are doing a whole lot better. They've lost 5 of their last 7 games, absolutely decimated, shaken up, and thrown off by the revolving door between here and Minnesota, plus injuries of their own, short benches all too frequently, and ECHLers in and out of the line-up.
Never mind not having played a home game for over a month.
But they keep winning often enough and decisively enough that it keeps us hanging on, believing that the playoffs are not out of reach if we could just get the roster to stabilize.
Let's take a look at the chances for the farm boys to press their way into the post-season:
The basics are this:
19 games left, 13 are at home. It seems nice on the surface, but the Aeros are 9-16 (including OT/SO losses) at home and 18-14 on the road. They didn't adopt that #roadwarriors hash tag for nothing. So it will be interesting to see if the longest road stand ever will get the boys appreciating home ice advantage a little more.
They ARE in playoff position. Sitting 7th in the conference with 66 points and 2-3 games in hand on most teams around them (though those will be quickly eaten up in the next two very busy weeks), the Aeros are sitting pretty. Not gorgeous, but pretty, especially for how tough a road it's been.
They WILL get guys back. Goalie Darcy Kuemper is injured day-to-day and, as you all know, Hackett is up with the Wild getting his "Welcome to the NHL" fire hose to the face until Backstrom gets his groin back (or the season ends, whichever is first). So the team is fielding two ECHL call-up goalies at the moment. And they let in 6 goals on 18 shots in yesterday's game against Abbotsford (thankfully, Abby's goalies let in 6 on 29 shots and Matt Keetley stopped all but one shootout attempt for the 7-6 win).
Also, Palmer may be on the mend soon, and the Aeros will get a whole passel of guys from the Wild when their season ends a good 8 days before the Aero's season ends: Palmieri, Kampfer, Scandella, Prosser. And those are some really solid assets to get back.
Chemistry takes time. The good thing is, all these guys have played together at one time or another, so there's a mix that works in there somewhere, but how long it takes to find it is a matter of critical importance. If the Aeros only have a full playoff roster for 4 games, and those games will almost surely matter, either with regard to making the playoffs at all or getting home ice, that could be a sticky situation.
But really, this time of year is what it's all about, and regardless of what happens, I feel like this Aeros team has the mental wherewithal to at least do the best they can with what they've got.
What I don't see is another deep playoff push. I just don't think the top-end firepower is there. We might have had it -- that Patrick O'Sullivan replacement -- if Wellman hadn't been traded, but I don't see who would can consistently bring that threat.
The team has threats up and down the roster, but last year had 3 20+ goal scorers at their disposal. Only Jon DiSalvatore comes even close this year with exactly 21 goals thus far.
Still, in a Wild season bereft of hope and sunshine, there is a glimmer down here in Houston. With a huge home stand coming up throughout March, rest assured the Aeros hold their own fate in their hands. I'll keep you posted as to what they do with it.