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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Wild coach Mike Yeo met with some high school hockey coaches on Tuesday.
Yes, he said, half-joking, they had suggestions for his power play.
It's been an interesting season for the Wild. They've battled the mumps. They've signed some of their best young players to long-term contracts. They seem to have set themselves up to be contenders for seasons to come, and yet, despite all of their promise, they are ninth in their conference right now, one point out of a playoff spot.
I asked Yeo how he feels about that.
``I would say that we have room for improvement, there's no question,'' he said after practice. ``I look at the stretch that we went through and there was an awful lot of travel, and during that time I felt that our game began to slip a little bit.
``I felt in the St. Louis game that we started moving in the right direction. In saying that, I think we've won six of our last eight games. at the same time, there's a certain feel taht you have when you're watching from the bench and you feel that your team is right on it.
`i look at where we're at right now. Far more imprtnat for me than the standings, and we've won six of eight, I want to make sure that we're tracking i the right direction. We have an opportunity now, schedule-wise, to get practice in to make sure we're playing the games the right way. i would really like to see our team move forward here.''
I had a long conversation with Wild owner Craig Leipold, who said, ``In my heart, I believe we're going to be a better team as the season goes on.''
Leipold also told me that Thomas Vanek's gambling debts bothered him, and that general manager Chuck Fletcher has met with Vanek to make sure there isn't more to the story. Leipold said he thinks Vanek simply made a mistake.
As far as Yeo's comments, cover any underperforming team and you'll hear similar sentiments. In this case, I tend to believe Yeo and Leipold. The power-play can't be this bad for much longer. I spoke with several people affiliated with the organization who say they believe the key power play players have become up tight and have failed to shoot when shots are available. I've also heard from several people that Yeo should try changing up personnel, perhaps involving Nino Neiderreiter more.
But there's too much skill for the power play to languish forever.
As much as hockey people love to talk about the hard-edged aspects of the game, over a long season successful NHL teams find ways to score easy goals, either via individual skill or the power play. If the Wild's power play improves to even average it will give this team a big boost.
My full conversation with Leipold, involving Vince Gill, The Beatles, his business and leadership philosophies, the difficulty of firing Doug Risebrough, and his memories of his mother are on my podcast at Souhanunfiltered.com. Previous conversations with Paul Molitor, Michael Russo, Mark Craig, Twins' assistant general manager Rob Antony and ESPN.com football writer Kevin Seifert are up, too.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec. 3) at 5 p.m. I'll host a new podcast at The Local in downtown Minneapolis. My guest will be Twins star Glen Perkins. Next Wednesday it will be at Kierans Irish Pub with Jayhawks front man Gary Louris, who is doing solo work and will play at the Cedar Cultural Center on Dec. 11. Dec. 17 it's back to The Local with guest Roy Smalley, the former Twin and great baseball storyteller.
All podcasts go up at Souhanunfiltered.com. Thanks for reading and listening.
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.
By now you should be stuffed to the gills with facts and quotes. So let's take a shot at a wild Wild prediction:
I see Josh Harding playing today. And if not today, then someday soon.
Mike Yeo has not said Harding will play. He probably doesn't want to put any more thoughts in Ilya Bryzgalov's overflowing cranium. But it is always instructive to judge people not by what they say but by what they do.
Here's what they did: Shipping Harding's equipment to him in Chicago and had him practice after not doing either of those things in Colorado.
In other words, Harding is capable of playing. If Bryzgalov is lousy again today, I don't know why the Wild wouldn't give Harding a shot today or in Game 3.
We'll have full game coverage and a post-game video with Michael Russo and myself after Game 2, so please check back on startribune.com. Also, I recommend picking up the actual newspapers these days. We have two excellent photographers and three writers covering Game 2.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 on Monday morning, and on 1500ESPN with Mackey and Judd at 12:15 after I land in the Twin Cities.
Team Strib is at United Center today for Wild practice. Just listened to a few Blackhawks players and coach Joel Quenneville speak, and they kept ripping themselves for letting the Wild dominate puck possession in Game 1, particularly in the second period.
I view that as bad news for the Wild: They got beat, 5-2, and their opponents, the defending Stanley Cup champs, think they should play much better going forward.
My colleague Michael Russo came up with an incredible statistic on Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. in his last five starts, including the playoffs, he is 1-4 with a 4.96 goals-against average and a .819 save percentage. And in those five games, he has faced more than 24 shots only once.
The Wild has played very well over the last month from crease to crease, but its goalie situation remains untenable.
The Wild won round one because it peppered and took advantage of Semyon Varlamov. Now its facing a team whose perceived weakness is its goalie, Corey Crawford, and yet Crawford is playing better than Varlamov, and far better than Bryzgalov.
There has been another unsettling development for the Wild in the last month. While young forwards Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter have surged, Jonas Brodin, who developed much faster than his younger teammates, has regressed. He might have cost the Wild the game last night with his high-sticking penalties and overall shoddy play. He's got to be better.
We'll provide full coverage of Wild practice on startribune.com today and will have the usual full gameday coverage in the Sunday paper.
Please tune in to 1500ESPN from 10-noon tomorrow, as Scott Korzenowski and myself break down the Wild, Twins, NBA playoffs, Wolves coaching search and the saga of Donald Sterling.
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