Houston Aeros at the Crossroads
Photo by Fred Trask
Corey Locke rushes for the puck.
When last I wrote about the Aeros, the team was coming off a fight-filled 4-2 victory that left head coach Kevin Constantine hoping his team had turned the corner on what was quickly becoming a disappointing season. The team then proceeded to win only one of the three games they played last week, thus meaning the issue of turning the corner is still up for debate.
The Aeros came from behind on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead over the Manitoba Moose into the third period. And 3-1 third period leads should be insurmountable - they were for last season's Aeros - but Aeros ended up losing the game 5-3 after surrendering four third period goals. Thursday morning found the Aeros once again falling behind the Moose before tying the game with two third period goals, only to lose the game 3-2 in a shootout.
"Last year we hardly ever came from behind and hardly ever gave up a lead, and this year we give up leads and come from behind," Constantine said after Saturday night's game. "We've got to fix that."
Saturday night, the Aeros took on the Syracuse Crunch. And as has become the norm, the Aeros fell behind, going down 2-0 to the Crunch about midway through the second period of what was turning into a rough, physical game that, late in the first period, found starting goalie Barry Brust being crunched to the ice while attempting to play the puck in the goalie trapezoid behind the net. And with the offensive scoring machine that is Krys Kolanos missing from the team after being recalled by the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, the odds of the Aeros mounting the comeback this time looked slight.
Enter Corey Locke.
Locke, who had been playing on the same line with Kolanos (and feeding Kolanos pass after pass), put the Aeros on the board at 10:17 of the second when he got free on a breakaway to make the score 2-1. Then just under two minutes later, Locke took a pass from Jesse Schultz and in turn fed the puck to Tomas Mojzis who fired in the puck from the top the bottom red circle to get the power play goal and tie the game. At 15:34 of the second, and again on the power play, Maxim Noreau fired in a slap shot from about the same spot as Mojzis had to put the Aeros up 3-2.
Leading to the question: would the Aeros be able to hold onto the third period lead?
Corey Locke did what he could to make that happen as he took the pass from Jason Deitsch and streaked up the ice to get his second breakaway goal of the night to put the Aeros up 4-2 at 6:54 of the third. From that point on, it was up to Barry Brust. And Brust was more than up to the challenge.
Brust was bombarded by the puck all night, and coming into the third period, he had blocked 30 of 32 shots. Some in rather spectacular fashion. He let one more shot get past him, as the Crunch scored a six-on-five goal with 18 seconds left in the game to make the final score 4-3.
"He found ways to just get the job done," Constantine said of Brust.
As for Brust, who stopped 40 of 43 shots, he deflected the praise, instead saying after the game, "The boys bailed me out tonight." And while it's nice of Brust to think that, if anybody bailed out the team on Saturday night, it was him.
The 11-10-1-2 Aeros have three more games at Toyota Center this week. They play the Rochester Americans on Tuesday and the Quad City Flames on Thursday - both games at 7:05 - and the Hershey Bears at 7:35 on Saturday night.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
The Aeros haven't had much luck with holding third period leads this season. Last Tuesday night, when they brought the 3-1 into the third, it looked from the press box as if the guys were tightening up a bit. After that game, Constantine got on the team about playing stupid and cited a lack of on-ice leadership among the players as one of the causes behind the loss. So it's possible that Saturday night's win could be that proverbial turning point for the team.
"It was really important tonight to have a lead in the third and win the game. Really important," Constantine said. "Because six times this year we've had the lead in the third and haven't won it. And so we needed to win that. It was really important."
The Aeros will be playing without some key players for awhile. Kolanos is back up in Minnesota with the parent club. Ryan Hamilton is out for about ten more days because of a concussion he suffered in last Tuesday's loss to Manitoba. Brian Lundbohm is out with a groin injury. Clayton Stoner is suffering from what the team classifies as a lower body injury, but which I think means his back is once again hurt - Stoner's back is a recurring problem that has kept him out a lot in previous seasons.
Corey Locke's three-point game on Saturday night was nice, but the Aeros wouldn't have won the game were it not for Barry Brust stopping 40 of the 43 Syracuse shots. So I really wish someone would explain to me the reasoning for making Locke the first star of the game and Brust only the second.
Then again, I think the Aeros could solve this problem by putting me in charge of naming the three stars of the game.
-- John Royal