GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
Rookie Josh Harding made 40 saves for his second shutout in three starts and Christoph Brandner scored in the first period, as the Houston Aeros ended their season-long six-game road trip with a 1-0 victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins at Van Andel Arena.
Houston finishes the road trip 4-1-0-1 and with nine out of a possible 12 points. The Aeros, who moved within one point of first-place Milwaukee, have played seven straight one-goal games, one off their franchise record.
The Aeros return home to Toyota Center Sunday for a 5:05 p.m. Family Day matchup with the Syracuse Crunch. Get four tickets, four pucks, $20 in Toyota Bucks and free parking for only $59 at www.aeros.com/themenights
. Username is Family, password is Aeros. Kids 4-14 can shoot two pucks on net on the ice after the game. Join the Aeros at The Bus II across from Toyota Center beginning at 3 p.m. for $1 hot dogs (free hot dogs for kids 12 and under), drink specials and Texans football.
Since falling to 0-3-0 October 23, the 20-year-old Harding is 3-1-1 with a 1.20 gaa and a .947 save percentage. His one loss in that stretch was in relief, and he has lowered his goals against average to 1.89, ninth best in the AHL. Harding, making back-to-back starts for the first time in his pro career, is the first Aeros rookie netminder with two shutouts.
The Aeros have won four straight versus the Griffins for the first time since a five-game streak from November 25, 1997, to February 6, 2000. Houston beat just three teams with a better than .500 mark on the road last season but has done that four times already in 2004-05.
Joey MacDonald turned aside 33 shots for Grand Rapids, which is winless in its last four (0-3-1-0) after a five-game winning streak.
After the Aeros killed off a power play at the midway point of the opening period, Brandners third of the season put Houston on top and gave Harding all he would need.
Brent Burns, returning off a three-game absence, made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, and he found a lane and threw the puck on net. The 6-foot-4 Brandner redirected it by MacDonald at the 12:18 mark.
The Aeros scored first for the first time in Hardings seven starts. The rookie had also yielded eight first-period goals, but he has now allowed none in the first period in his last three starts.
The crowd got to its feet in the final two minutes of the first, when Grand Rapids toughman Peter Vandermeer dropped the gloves with Houstons John Erskine, who handled the Griffin.
Midway through the second on the power play, Houstons Pierre-Marc Bouchard hit the post. Seconds later, the Aeros coughed up the puck and Kory Karlander broke in alone on Harding, but the rookie made a spectacular glove save to keep the Griffins off the board.
With 22 seconds left on that power play, Houstons Patrick Traverse was given a five-minute high sticking major. But the Aeros were able to kill off the major, holding the Griffins to just three shots.
Harding made a trio of great saves, two on rebounds, with less than two minutes showing on the clock in the middle period. The rookie singlehandedly kept Houston in front in the second, as Grand Rapids had a 16-7 advantage in shots.
His teammates helped him stem the tide in the third, as Houston outshot Grand Rapids 12-9. With five minutes left, Harding sealed the deal, robbing sniper Tomas Kopecky with a side-to-side move from the doorstep which left Kopecky shaking his head.
Each team went 0-for-3 on the power play.
The Aeros scratched Chris Heid, Erik Reitz, Mikko Koivu and Marius Holtet.
Houston has kept its opponents off the board in the first period in three of its last four games after allowing a first-period goal in each of its first eight games.
The Aeros are 4-2-1-1 on the road. They won just 10 road games all of last season.
Harding is the eighth Aero netminder with more than one shutout in his career.
This was Houstons first 1-0 road win since April 12, 2000, when Frederic Chabot blanked Kansas City.
Only Philadelphia Flyers goalie Robert Esche had two shutouts with the Aeros prior to November 6. He had two shutouts by November 4.