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

Friday, March 12, 2010

Division doormat

Let me first apologize up front for being a little long-winded tonight. But after watching the team lose they way they did tonight, I think I needed to take a good, long look at the big picture.

I promise you though, that if you get through this you'll be a little smarter. If not, well, let me know, and I will put on some Stetson and make myself (and a few others) feel better than way.

When the Aeros get home from Chicago O'Hare Monday morning, it is very likely that the team will have a very nice grip on the basement in the West division standings. Right now, whether they admit it or not, the other teams on the Aeros schedule and circling "HOU" as two points. Just about every one of those teams still has a chance at making the playoffs, so these last dozen games are so will be just like the playoffs. Every game you see from here on out will have some sort of postseason implication, and the Aeros are going to get their opponents best every ... single ... night.

Friday's game carried the same theme as many of the Aeros games have had in recent weeks. That theme being blowing it late with a soft goal or two. It's easy to blame the goaltending on a last-place team, so I will back this up with a few facts.

Let's rewind a bit.

2/25 vs. Manitoba: In a close game, the Aeros tie it late. After allowing just six shots on goal in the third period, they lose with 3:24 left on a late Moose goal.

2/27 vs. Texas: Aeros allow Texas three goals on their first three shots and never recover.

3/3 at San Antonio: Aeros have a 3-1 lead in the third period. They allow seven shots after taking the lead, two of them go in and they lose in a shootout.

3/6 at Texas Stars: Down 3-1, the Aeros rally with two big goals in the third period. They allow just five shots in the third period, two of then go in and they lose 4-3.

3/12 (tonight) vs. Peoria: The Aeros race out to a 2-0 lead, they allow just 21 shots in the game (several fewer than that when it mattered) and Anton Khudobin allows a very soft goal by Nicholas Drazenovic.

What is the pattern in all these losses? Well, for one thing not enough goals ... but in several cases here, they are enough. Enough to at least get a point. Enough to at least get a good third period and hold on.

The Aeros goalies just aren't stopping enought pucks when they need to. Sure, who am I to criticize goaltending? Well ... I have seen enough goaltending, though, and here is one thing I do know: statistics.

Entering play Friday, the Aeros were the NO. 1 team in the league in shots allowed per game. At 25.85, they are the only team allowing fewer than 26 shots per game. Divide that by three. That averages out to less than NINE shots per period. Nine (wish I could make that flash).

The Aeros saves percentage by period is as follows:

  • First - .900
  • Second - .895
  • Third - .893

It goes down every period, even though (and especially recently) they are allowing fewer and fewer shots as the games go on. My point to all of this is that their goaltending has not been very good. It has not been clutch, and with a team that struggles to score goals (yes, they are damn near the worst team in the league in that regard) the defense and the goalies have to find a way to limit opportunities and to make big saves.

Even with a huge mental lapse or two every period, their shots against numbers ARE good enough. Even with above average goaltending, the team should be winning more.

Maybe I am just being a little hard on the goalies tonight because of how the Peoria game ended. That was a terrible goal, so maybe I shouldn't be calling the guy out. But that is why I looked up the stats. From here on out, the goalies need to realize that there is a whole lot more to play for than any silly notion of the playoffs.

Barry is done this year due to injury, but I think his body of work warrants someone in the AHL giving him a shot in 2010-11. He also has four of the last six wins in net.

Wade Dubielewicz is rusty beyond belief right now, but I seriously don't think he is coming back to the Wild organization next year. If and when he gets any minutes down the stretch, he is playing for next year. If he has a European contract lined up for next year, I don't know about it. Wade has been a stand-up guy, too, win or lose, and I think he very much cares about how the rest of this season will turn out.

And Anton. Man, I love that kid. He always talks to the media... good or bad. He usually gives a pretty honest and candid assessment of his performance and his care and want to are very contagious in the locker room. But he, far more than anyone else, needs to have a good last few weeks.

The Wild are going to make some big decisions this offseason as far as where to take the team, and Anton needs to know that he is not penciled in the No. 2 or No. 3 spot on the depth chart going in to next year. They will bring someone in to challenge for that job, and Anton needs to find some clutch to go along with that great personality and go-get-'em attitude.

There is less than one month left to watch this hockey team. I hope I gave you something a little extra to look at next time you check them out.

7 comments:

Ms. Conduct said...

Stetson.

Beautiful.

