Ken Hitchcock, his Blues down 2-1 in their series against the Wild, was in a surprisingly jovial mood today except when that obnoxious Jeremy Rutherford from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch kept asking about possible lineup changes or line alterations.
“You've got to stop asking me those questions,” Hitchcock, with a big smile, said to my pal JR. “You're going to end this press conference and I'm in a good mood right now. ... You're right, I'm not going to tell you, nor am I going to show you in the morning at the pregame skate, so you're going to have to bring an eraser tomorrow.”
Afternoon from the Xcel Energy Center press room, where this is take 2 of this darn blog. I goofed up by writing it in the platform and then accidentally hit the home button of my browser. Then I threw the laptop against my cubicle.
So, now I’m really behind in writing for the paper and a lot of this rewritten blog will have to be cut and paste quotes right now (some really good ones from Hitchcock), so forgive me today that you won’t be getting a ton of my own thoughts and writing.
Check out www.startribune.com/wild for all our Star Tribune team coverage from today’s paper.
I’ll be on Dan Barreiro’s show on KFAN at 5:15 p.m.
On Wednesday, I’ll be on with Paul Allen on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. and with Barreiro at 5:55 p.m. I’ll be on Fox Sports North at 8 p.m. and during the first intermission.
I’ll also be hosting a live a podcast with Jim Souhan at the Liffey in St. Paul at 4 p.m. Come on by or listen live or later at souhanunfiltered.com or iHeart or iTunes or spreaker or whatever.
Coach Mike Yeo said all Wild players came out of last night’s win healthy and he didn’t anticipate any lineup changes, although he was coy. He expects Blues adjustments, which Hitchcock talked a little bit about today.
Hitchcock went on and on about how good the Wild is today and kiddingly said when asked what they needed, “Messier, Gretzky, I'll take an Anderson, Kurri's fine. What we've got, we've got enough to play. Let's play our game and let's play our best game, the way we can play and then we'll get a better judgment.”
Wild does Blues do need better play from its best players. Guys like David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, who lit the Wild up in last year’s playoffs, and Alex Pietrangelo don’t have points.
“We're playing a team that's played the best hockey in the league since the goalie change and everybody is trying to catch up to them,” Hitchcock said. “I knew they were playing like this when we came in here and got beat right at the end of the regular season. It was our first experience at watching them play. They're on top of their game and it's our job to catch up.
"We had some really good things happen in the end of Game 1 through Game 2 but then they got their speed burn-and-go back yesterday. They caught us again and took advantage of it. They're a great team through the neutral zone and if you give them opportunities to use that element, you're just feeding - especially the Granlund line - and that's what we did. They took advantage of it.”
I couldn’t agree more. The Wild is dominating the neutral zone right now. The Wild did an efficient job all game exited its zone with 90-foot stretch passes or lob passes, and it seemed to cause the Blues to stand still, have poor gaps, look apprehensive.
“Playing Minnesota is a lot like playing Tampa,” Hitchcock said. “They've got a lot of team speed, they've got a lot of agility, so we have to play a game that's different than theirs. And when we get them in our game, it's extremely difficult for them. But when they get loose, they're awful good, awful good. We've got to get them more into our game. We've got to get our game out there for more minutes than we played yesterday. We had flashes of it in the first period, some good stuff and didn't finish at the net with shots. I think one of the things you can't lose sight of right now is that we haven't even reached double digits in three games on even-strength scoring chances for. That's the job that they're doing against us and they've done it against a lot of teams. That's something for us to get better, we have to have more scoring chances even strength, 5 on 5. And we don't have enough right now. We don't have enough to sustain a lot of pressure. We're going to have to find ways to create more 5 on 5 scoring opportunities to maintain control of the hockey game. Otherwise it just into what it did yesterday, which is back and forth, which is not to our advantage."
What are Wild doing to prevent Blues' opportunities?
"Well, they play for the goalie. Since the change, they play for the goalie. When you play for the goalie, you block every shot, you get in front of every puck, there's no gap, no space, no room, they play for the goalie. We're going to have to get through that."
Look for matchup against Granlund line?
"Well, I'm looking for it, but Mike (Yeo) won't give it to me. We've got a little bit of an issue. I'll have to talk to him about that tomorrow ... get a free one from him."
"Look we came here to win a hockey game. If we win the game tomorrow, we've got home ice. It's all doom and gloom, but it was a 2-0 hockey game. They played very, very well. We can play better and we'll play better. But they've got another gear in them too, so it'll be an interesting game. But if we win tomorrow, then it's advantage us. That's why for me, for the home team in every series, Game 4 sets us as a lot. And that's what tomorrow is, it's a big game for both teams, but I like our ability to rebound and play a better hockey game. But we're going to have to do some things that are really relevant in our game at a much higher level because they're team ... I don't see any change for the last three months in their team. It's playing the exact same way it was in January."
