Greetings from the road – where the Aeros are in the midst of a four-game trip…here are some quick thoughts as the team nears the midway point of the regular season:
- Last Night’s Tilt: Great shootout win for the Aeros last night in Grand Rapids, as the #roadwarriors (Twitter hash tag for those of you living in the dark ages) continued their dominant play away from Toyota Center. It was the Aeros 13th road win in 17 tries and the team’s 4th win overall when trailing at the 2nd intermission (2nd most in the AHL behind Connecticut and Norfolk)
- The Power Play:Yesterday, head coach John Torchetti talked with me about how the Aeros man advantage can improve – first and foremost, he stressed making smarter decisions and execution. He added that recovering pucks off the dump-in (offensive zone) is another area that needs improvement. Finally, “Torch” mentioned that the team must get better versus teams that are pressure-oriented on the penalty kill, and really, that comes back to the point about decision-making. You gotta make quicker and smarter decisions when the opponent’s PK is forcing you to speed up your set plays.
- The Young Guys: This is right around the point in the season, where we’ll start to find out a lot about the club’s rookies – especially guys like: Justin Fontaine, Kris Foucault, Kyle Medvec and Chay Genoway. After 30 or so games, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what it takes to succeed in the AHL – the big question is, how will they handle it physically and mentally? Are they in good enough shape to continue progressing, or do they wear down as the season moves along? Can they handle the mental grind and the pressure of playoff-type games as the calendar continues to flip towards the spring months? It will be important for the coaches to monitor their “stamina” and there’s also an emphasis on the veteran players to continue helping the young guys along. Look for Jed Ortmeyer and Drew Bagnall to play big roles in that area. “Orts” has played a lot with Foucault this season and with the way the veteran winger prepares himself every day, it’s impossible for his teammates not to notice his commitment level. As for Bagnall, he’ll bring it every night along the blue line and Medvec and Genoway can certainly benefit from watching his willingness to play through pain and stand up for his teammates.
- Starts / 1st Period Play: The Aeros have an ultra-impressive 8 wins when allowing the first goal, however, that’s a trend that the coaching staff and players don’t want to see continue. This team needs to find a way to dictate the pace and play – set the tone if you will – earlier in games. There’s no other way around it – they must get off to better starts and find a way to make teams adjust to their style. I think part of it comes with an increased physical play. We’ll find out soon enough if that’s part of the team’s identity or not (as of now, it’s an area for improvement). Look for guys like Carson McMillan, Cody Almond and David McIntyre to lead that charge. If Warren Peters wasn’t a mainstay in Minnesota over the last month, he’d be a natural fit for that role as well.
- Next 10-20 Games: The Aeros need to be harder to play against on a more consistent basis – and with a lot of road games coming up, I think they can really mold that personality over the next six weeks. If they are able to do that, I think it will help their home ice play over the long haul. Once March rolls around, the Aeros will be spending a lot of time in Houston, thus you would hope the team has cemented itself as one of the top teams in the league and be ready to peak heading into the stretch run of the regular season. I really believe that if they put themselves in a good spot heading into March, the foundation they’ve built will translate into home ice success. I realize it’s a long way from now, but with the way the schedule sets up in the spring months, this team can win the West Division as long as they continue to play their system to a tee and continue to receive contributions from all four lines. They’ll also need to keep getting great goaltending, something that has been a staple of their success thus far. It’s been a great start to the season – entering play today, the Aeros are tied for the 3rd most points in the 30-team league and they are tied for the fewest regulation losses (8) with Hershey. If they continue to work hard, compete for one another and learn from their coaches, they can achieve greatness. But, there’s still a lot of work left to do…
Don’t forget about the upcoming road game watch parties, beginning with Tejas Grill & Sports Bar (1201 Lamar St. – Downtown) on Friday night at 7 pm.
Hope everyone had a safe and Happy New Year…now it’s back to watching Season 5 of “The Wire” (thank goodness for my external laptop battery during this 5-hour bus ride to Peoria).
– Aero Joe