Fantastic work, as always, Drew.

artandhockey said...

Yes, indeed.
We really will enjoy look forward to a new team of boyz I hope, instead of veterans, boyz that are wanting it badly enough to LISTEN and FOLLOW the coaches' system, approved or not by higher powers.
The few, the very few, that have shown consistency: Daoust, Noreau, Smith, Rau, Falk so much improved!
And I continue to question the fights at 'last seconds'.
'Shortfuses' in the, oh, so young cannot be the full reason?
At that time and after goals, why?
Spending time killing penalties keeps any team from scoring...but Aeros seem particularly prone to that. I hate to be so negative, I've appreciated the good hard work, but ---- alas!
Guyz: BRAINS before BRAWLS!The stakes have been too big to squander.

Forecheck said...

The painful truth, Drew.

Now, on to Chicago for a remake of that 1973 classic, "The Saturday Night Massacre".

Chris Jerina said...

Well, for better or worse, you won't have images from tonight's game in Chicago (from me at least)

BUT, I will be at the game in Rockford tomorrow... hopefully I can witness one last Aeros road win :)

ICEVET said...

All serious hockey fans know that when things go bad, a goalie (like a Football quarterback) is the player most exposed to "universal" criticism (after all, who bothers to look at anyone but the goalie on a goal replay). These 20-20critics often fail to summon the "intellectual dicipline" in connecting-the-dots to track HOW, collectively, the netminder's Team (i) incurred "unnecessary penalties" (charging, fight instigation, roughing, goalie interference, delay of game, unsportsman-like conduct, etc), leading to a numbers disadvantage and/or (ii) failed to provide a consistent "effective" defense, all of which have led to "very-high probability" and wide-open scoring opportunities for Aeros opponents.

Despite the pre-season hype, the Aeros defense has been subpar throughout the season (much worse, after Clayton Stoner was called-up). Proof of the pudding, Aeros opponents have been very accurate in "making goals", with a much higher efficiency (goals v. SOG) than the Aeros. This begs the rhetorical question: where has the Aeros Team defense been???

IMO on a 10 scale, the 2009-10 version of the Aeros ranks around a 2.5, when compared to the 2008-9 version (which had a Soul), with whom Anton Khudobin excelled in leading to a seventh game of the Calder Cup semi-finals. Anton has clearly demonstrated his willingness to accept responsibility for his performance (good or bad) and, more important, capability to play well at the NHL level, when given the opportunity. Hopefully, the WILD will give him a chance to win a regular spot on the 2010-11 roster.

Finally, to those fans who continue to get emotional over the Aeros current plight, please.....just relax and enjoy the great game of hockey.

Go Aeros!

Andrew J. Ferraro said...

"These 20-20 critics often fail to summon the "intellectual discipline" in connecting-the-dots to track HOW...."

IceVet ... You are right, it is VERY easy to blame the goalie, but as a 20-20 critic, it is not something that I, personally, have done all year.

More often than not, the goalies have been left out to dry at times throughout the season. The Aeros have not been, for the most part, a very smart team at any time this year.

But what they are good at is killing penalties (5th), not allowing a ton of shots (1st), and not allowing goals (5th)....

That's right, only four teams in the league have allowed fewer goals that the Aeros.

While your argument holds up about how goals are scored, the defense is not as bad as you portray. Stats don't lie ... the Aeros are good enough defensively.

But they do not score enough (have only scored more than three goals once in last 14-15 games), they are THE worst 1st period team in the AHL (outscored by 17! with a league low 36 goals) and their goalies, usually, are not clutch in the third period. Their saves percentage is below 90 in the last 20 minutes. And this is when the team, as a whole, allows the fewest shots of any three periods.

Anton has played unbelievably at times since getting regular work (again). But he has not stolen a game for them. It is unfair to blame him entirely, I know that, but he needs to step things up, especially in the third period.

ICEVET said...

It is sometimes said that "the best defense is a good offense" (which we all agree is the Aeros most significant problem relative to Western Division competition, in particular, SA and Texas with whom the Aeros play so many Lone-Star games).

What is most remarkable about the 2009-10 West Division, however, is not the high level of competitiveness (AHL best) but the collective, order-of-magnitude improvement since last season, highlighted by a rich talent pool and a growing percentage of players on opponent rosters with (meaningful) NHL playing time (Chicago, for example).

Go Aeros!