Also, check out the Aeros’ youtube page for daily videos / interviews. Today, Justin Falk answers a few questions following morning skate.
From the conversations I had this morning, the Aeros are hoping to “get to our game” early on tonight and their goal is to stay focused on that task regardless of what curve balls are thrown their way in this series. Both teams talked about managing their emotions properly and Rivermen head coach Jared Bednar was pretty honest in his admission that the Aeros “pace and speed and skill” that they play with will present problems for his team. However, he did say there are “ways to level the playing field” – and that my friends is the physical element the Rivermen hope to bring.
So, the Aeros will try to play their “70/30” game (meaning spend a lot of time in the offensive zone) and the Rivermen are going to attempt to push the pace in their favor and limit the Aeros’ time and space by being physical, yet disciplined.
We’ll see if the Aeros power play can remain on their torrid pace, which would certainly be beneficial (especially in Game One) if the Rivermen don’t walk that fine line between being rough-and-tumble and being stupid.
Another great storyline for tonight is the match-up of the rookie netminders in Matt Hackett and Jake Allen. With Peoria veteran goaltender Ben Bishop out with a groin injury, it’s Allen’s show at least for the first few games. Let’s see if the Aeros can get in front of Allen, especially on the PP, an area where the Aeros have improved recently. Both Hackett and Allen will appear in their first pro playoff series tonight, and whichever one gets “locked in” first will most likely help their team advance to the next round.
The Aeros are 9-6 in Calder Cup Playoff series, the Rivermen are 0-2 with both losses coming against the Aeros. Only Aeros’ captain Jon DiSalvatore remains from the initial postseason battle between the two sides, back in2006.
Here’s what Rivermen broadcaster Brendan Burke had to say when I asked him the following questions in anticipation of this series:
1. What do you see as the biggest strength of the Rivermen entering the playoffs?
2. What makes the Rivermen penalty kill so successful?
3. What separates this year’s Rivermen club from last year’s non-playoff team?
4. Give me the biggest intangible for the Rivermen.
His answers follow:
1. I think the biggest strength of this Rivermen team is probably balance. They are not offensively or defensively dominant. Their power play tailed off at the end of the season but carried its weight this year and the penalty kill has been solid. Goaltending is above average but – again – not dominant. So perhaps their biggest strength is that they don’t have a glaring weakness.
Also their ability to comeback in games down the stretch was great to see. Just in the last five games of the regular season they trailed 2-0 in the third period to San Antonio (April 2) and lost in overtime 3-2. They were down 2-1 at the start of the third against Texas (April 6) and won 3-2 in regulation. They were down 2-0 after the first against Chicago (April 8) and won 5-2 and were down 3-1 with 5 minutes left in the second period against Milwaukee (April 9) and came back to have it 3-3 before their last second goal won it. So heading into the playoffs with a team that never believes that they are out of a game is always a good thing.
2. Dean Arsene makes Peoria’s PK as successful as it has been. He is a fearless shot blocker that works hard and his play is contagious. When there is a 30-year-old defenseman diving in front of shots with his rib cage it doesn’t leave any excuses for the 20-year-olds out there with him. He has said to me before, “They also have to practice against TJ Hensick so they are used to matching up against one of the most creative half-wall power-play players in the league. I have to imagine that it helps.
3. I think the answer to questions three and four are the same thing. The biggest difference and the biggest intangible are the veteran leadership of this team. I mean last season the Rivermen traded their captain (Yan Stastny) at the deadline and had veterans like Bryce Lampman and Derek Armstrong that were hurt for big chunks of the year. They also went through a coaching change in the middle of the year that has the ability to shake up any team. Now this season, Peoria is led by Dean Aresne and his two Calder Cups. Graham Mink has two cups. Nathan Oystrick has a cup with Chicago. Brennan Evans wears an “A” and is a great guy in the room. The coaching staff is great and the players seem to like playing for them.
Obviously the talent level for Peoria is increased in a number of areas from last year too. Peoria did not have a 20-goal scorer last season – they have three this year. Peoria did not have a shutout last year – Jake Allen had six by himself. TJ Hensick is a caliber of player that Peoria hasn’t seen in years. Nathan Oystrick scoring 15 goals from the blueline is impressive. I think all around Peoria is a better team this year than they were last year.
Mad props to “Burkey” for coming up large with some in-depth answers…good stuff. That’s all for now – I’ll check back in following Game One.
– Aero Joe