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.
By Jim Souhan
Playing at home, with a lead in a playoff series against a team that finished higher in the standings, the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday got booed off the ice after two periods.
The jeers were deserved.
The Wild played its worst playoff game ever, losing 6-1 to the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center, while providing a reminder of all of the reasons fans and hockey analysts spent the winter saying the Wild would be best off facing anyone other than St. Louis in the playoffs.
The reminders were that…
-The Wild was a mediocre team at home during the second half of the season.
-Devan Dubnyk, a resurrected goalie who resurrected a team, was not too long ago a forgotten backup on a bad team.
-That the Blues were the superior team over the course of the regular season and feature a deep, strong, roster.
-Most of all, that the Blues are a very good hockey club when stick to hockey and forgo the professional wrestling act.
The Blues used their brawn to win puck battles and faceoffs and crash the net on Wednesday, instead of trying to win the meaningless battles after whistles.
They dominated from the start, and the final score is absolutely indicative of their dominance.
Even Steve Ott, the Blues’ agitator, played an effective game, although his reckless penalty at the end of the first period led to the Wild’s first goal.
For most of the series, the Wild have looked like the quicker and more intelligent team. Wednesday, the Blues provided a reminder of why so many Minnesotans didn’t want to see the blue note in the playoffs.
Two days after the hockey world doused the Wild with praise for playing such a mature, energetic, defensively-cohesive style, the Wild failed to bring energy or skill to what could have been a pivotal game in the series.
Now the series starts anew: Best of three, starting Friday in St. Louis, with the Blues thinking they have found the right way to play.
I'm at the Xcel Energy Center for Game 4. I picked the Wild to win in seven. Now I'm picking them in six. I think they win tonight, something like 3-1. The Wild seems stunningly confident of their ability to not only win the series but withstand the Blues' physical play, and you hear a lot of subtle digs at coach Ken Hitchcock from the Blues' lockerroom. If the Wild withstands the expected early, physical, assault, I think they win this one.
A reader asked me an interesting question the other day: If Andrew Wiggins, coming off one not-so-great college season, can come into the NBA and play as well as he did as a rookie, why couldn't Byron Buxton join the Twins now and learn how to hit major-league pitching while in the majors?
Having covered baseball for 22 years and having heard the usual explanations so often, I hadn't really reexamined the issue from this perspective. It's a great question. My answer?
Good NBA players are intelligent, but basketball is an athletic and activity sport. If you possess great athletic ability, as Wiggins does, it should show up over 48 minutes of constant activity. If you can dribble past and jump higher than opponents, your advantages are going to show up, as Wiggins' did.
Buxton is comparable to Wiggins when it comes to fielding. He has tremendous speed, tremendous range, the bravery to challenge fences and an exceptional arm. Those advantages would show up in the big-leagues, even if he has more to learn.
Hitting is different. Buxton would spend about four minutes a day taking major-league at-bats. The rest of the time he would be thinking about hitting, and if he got off to a slow start - probable, since he's not even hitting AA pitching yet - he would have an immense amount of time to analyze and over-analyze his swing, his approach, his pitch selection.
I've seen good big-league hitters tie themselves in knots with overanalysis. If Buxton, or any rookie, got caught in that trap, it could set him back months and damage his confidence, at least temporarily.
So while I'm in favor of calling up Buxton because of his fielding and speed, I don't think it's reasonable to think that his exceptional athletic ability would make his transition to hitting big-league pitching easier. Offensively, it would be best to bring him up when he's hot and confident.
The reason I wrote that the Twins should consider bringing him up soon is that I think he will start hitting AA pitching soon, and that may be the right time to give this team a real centerfielder.
Latest 3 podcasts at SouhanUnfiltered.com: Strib basketball writer Jerry Zgoda, Minnesota United FC defender Brian Kallman and Strib hockey writer Michael Russo. Next: Me and Russo from St. Louis on Friday afternoon before Game 5.
Sprinkling the infield and correcting frequent misperceptions...
1. This is the best Wild team in franchise history. Better goaltending, a defensive system that leads to offensive chances, most depth at forward ever, and excellent leadership. The team that went to the conference finals was an average team that played admirably when it mattered most. The Gaborik-Rolston Wild didn't have thsi depth or goaltending. This team has a chance to become the second conference finalist in franchise history.
2. That Reds manager Bryan Price should think that it's the media's job to support the team isn't surprising. I run into that from team employees, players and fans all the time. What's really shocking to me is that Price was stupid enough to embarrass himself on tape with an unprofessional outburst. He's the face of his franchise. He wanted that job. He made himself and his organization look ridiculous.
I'm also frequently shocked by how little teams and media directors do to inform their employees how this is supposed to work. I've had to explain the real dynamic to many athletes and coaches, and here's the deal: We work for our organizations, not the teams we cover. It's not our job to help the team win, or to make the team comfortable. It's that simple.
But I understand the confusion. The lines have been blurred by fan blogs, team web sites, sycophantic team partners and mainstream journalism shills. There are people in my business who should be professional, if not completely objective, and who act like fans. So while I blame Price for his unprofessionalism, I'm not shocked that either his organization or some of the people who cover the team gave him the impression that reporters should be there to help him.
3. Wrote about Steve Ott's buffoonery today. The Stanley Cup playoffs are phenomenal, but the way the game is officiated and overseen is often a joke. If a player is on the ice late in the game solely for the purpose of starting trouble, he should be suspended for the following game, minimum, and his coach should be suspended as well, and the general manager should face a six-figure fine. That's all it would take to stop this nonsense.
4. Will talk about Ott, the Wild, Minnesota sports and general and the Minnesota United FC in particular with United defender Brian Kallman tonight at 5 p.m. at Kieran's Irish Pub, across from Target Center. Can listen in person, live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com. First 50 to show up and get a free pint of Guinness, plus a couple of other gifts. Follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib for updates.
Thanks for reading and listening.
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