Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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St. Louis _
Some observations from the Blues and Wild morning skates at Scottrade Center:
-This is a series between point guards and power forwards. You walk around the Blues’ lockerroom and you see bodies that would look at home in an NFL facility. You walk around the Wild’s and you don’t see many candidates for protein powder commercials. You wonder, if this series goes seven games, whether the Blues’ superior size could wear down the smaller Wild.
-Devan Dubnyk is a loose, funny guy. He talked about feeling that he’s ``in the right place,’’ and that because of that feeling he doesn’t feel the amount of pressure he expected during a playoff series. ``We feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing right now,’’ he said. ``We feel like we can win this game and win this series, and that’s when you know you’re supposed to be here, when it feels right.’’
-Zach Parise is so demanding of himself that I saw him curse himself after he missed the goal during drills.
-Parise is wearing a scruffy beard. He joked that he hasn’t had much success growing them in the past, but he’s giving it a try right now.
-Parise admitted he doesn’t like talking about opponents during playoff series. He’s close friends with Blues forward Chris Porter – they played at Shattuck together – but the two haven’t spoken during this series. Parise wouldn’t even offer praise of the Blues’ spectacular Vladimir Tarasenko. ``He’s good,’’ was all Parise would say.
-For Minnesota Wild fans who don’t get to travel to away games, please understand how good you have it. Of the away arenas I’ve traveled to in recent years – St. Louis, Colorado, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Anaheim and Dallas – only Anaheim and Dallas are anywhere as close as nice a joint as the Xcel Energy Center. They don’t actually compared, but at least they’re not dumps like Scottrade. Chicago has a tremendous game-day experience because of the fans, the Anthem and the game production, but the building itself is nowhere as comfortable and fan-friendly as the X.
-Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was tremendous when talking about the reasons for the lopsided performances so far in this series. I’m writing about that for the newspaper, but he noted that he’s never seen such short shifts, and that’s due to these being two teams offering maximum effort and investing themselves totally in their defensive assignments. Since Hitchcock has won 708 NHL games, his perspective is fascinating. This has been a remarkable series for sheer effort.
-Hitchcock noted that Blues agitator Steve Ott has played better, and under more control, when used at center. Hitchcock said that as a winger ``he’s a big of a wingnut.’’ His point: When Ott is at wing, he doesn’t worry about controlling the puck or maintaining position, leaving him free to roam around causing trouble. At center, he tries to run his line, keeping him in line.
-Wild captain Mikko Koivu has one assist and no goals in this series. Since 2008, when he had four goals and an assist in six games, he has one goal and seven assists in 22 games. He does a lot of little things well for this team. He is not doing the big things well.
-I’m not a big believer in the plus-minus statistic in hockey, but, for what it’s worth, Mikael Granlund is the only Wild player with a positive, at plus-2.
-Patrick Berglund leads the Blues at plus-5.
-Hitchcock said defenseman Alex Petrangelo has been his best player so far.
-Personal view: I picked the Wild to win in seven, and thought the first three games of the series – the Wild finding a way to win one in St. Louis, the Blues bouncing back, the Wild dominating Game 3 – were all fairly predictable. I did not expect the Blues to dominate the way they did in Game 4. I agree with Hitchcock when he said, ``The series is where it should be, all even. And I expect a really good hockey game tonight.’’
Michael Russo and I will do a live podcast from St. Louis at 4 p.m. today (Friday) to preview Game 5. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com, or via Iheartradio. You can also get a free subscription through Itunes that will deliver every podcast to your inbox. Thanks.
Devan Dubnyk wasn't the problem in the Wild's 3-2 loss to Washington on Thursday night.
Alex Ovechkin made one stunning play to score a goal, and scored another off a faceoff on a shot that Dubnyk never saw.
In general, it was typical of the Wild's recent losses - by one goal, at home, to a physical team.
Wild coach Mike Yeo has played Dubnyk relentlessly since he arrived. I don't think Dubnyk looked tired on Thursday, but I was curious about Yeo's philosophy, so I asked if he has seen any signs of fatigue from his goalie.
Yeo's full answer:
``I thought he was really good tonight. I don’t think we could fault him on anything tonight. I know there’s a lot of talk about this right now, but looking at the minutes he’s played…
``We just played a goalie of a team that’s been battling for first place in the conference, (Nashville's) Pekka Rine, and they played him four games in six days. They’ve been playing him every day. Carey Price is playing every game. That’s where the league is at right now.
``The game means something so you're going to go with the guy you think is hot and the guy you think gives you the best chance that night. Certainly it's something to keep an eye on, But I haven’t seen anything. For some reason, it’s a story that keeps coming up, and I haven’t seen any reason for it.''
