Not enough firepower dooms the Aeros in 2-0 loss to Milwaukee
A few weeks ago I attended the last meeting between the Aeros and the Milwaukee Admirals and it really was a tale of two different Houston teams. In the first game, you could say the Aeros had their “B” squad in place due to a suspension by Colton Gillies, as well as leading scorer and power play quarterback Maxim Noreau and perhaps more notably the absence of starting goaltenders Wade Dubielewicz and Anton Khudobin (who were up with the Wild as they were without Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding due to sickness and injury respectively) which prompted a one-off start for Ryan Nie who was playing in just the 2nd AHL game of his professional career. This forced the Aeros to commit itself to playing a very conservative brand of hockey to try to protect their inexperienced goalie and despite allowing only 19 shots, Nie gave up 5 goals and Houston never really had a chance in a 5-3 loss. Fast forward two weeks later where Gillies, Noreau and Dubielewicz are back as is Robbie Earl who had a nice extended stint with the Wild. It should make for a different game right? Well the answer to that is both yes and no.
It was obvious from the drop of the puck the Aeros had considerably more speed in the lineup than last time as well as looking much more comfortable defensively with their best puck mover, Maxim Noreau back on the blueline. The Aeros showed good hustle and speed early in the game, as they were able to establish the forecheck, cycling the puck with good efficiency but despite the tremendous puck control it was not yielding many scoring chances which would become a theme for this game. After dominating much of the play for the first 8 minutes of the game a defensive breakdown in the neutral zone as Nick Spaling skated in and delivered a cross-ice pass to Andreas Thuresson who beat Barry Brust. The goal really deflated the Aeros in what was a feisty game, where both teams were taking their chances to deliver big hits as well as more than its fair share of fights. Brust was playing well, making a number of good saves and staying fairly square to the shooter which was a noted difference from the erratic movement of Ryan Nie during their last game. As the Aeros faded, the Admirals would step up their intensity and they began to look to advance their lead as they were swarming in the Houston end. After a nice save by Barry Brust, tempers would flare and J.P. Testwuide would drop the gloves with Colin Wilson and after a few initial punches thrown by Testwuide it was Wilson who managed to get the Aeros defenseman’s jersey over his head and much to the home crowd’s chagrin the officials moved in and broke up the fight just as Wilson was about to let him have it. The Aeros thought they evened the score when a blast from the point by Noreau was redirected in by Petr Kalus but the goal was immediately waived off A few minutes later, former Colorado Avalanche energy winger Ben Guite caught Wild prospect blueline Justin Falk not looking and he leveled him behind the Aeros goal with a leaping body check. Falk would immediately pop back to his feet and before he could go after Guite he was being jumped by Maxim Noreau who came to the defense of his teammate. With the Aeros trailing by one you could see the energy and confidence level was shaken.
In the 2nd period, it was all about missed opportunities for the Aeros. The Aeros had two power plays, the first on an unsportsmanlike penalty by Milwaukee’s Chris Mueller that only resulted in a few chances from long range that did not really test Mark Dekanich. Houston would seem to have another fantastic opportunity when Robbie Earl managed to walk around Robert Dietrich and was in position for a tremendous scoring chance but he would fan on the shot and return to his bench clearly frustrated. Moments after this missed opportunity it was Chad Rau showing great stickhandling, made a nice move around Teemu Laakso and then dished a cross-ice pass to Brandon Buck who could not lift a shot over the Admirals goaltender. A few minutes later the Aeros would have nearly a minute-long 5-on-3 power play after a holding call on Scott Ford and then an absent-minded clearing attempt by Wacey Rabbit ended up in the stands. Yet on the 5-on-3 the Aeros were far too passive and no one seemed willing to just take their chances and fire a shot on goal and then crash the crease and the Admirals got the huge penalty kill. In fact, the Aeros did not even register a single shot on this extended penalty and it seemed to mark a change in momentum. You could tell the Aeros’ players knew it too as Danny Irmen tried to re-light the fire under his team when he challenged Milwaukee’s Mark Matheson to drop the gloves. Unfortunately the Aeros just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net and would end the period still down by a goal.
In the 3rd period the Aeros would again try to assert themselves offensively, but the Admirals were forcing Houston to the perimeter of the ice and preventing the Wild’s AHL affiliate from having time in the scoring areas of the ice. The Admirals would add to their lead on another defensive breakdown as Peter Olvecky worked the puck down low beneath the goal line and then fed a pass out to Jessiman who slid a cross-ice pass to a crashing Scott Ford who was just able to sneak a shot underneath a diving Brust to give Milwaukee a 2-0 lead. Dekanich was taking every opportunity to freeze the puck and this deprived Houston of the 2nd chance opportunities and the Admirals would hold on for a 2-0 victory.
