Good Monday to you …
— Any win by the St. Louis Blues is made even happier when David Perron scores a goal. Or two goals.
— The MLS is back with another season, and I enjoyed watching Sunday’s matches. Major League Baseball isn’t supposed to be losing 60-year-old males to soccer, but that’s the trend in my house now. This is a great time to watch and follow MLS action and get to know the teams and the players a year in advance of St. Louis City FC opening play in 2023.
— U. of Illinois basketball is a whole lotta fun. The Illini have a great big man (Kofi Cockburn), sharp three-point shooters (Alfonso Plummer, Jacob Grandison), the proverbial heady seniors (Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams), effective role players and a smart and animated coach (Brad Underwood) who offers answers of substance, truth and clarity when he converses with the media after games. Underwood has coached Illinois to a 42-16 record in the B1G over the last three seasons.
— Tuesday I’ll run my second “Ask Bernie” column so shoot some questions at me via email at BernScoops@gmail.com … thank you in advance!.
— Roast chicken + mac and cheese for Sunday supper? So simple, so perfect.
— Why is this “Tinder Swindler” creep always on my TV set? What a culture in these United States. So many are famous for being famous and nothing else. And every network and streaming platform is rushing in to shine up these fake stars.
— As for me, I’m staying with the high-brow stuff like the “Pam & Tommy” mini-series on Hulu.
— They’re booing LeBron James in LA. No, I can’t believe it! It’s such a great and loyal sports town. Not a front runner in the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area.
READING TIME, 7 MINUTES:
1) Don’t look now, but your St. Louis Blues are tied with Pittsburgh for the NHL’s third-best points percentage (.750) since Dec. 7. The Blues are 20-6-2 over that time, topped only by Colorado (.871) and Carolina (.776.) And over their 28-game stretch the Blues rank second to Colorado in percentage of goals scored in all situations. And it’s surprisingly close, with Colorado at a 61.9 percent goal share and the Blues at 60.3%. STL’s goal differential continues to expand; over their current 6-0-1 streak the Blues have outscored foes by 18 goals, 31-13.
2) Interesting note on Mizzou basketball: In falling by 20 points Saturday at LSU, the MU Tigers lost their 11th game of the season by a margin of 17 or more points. That’s as many total losses by 17-plus points as Kim Anderson had during his final TWO seasons as Mizzou’s coach.
3) I thoroughly enjoyed my Saturday one-man watch party, with a menu of college basketball, taking in the crazy action that resulted in defeats for the top six teams in the weekly Associated Press poll. That was a first. Never happened before. But Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky all tumbled down.
What does it mean?
– This could impact Selection Sunday as the committee fills in the first two lines (top eight teams.) Saturday’s big losers all slipped on the road, but at least Gonzaga, Auburn, Kansas and Kentucky were knocked down by ranked opponents. That wasn’t the case for No. 2 Arizona and No. 4 Purdue. Arizona’s 16-point loss to Colorado (fifth in the Pac 12) wasn’t good for the resume. And No. 9 Texas Tech lost to TCU, a team that came in with a 6-8 record in the Big 12.
– Bubble Ball: Mississippi State (No. 43 at KenPom) is sneaking into the bubble room and benefited from Arkansas beating Kentucky on Saturday. The Bulldogs already have a win over Arkansas this season and can make a stronger case by upsetting Auburn at home on Wednesday.
– Biggest winner: Baylor. With a comeback win over Kansas, the Bears moved within a half-game of KU in the Big 12 standings. Both teams have two games remaining in the conference schedule. And it was a prestige-pickup weekend for Arkansas, which won a close one against Kentucky to pull into a second-place SEC tie with KY and Tennessee in the SEC standings. All three are just a game behind first-place Auburn.
4) An ominous poll for MLB: I’ve been meaning to get to this, but the timing is better now because of the ongoing MLB lockout that likely will cut into the regular-season and do more harm to the game. But there were some disturbing findings for MLB in the results of a Seton Hall University poll conducted in the final month of 2021:
– The survey of 1,570 adults found that 44 percent of respondents who identified themselves as “avid” sports fans would have less interest in major-league baseball when the 2022 season begins.