For the record, I'm not actually second-guessing Yeo on this. He has one goalie playing exceptionally, and two who can't be trusted. I'd do the same thing.
I do wonder if Dubnyk will wear down, and whether playing every game will catch up with him in the playoffs, if the Wild makes it.
The gap between Dubnyk and the backups is so immense right now, Yeo has little choice but to keep playing Dubnyk.
Last 3 podcasts this week on SouhanUnfiltered.com: Quincy Lewis, Peter Killen and Michael Russo. Friday night, 6 p.m. at O'Gara's, my guest will be Gophers senior associate athletic director Dan O'Brien, who was born in Winthrop and attended St. Thomas.
Stop by or use SouhanUnfiltered.com like a radio DVR. It's radio on demand, available any time on any computer or device.
On Jan. 10, the Wild lost a home game to Nashville while looking completely helpless. After the game, I wrote that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher should not try to save the season, that doing so would cost him prospects or draft picks and probably not provide enough help to salvage a horrible season in which his team was damaged by illnesses, the deaths of family members, injuries, the failure of young players to develop, and, of course, terrible goaltending.
Fletcher wisely did not listen to me. He traded a third-round draft pick for Devan Dubnyk and saved the season. Even if the Wild failed to make the playoffs from here, Fletcher will have been proved right. He gave his team a chance, a chance I didn't think existed.
I'm going to write about this topic more in the near future: It's heartening when a local talent evaluator makes the kind of move that the average observer could not have envisioned.
Fletcher saw something in Dubnyk that was not readily apparent to most of the population. It might be his most impressive move to date.
I'll be covering the Wild-Panthers game tonight with colleague Michael Russo.
You can find recent podcasts by myself and Michael at SouhanUnfiltered.com. Just don't tell anyone about the stuff Michael says on the podcast. It will get him into trouble.
Also, I'll be appearing every weekday afternoon on 105.1 The Ticket with Bob Sansevere. Please check it out.
BREAKING NEWS EXCLUSIVE TO THE STAR TRIBUNE: Wild star Zach Parise told me what he eats for lunch every gameday.
``Lunch is going to be the same,’’ Parise said after the Wild’s morning skate at United Center. ``Pasta, chicken, a little salad with ranch, bread and olive oil. Home and road, it’s always the same.’’
That was about the only new out of the morning skate, other than this: The Wild, as it did before Game 7 in Colorado, changed the players’ locker stalls. ``Trying to reverse the luck,’’ Parise said.
Of course, the Wild’s only road win during the playoffs was at Colorado in Game 7.
The Wild is 0-5 in United Center during the playoffs the last two years, but this is a different team. Last year, when Parise and Mikko Koivu struggled to score against Chicago, the Wild had few other offensive options. This year, Koivu has just one assist in the four games, but the Wild has been able to win two games while Koivu has concentrated his efforts on stopping Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews.
``I think he did a really good job the last two games against Toews’ line, not only slowing him down but keeping the puck in the offensive zone,’’ Parise said. ``To me, that’s the best defense, to make them work in their own end a little bit.’’
I’ll be covering Game 5 tonight in Chicago along with colleague Michael Russo. I’ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish on Monday to recap the game. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Quite a day on the tundra.
The Wild played brilliantly in a 4-2 victory over the Blackhawks. Wrote my column for the Friday paper on the Wild's dominance.
The Twins beat Justin Verlander in Detroit with a limited roster.
The Vikings introduced their potential franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, and the guy, at least, passed the interview portion of his career.
Then Bridgewater attended the Wild game, and saw what I saw: The local franchise thoroughly outplay the Stanley Cup champs.
My takeaways from the Wild game:
-I'm no fan of Matt Cooke or his history, but he played extremely well on Friday. His energy and forechecking led to the Wild's first goal and set up a couple of other prime chances.
-Ilya Bryzgalov gave up a terrible goal in the first period, but settled down. He allowed two goals in two home games to the Blackhawks. That's far better than could have been expected.
-The Wild's quality depth at forward has led to an impressive forecheck and plenty of scoring chances. This team, unlike last year's, doesn't have to have Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu score to succeed.
-Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner are becoming the defensemen the Wild hoped they would be.
-The atmosphere at the X was outstanding once again. Late starts on a Friday play havoc with newspaper deadlines, but they're good for pre-game lubrication.
-Wild coach Mike Yeo's ability to match Koivu against Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews has helped hold Chicago in check. Koivu has managed only one point during this series, but his defense has been exemplary, and he saved at least two goals with timely checks on Friday.
-If Nino Niederreiter keeps working for the puck and skating the way he is now, he's going to become a star. He already has a star's shot, and he's willing to go to the front of the net.
I'll be in Chicago for Game 5, so I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon on Sunday, with Korzo in studio.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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