You can’t fault Barry Brust for the outcome of his game, he gave the Aeros a chance to win giving up 2 goals on 27 shots faced. Brust was making big stops all game long as the Admirals were swarming near his crease and while defensive support was ok at times, its breakdowns proved to be costly. Yet the real story of this game was the fact the Aeros were a bit too patient with the puck and did not take advantage of the scoring opportunities the Admirals’ gave them.
Here is my assessment of some of the Aeros’ players in this game:
Justin Falk – While Falk will certainly be annoyed at finishing -1 in this game, he demonstrated great mobility carrying the puck up the ice in an effort to create offense late in the game as well as good strength in battles for the puck along the boards. Falk moves very well for a player of his size but could still use to be a bit nastier in delivering hits. A solid stay at home defenseman who is showing good poise and looks to be a viable NHL prospect.
Cody Almond – Oddly enough, he was a player who looked more assertive in the first Aeros game I saw him play in two weeks ago. In that game Almond was taking every opportunity to shoot the puck and a big reason why he earned a cup of coffee with the big club during those two weeks. Yet in this game he was much more passive and while he demonstrated he is good at stickhandling through traffic he was not taking his chances to shoot. Almond possesses a decent shot and the Aeros certainly could’ve used it that game. He also got himself involved in a fight, in what would best be described as more of a wrestling match with Chris Mueller.
Maxim Noreau – Noreau is your typical offensive defenseman who has good on-ice vision who is an exceptional puck mover and stickhandler. He was the Aeros most dangerous offensive player and while he did not register a shot that was do large in part to the Admirals who were shadowing him closely all game long. Noreau has a heavy point shot and was robbed of an assist when Kalus’ goal was waived off.
Colton Gillies – It was a frustrating game for Gillies who just seemed to struggle all game long. The puck never seemed to settle for him and on more than a few occasions he juggled the puck away and you could see the frustration on his face. He was forechecking well enough, and throwing his body around and while it helped Houston to have his speed in the lineup he did not look overly fast for a player who has been so strongly regarded for his skating ability. Offensively he needs to discover his niche and I believe there are lots to question about his game and his future as an NHL’er. At this point I think he will be a long-term project for the Wild.
~ The roster for last night’s game was: Jon DiSalvatore, Jean-Michel Daoust, Chad Rau, Matt Kassian, Cody Almond, Brandon Buck, Nathan Smith, Danny Irmen, Peter Kalus, Colton Gillies, Duncan Milroy, Robbie Earl, Brandon Rogers, Ryan Gunderson, J.P. Testwuide, Jaime Sifers, Maxim Noreau and Justin Falk. Wade Dubeilewicz backed up Barry Brust. Jamie Fraser and Carson McMillan were healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mark Dekanich, 2nd Star Scott Ford, 3rd Star Nick Spaling
~ The State of Hockey News would also like to thank Aeros Equipment Manager Doug Tretiak for bringing a huge smile to the face of a few Wild fans when he was generous enough to give a quick tape job to a broken goalie stick of Barry Brust’s and give that souvenir to them for traveling to support the team. It wasn’t needed or even expected but it are actions like that show just how great the people are that are involved in the game. Doug Tretiak, you certainly are a credit to a first-class organization like the Houston Aeros.
~ In the 4th installment of our “Where are they now?” segment tracks the career of former Wild prospect and winger Peter Olvecky. The Slovak-born winger is a top line winger for the Milwaukee Admirals who had an assist in this game and is having a solid season with 11 goals and 31 points in 55 games.
~ On a side note, the American Hockey League and the Syracuse Crunch should be congratulated for pulling off a terrific event in the Mirabito Outdoor Hockey Classic. The rink, which was the same one used a few weeks early for the Camp Randall outdoor game between Michigan and the Wisconsin Badgers was a bit battered shape for the boards but the ice conditions were absolutely perfect for the game between the host Syracuse Crunch and their in-state rival Binghamton Senators. There were a few Minnesota representatives in this game including Crunch Assistant coach and former North Dakota and Apple Valley High School star Karl Goehring as well as former Blaine Bengal and Colorado College star Trevor Frischmon and Binghamton’s defenseman and former Mr. Hockey, Brian Lee as well as former Golden Gopher; Maplewood, Minnesota-native James O’Brien.