My story in the mothership today is a brief primer on the Aeros being in the playoffs while taking a quick shot at the mediocrity of the rest of the city's professional teams. But my space there is limited, and there's a lot of important stuff that I didn't get to go with, and which, quite frankly, works a lot better over here.
So while the team was having it's media event yesterday -- hey, look, TV cameras -- I spoke to Jon DiSalvatore and Mike Yeo about the team's play the past couple of week and Yeo falling on the grenade and blaming himself because he stressed the wins instead of the process. We also spoke a bit about prepping for the playoffs and about how you can prep for the playoffs when what seems to be 3/4ths of the team is in Minnesota.
DiSalvatore thinks the big problem during the Oklahoma City series and the games that followed were that the guys got too caught up in all of the different playoff scenarios and started paying too much attention to the numbers and not enough to what they were doing on the ice. But he thinks it's something they've corrected.
"I think that what was happening is that we were just getting focused on some of the numbers games – there’s been a lot of number crunching that goes along with such a tight division – we kind of looked at some of those and maybe made some of those a little bit of a focus as opposed to the process and the fundamentals of our game that we needed to get to," he said. "But I think the last two games of the weekend we did that.
"The game in Milwaukee, we had a really solid start, and I think we were really happy with the start, and it just kind of fell apart for us a little bit. But then we really pulled it together in Chicago, and we got to a place we were really happy with going into this week and moving forward."
And I got Yeo to talk a little bit more on what he meant last week when he took the blame for stressing wins and points instead of stressing the system and the process. Essentially, with the quote to follow, he wants the guy's focusing on their shift. He wants them to win their shift, win their play. He wants them controlling the things they can control and not worrying about the bigger things.
"I think mentally, when you go into a game, it’s all good and well if things are going to according to plan," he said. "Maybe you score that first goal and you have a lead and things are going well. When you have that type of approach. But where I think that successful teams and good teams really separate themselves is the ability to get it done when things aren’t going well and you have to do a better job of focusing on your game and the little things that make you successful.
"When we went into those games, we were thinking about winning and getting points. If the other team scored first, or if we got a bad call in the second period, it really took us off our game and we lost our focus from there. But if we just concentrate on the focus, and the process as we like to say, and the next shift, and the next guy just going out and doing it the right way, we found it a lot easier to get back to our game."
The team was running through a full practice yesterday, which was kind of strange to watch seeing as how a lot of the guys who will be playing playoff games last week aren't actually with the team. Yeo said he was focusing yesterday, and he wants the focus on Sunday, to be on sharpening skills and getting the execution back after no games this week. Of course, that can be a problem with players missing, and Yeo addressed that issue.
"Certainly, chemistry-wise, our line combinations and power play units, everything is different because those guys are up there. So even on a day like today, when we’re working things, there’s different guys on the ice than they’re going to be playing with in game one of the playoffs. I think that one thing that we do have is a lot of consistency in the way we play the game. Line one is going to go over the boards and they’re going to play the same way as line two, line three, and line four. Because of that, I think guys can fill in different positions and read off of each other better than if we didn’t play quite as structured a game or as much of a team concept that we have."
I've spoken with DiSalvatore in the past, and one of the things he's talked about is that making the playoffs is great, but he's never made it past the first round and he would really like to advance. So I asked what he was telling the young kids, and about what he's seeing from the team.
"There’s a lot to that [to not just being happy to get there]. I know from my [experience] I get to share with the guys, it’s not every year. Just because you make it here the first time, and you’re on a team that’s special, it’s not every year that you get on a team like this. With the turnover in this league, it’s a special group, and it’s something that you want to take advantage of, and not take for granted thinking that every year you’re going to be on a group that has the potential to do what we have to do.
"Obviously it’s one game at a time, one series at time, and we don’t want to look too far ahead. But that’s kind of the thing you want to put to the young guys. But the young guys are just going to do what they do. They almost don’t care, which is kind of a good thing going into the playoffs. They’re just free."
It's going to be interesting to see what the team does on Sunday. Despite all of the call-ups, the two primary scoring lines are intact -- knocking on wood -- and Matt Kassian is back, which will hopefully offer up some protection for Patrick O'Sullivan and Robbie Earl. But some of the team's key defenders are in Minnesota, and the Barons really got to Matt Hackett. It's entirely possible that Sunday's game will mean absolutely nothing to the Aeros. Yeo has said he wants to go full out on Sunday because he doesn't want the guys thinking they can just flip a switch when the playoffs roll around, but if the seeding and home ice and opponent issues have been settled by game time, it's worth wondering, isn't it, whether it's really worth risking the health of some of these guys against a team that went hunting heads for last time out.