In the next three weeks, the Aeros are going to play two sets of four games in five nights (with the latter actually being played out to five games in seven nights.) Seven of those games are going to be on the road, and two of the home games (Hamilton on Dec. 21 and San Antonio on Jan. 1) are against the best two teams in the Western Conference.
They are 15-11-1-2, and if they can make it past New Year's day above .500, they will be set up quite nicely for the rest of the year and a run at the playoffs. They are still not one of the best (record + talent) four teams in the West Division. They are behind San Antonio, Peoria, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and Texas. While they have shown they can play with the latter three of those teams, they have yet to do any significant damage against San Antonio and Peoria.
At a minimum, they need to get eight points (3-5-1-1) during the stretch and get past Jan. 1 above water. If they can do that, and not get burnt out on the road, I think they will be OK.
Here are some more nuggets for you. The Aeros biggest problem this year is being able to hold a lead. In their 13 losses, seven times they have led by at least a goal. In three of them, they had 2-0 leads including Sunday's donkey-kicking against the Monsters.
So only four times, when they did blow a lead or got shutout, the Aeros were pretty much out of the game by the third period. This is a good sign. The Aeros always seem to be in the game, but they have to learn how to protect the lead, and that, I think, is going to define Mike Yeo's first season in Houston.
If he can shore up their charitable mentality, and get this team into the playoffs, that will be a success.
But right now, the trend is not going in the right direction. In each of their last three losses, they have held leads of either 1-0 or 2-0. Not all of it is Yeo. The goalies are playing OK, but Anton was a huge part of the problem on Sunday. He has been pulled way too many times (and deservedly so) this year. There are stretches where there is no doubt in my mind that he could be a good backup in Minny. But most of the time, he looks like a goalie that is still figuring out how to play consistently.
And it didn't help that Casey Wellman, who had the best night an Aero ever had on Friday, was completely shut down on Sunday. We'll see how he responds against the Bulldogs.
This team is the best score-the-first-goal team I have ever been around at the AHL level. If they can keep doing that and figure out how to respond with their opponents turn things up a couple of notches, I think Aeros fans will be watching playoff hockey at Toyota Center this Spring.
Here is a list of the Aeros next nine games and my comments about who I think has the advantage (in bold), schedule-wise. Coaches rarely blame the schedule, but it does play a huge part in the outcomes of games (especially when your team is just above average or on the road a lot).
In their next 10 games, they only have three schedule advantages. If they can keep this from being ugly, hats off to the team and the staff.
Dec. 14, Aeros at Hamilton - Aeros coming off loss, Hamilton home since Dec. 10 and played Sunday
Dec. 15, Aeros at Grand Rapids - Aeros playing third in four days, Grand Rapids off since Sunday
Dec. 17, Aeros at Manitoba - Aeros have one day to get to Canada, Moose off since Dec. 14
Dec. 18. Aeros at Manitoba - Aeros finishing six games in nine days, MTB playing just 2nd in 5 days.
Dec. 21, Aeros vs Hamilton - Aeros get two days off, HAM playing 5th game in 7 days, four on the road
Dec. 26, Aeros vs. Texas - Both teams with a at least four days off, Aeros at home; TEX 1-4 vs. Aeros.
Dec. 27, Aeros at San Antonio - Aeros 0-2 at San Antonio, Rampage rusty with seven full days off.
Dec. 29, Aeros at Milwaukee - Both playing third game in four days; MKE is 6-1-2-1 at home.
Dec. 30, Aeros at Rockford - Aeros 4th in 5, Rockford have not played back-to-back since Dec. 18
Jan. 01, Aeros at San Antonio - Aeros 5th game in 7 days, Rampage first road game since Dec. 18
Now you are well-educated fans, and your expectations should be limited over the next few weeks.
To play us out, let's go to the Beach Boys, with this all too appropriate song for today: