Houston Aeros Aim For Playoffs
When last we checked in on the Houston Aeros, they had just returned to Toyota Center after a month on the road (having gone 4-7). They went 1-1 on the first two games of a six-game homestand, and they had fallen into 10th place of the AHL's Western Conference. The team was beset by injuries. The team's all-star goalie was up in the NHL playing for the Wild, and the team's playoff chances appeared to less than zero.
John Royal Meet Joe Fallon, the AHL Player of the Week
But what a difference two weeks makes.
The Aeros ended up going 5-1 on the homestand to improve their record to 32-20-3-9 (76 points). They've climbed back up the standings and are solidly back in the playoff race, sitting in fourth place (a fourth-place finish would get them a home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs). New goalie Joe Fallon got over his jitters and was just named the AHL's Player of the Week (he went 4-0 last week while allowing only five goals). Matt Hackett, the all-star goalie, has returned from Minnesota, and with 12 games remaining in the regular season, the Aeros are poised to make that final run for the playoffs.
There have been two key elements to the Aeros resurgence. The play of Fallon and the team going out and grabbing leads, which has allowed them to play with confidence, and which, in turn, allowed Fallon to play with confidence. And Fallon's confidence carried the team last weekend as they won two games in the shootout, a somewhat miraculous occurrence as earlier this season the Aeros couldn't buy a win in the shootout.
"Just knowing in our dressing room that we've got to come out and get the lead," rookie Justin Fontaine said of the team's improved play. "You've got to get everyone into it. You never want to be down. I think when we struggled, had our rough patch there, we were always down in games, so it's huge for us to come score early, and our special teams have been doing a great job."
While the offense and special teams have finally started coming together -- helped partly by the team being able to send out the same players every game over the period -- nobody's played a bigger role than Fallon. Fallon was 30-10-1-3 with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers before joining the Aeros, and it took a few games for him to get into the swing of things. But once he did, he's been unbeatable.
"I tell you what, he's come in and given us a lot of confidence," Aeros head coach John Torchetti said. "He's played with a lot of confidence. It just goes to show you, that's what it's all about, I think. Giving people chances, and he's taking advantage of it. He's got experience. He's come in and done a fantastic job for us. He likes a challenge. I'll tell you what, he's done a great job."
Fallon's play last weekend, where he started and played every minute of three games, was more than just great. It was outstanding. He played a total of 190 minutes, including two overtimes, and he played a total of 13 rounds of shootout action over that time. The Aeros won the Saturday night game in the shootout, 1-0, and the Sunday game 2-1, also in the shootout. And he saved Sunday's game for the team when he made a spectacular stop in overtime that saw him reaching behind and across the crease to nab what appeared to be the game-winning shot out of midair.
"I think [I lost] at least seven pounds a game, maybe more," Fallon said after Sunday's game. "That's kind of usual for me. I definitely sweat a lot more than other people. I've got a hyperactive nervous system. All of the water likes to go out through my skates."
The Aeros next four games are on the road, including three games this weekend -- two in Rockford and one in Chicago. But the team definitely controls its own playoff destiny as seven of their final eight games will be inside the friendly confines of Toyota Center.
Joe Fallon will probably get some rest as the Aeros will likely put Matt Hackett back into goal now that he's returned. But in a way that's fitting, seeing as how it was Hackett who backstopped the Aeros through the AHL playoffs and into the Calder Cup championship last season.
The Aeros aren't guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. At least not yet. But they're in a lot better shape than they were just six games ago. The team's motto for the season is unfinished business. And if things continue in this fashion, they just might get that business finished.
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