The Houston Aeros blasted the Charlottesville Checkers 5-2 on Sunday for the team’s 30th win this season. The Aeros are now 30-21-4-4 overall.
Houston’s defense has improved lately, as the team has allowed two or fewer goals to opponents in its last 19 games, since snapping a six-game winless streak Jan. 23. The Aeros are 12-6-0-1 in that stretch.
The Aeros defensemen held Charlottesville to two goals on 25 shots, while goaltender Cody Reichard made his first AHL start for the Aeros, earning the win. Houston’s defenders did a great job of keeping the crease clear for Reichard, who was a bit shaky in his debut but did enough to earn the win.
The Aeros also had contributions on offense from the blue-liners. Kyle Medvec, a 2006 Minnesota Wild draft choice, scored the game-winning goal for Houston, putting the visiting team ahead 3-2 in the third period. Marco Scandella tallied two assists and a +2 +/- rating. Brian Connelly also notched two helpers and leads all Houston D-men with 26 points (2+24 = 26).
Chad Rau gave the Aeros the opening goal in the first period, his ninth goal of the season. Justin Fontaine followed with a power-play score midway through the first, after a deft skate-to-stick handle in the slot. Fontaine now has a team-best 37 points (16 + 21 = 37) in the absence of Jason Zucker, who has been skating with the Wild.
After Medvec’s go-ahead goal, Jake Dowell put away two more to keep Charlottesville at bay. Johan Larsson added two assists, one on the power-play, to take him to 34 points (15+19 = 34) on the season.
Houston is now third-place in the South and fifth in the Western Conference.
With goaltender Matt Hackett being recalled by the Wild, the Aeros will need to continue its stingy defensive play to allow fewer opportunities to opponents. Houston will also need Fontaine, Larrson and David McIntyre to step up their scoring in the absence of Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund.
Granlund looks set as part of the Wild’s lineup, though he has been a healthy scratch against physical teams in anticipation of tight-checking and low-scoring games. Coyle has been working well on Minnesota’s first line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Coyle seems to understand his role – getting to the net hard and fast – to support Parise’s shot-happy approach.
Zucker, though he has shown flashes of strong play and has put up a few points for the Wild, has looked all but lost in recent games. He’ll need to get his head into the game or return to Houston for a tune-up.
The Aeros’ next game is against Abbotsford at home on Thursday. The last time the teams met, Larsson stole the show with a four-point night.