The Houston Aeros were hit with a rude awakening when they traveled to Charlotte for a two-game series, dropping both decisions in what was a battle for first place in the South division.
Friday night’s game was a heartbreaking loss despite picking up a single point in the shootout loss. The Aeros held a slim 2-1 lead late in the game, only to see the Checkers tie the game with 13 seconds left regulation time thanks to a Justin Faulk goal.
The Aeros and Checkers skated to a scoreless opening period before trading goals in the second frame. David McIntyre tied the game at one for Houston, scoring in the final minute of the second, a period that saw the Aeros outshoot the Checkers by a 12-7 margin.
The third period belonged to the Checkers after Marco Scandella gave the Aeros their first lead of the game two minutes into the third. Charlotte would swarm the Aeros zone, outshooting them 15-4 before finally tying the game on Faulks’ goal.
A five minute overtime would solve nothing and it took seven rounds of shooters before Justin Krueger beat Matt Hackett, sending the home town crowd of 6,103 into a frenzy.
Entering play on Friday the Aeros were just one point behind Charlotte for the division lead and also have two games in hand. An Aeros win would have put them in sole possession of first place, but it was not meant to be on this night.
Saturday afternoon was the scene of the rematch or second game of this back-to-back series and this time it was a much different story, at least for Houston.
The Aeros came out flat and were never in this one, getting shutout in the 3-0 loss. Not only were they shutout, they were badly outplayed and out shot by a 35-23 difference, proving they have work to do if they wish to be called a first place club.
Matt Hackett was finally given a rest in goal, giving way to Darcy Kuemper who played well, making 32 saves despite taking the loss.
With the regulation loss Houston now sits a full four points back of Charlotte but still have the two games in hand. Houstons’ next action will be Sunday when the Aeros return home to play host to the Oklahoma City Barons in what will be the annual teddy bear toss for charity.
The Aeros had been on a roll before making the trek to Charlotte, wining seven of their last eight which included a six-game winning streak. Now they have very little time to dwell on the frustrating road trip as they have the young Oilers squad that can light up the scoreboard on any given shift. It’s time to forget about Charlotte for a while and focus on the task at hand – the Barons.
There will be a chance for redemption down the road and if there are any positives to take out of the two-game sweep, it’s the Aeros now know how well they have to play in order to compete with the Checkers. Charlotte has been in first place for most of the year for one reason only; they’re a good club that plays consistent hockey. Houston could learn a thing or two from them and that’s you can’t afford to take a night off when playing the league’s elite.
Call it growing pains for the young Aeros or Wild prospects. It will all serve as a good experience for later in the season as this one will have to be tucked in the memory bank for later.