– Even worse: 54 percent of the general public responded that they had no interest in MLB.
Keep in mind that all of this polling was conducted before both sides wasted two precious months by declining to meet and negotiate, the disruption and shortening of spring training, and the strong likelihood of the delay to the opening of the regular season.
5) Truthful quote: “We know from previous work stoppages, whether initiated by management or labor, that fans tend to come back,” said Charles Grantham, director of Seton Hall’s Center for Sport Management. “Today, however, there is immense competition in entertainment. These numbers are not encouraging and should be very concerning for a sport attempting to reverse a steady decline in ratings and attendance.”
6) I wonder if the out of touch MLB owners and warhawk commissioner Rob Manfred are aware of their aging fan base and what it means for the future? As of 2017, the average age of MLB fans was 57, up from 52 in 2000. Other sports? The average age for fans was 50 in the NFL, 49 in the NHL, 42 in the NBA and 40 in MLS. Five years later, in 2022, the average age of MLB fans almost certainly has gotten older. And how does MLB plan to cultivate a younger and more diverse audience – a challenge obviously made worse by a work stoppage? MLB was failing at this critical assignment long before the current lockout went into place.
7) Colton Parayko is recharged. The Blues defenseman wasn’t good over his first 40 games of the season. When Parayko was on the ice at five on five through Jan 26, the Blues were outscored 50-31 and had only 43.4% of all shot attempts. He had a plus-minus of minus 13. But in his last 10 games Parayko is plus 13, and the Blues have outscored opponents 14-4 at five on five. They’ve also had 51 percent of the shots on net. Here’s a fancy-pants way to do this: the Blues had an expected goals percentage of 44 percent with Parayko in action at five on five over his first 40 games; over his last 10 games that expected goals percentage is 57.1.
8) Parayko’s defensive pairing with Niko Mikkola has gotten substantially better. In their first 25 games together on the ice at five on five, the Blues scored 29% of the goals. (Outscored 22-9.) But in their last 25 games as partners, the Blues have outscored the other side 10-3 with Parayko-Mikkola out there at five on five. The improvement is dramatic, and it’s a potentially big deal for the Blues.
9) Our Town’s Jayson Tatum is playing at a higher level at both ends of the court for the Boston Celtics, and the all-around performance is quite impressive. What’s surprising, at least to some, is the value of Tatum’s exceptional defense. In a “believe it or not” stat that made me smile, Tatum leads the NBA with 3.6 defensive win shares this season. Yes, No. 1 in the NBA. And during the Celtics’ current 14-2 stretch Tatum is averaging 27.1 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. We’ve come to expect the pressure on Tatum to carry the Boston offense. But he’s thriving in the defensive scheme installed by first-year Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who calls for frequent defensive switches. Tatum is long, quick and versatile. He can match up with smaller guards and opposing bigs. That makes Tatum an ideal piece for a switching-heavy defense.
10) Blue Notes: A total of 17 St. Louis forwards have combined to score 160 goals this season. That ranks fifth in the NHL; only the forwards groups at Florida (174), Colorado (166), Toronto (164) and Minnesota (160) have more … Welcome back Jordan Binnington, who stopped 55 of 56 shots in his two starts last week including Sunday’s 4-0 win at Chicago. And now – already! – questions are popping up on the interwebs about Ville Husso. Fans are asking if it makes sense for the Blues to trade Husso now. Not that these good peoples are overreacting or anything … according to Money Puck, the Blues have a 42.8% chance to advance to the postseason second round, and a 19% shot of making the Western Conference final. Teams that are listed with a better chance of making the conference final are Colorado (38.6%), Calgary (34.8%), Minnesota (31%) and LA Kings (27.5%)… here’s of the reasons why the Blues rank No. 2 in the league in the percentage of five on shots that result in goals: the Blues get their shots through traffic without being blocked. Their percentage of attempted shots blocked (22.3%) is third lowest in the NHL.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Stats used in this column were cultivated from Money Puck, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.