When the Blues are bad, why are they so bad?
"Impatience with the puck. Checking does that to you. When you get checked hard, you feel like there's 12 guys on the ice and what you do from there becomes relevant. It's not like guys aren't trying hard and all that stuff. You just become impatient, so you chase the game. We've chased the game. We chased the game because we gave up the puck too easily and allowed them to get into their transition. Now we're chasing them back down the ice and that happened in Game 1 also. Their checking sets up their offense, they're great at it, so are we, but they've been a little bit better at it so far."
“We’re losing the race to the red line ... I know what you're saying. So the gap looks like the d-men are on their heels, but we're losing the race to the red. That's the whole thing. When you're involved in a team that plays with a tight gap, you've got to win the race to the red. You've got to control all three lines; we're not controlling the red line and it's forcing us to be uncomfortable because we're not sure if some pucks are coming back at us, so there's no gap. We're anticipating that we're moving north and now we're going south right away. There were seven of them in the second period and we lost the race to the red. We had the puck, didn't get the red line, next thing you know, big gap coming back at us.
On Wild's lack of engaging in physical activity; annoy you guys (I love this quote): “Hits aren't relevant. If you're talking like us running them over, it's not relevant. Every player in the NHL takes a hit in the playoffs; doesn't matter. You just get up. Their physical play has been with numbers. They're winning the physical numbers game. We got one, they got two; we got two, they got three. They're winning the swarm game. So we have to figure out a way to adjust. Their physical play is different, but it's still very physical. They press up on you, they lean on you, they work low to high, they do a helluva job with it, and they're very good at what they do. They're winning that part of the game. I think that's been the difference in the series. The big hits and everything, they have a tendency to wear on teams as the series goes on at times, but as far as running people over and knocking people on their arses, it's not relevant. What's relevant is when the battle's on the boards, who comes out with the puck, and they're winning more of that than we are right now. That's an element that has to change for us.
Steve Ott's impact: “That's how he plays. You all are talking about him, it's good for us. You stop talking about him, that's not good for us. He's an agitating guy, he's got great moxie on the ice, he's a guy if you're writing in the newspaper today, you probably hate him (JIM SOUHAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and you talk about him. If he's on your team, you love him because he has a way of getting your attention. If you're just talking about him, he's got your attention because it means somebody has to be aware when he's on the ice. He's a real good teammate.”
Here is Mike Yeo from today, and I’ll try to return later to tidy this stuff up and give you some thoughts from some players today:
As good as you’ve exited zone? In the series. Yeah, that was really important for us. there were some factors involved with that. I think our D did a really good job going back executing, but I think some of our play through the neutral zone was a factor in that. I would expect them to try to look at some things and some areas that they can try to get in on the forecheck a little bit more and maybe build a little bit more speed to get in on the forecheck with. It’ll be a fun one just as far as they’ll be looking to make some adjustments and maybe we’ll make a few in anticipation of that.
How do you weigh where you want to do what you did well knowing you may need to react to what they adjust? A little thing here and a little thing there, and I would expect it would be similar with their team. Basically our game is not going to change. I don’t want all of our attention going towards one specific thing. That’s only part of the game. they are going to establish some control in the offensive zone. We’re going to need to be good in D-zone. We’re going to need to be good with our execution. We’re going to be good as far as how we get to the offensive zone and spend time there. So it’s a complete game that we have to be ready to play tomorrow.
Different type of toughness? This is one thing that I highly respect with our group. It’s the way a dman goes back and takes a hit to make a play, it’s the way a guy blocks a shot, it’s the way when teams try to impose themselves physically on us we keep on our playing our game. that’s our mindset, the approach that we have to have.
So dismiss Spurgeon getting jumped or need to be a response? We dismiss it. we get ready for the next game. we did our job last night and now we have to get ready to do our job against tomorrow night.
On packing defensive zone? No, again, I think it’s most important this time that we continue to play our game and do the things that got us here, the things that we do well. If we start thinking out there too much, if it’s not habit, then you become very reactive. I think our greatest strength is our speed. It’s the quickness that we can close, the quickness that we can execute, but it’s also the quickness that we can think with, and I think that’s relying on your habits.”
Handle being up 2-1 in series as opposed to trailing or tied for first time at home: “Well, again, we’ll get another chance to see tomorrow. Obviously we know what to expect from them. I think both teams recognize the importance of the game, so I think it’s going to be up to which team can go out there and execute their game plan the best at the end of the night, which will tell the story.”
On sensing Blues frustration: “No, I think in every game, especially when your team’s trailing, there’s always some signs of frustration, but I think that this is an experienced group over there. They’ll collect themselves today, and I certainly would not expect them to carry anything of what happened last game into the next one. I think they did a good job of responding in Game 2 of the series, and I would expect them to collect themselves tomorrow as well.
I’ll be back maybe.