Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview Part 7: STL - WPG

Saint Louis Blues (3) at Winnipeg Jets (2)

Regular Season Record: Saint Louis 45-28-9 (99 points) Winnipeg 47-30-5 (99 points)

Head to Head Record: Winnipeg won 4 game series 3 games to 1

On December 10th, last year the local Fox channel in Saint Louis posted this video https://fox2now.com/2018/12/10/video-blues-teammates-fight-during-practice/ of Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford throwing punches during a practice session.  The Blues played awful hockey during the first part of the season and were mired in the bottom of the Central Division with a bleak outlook.  Head coach, Mike Yeo was fired the prior month and the Blues playoff chances were fading quickly.  What a difference a flip of the calendar can make on a hockey team.  The Saint Louis Blues turned into the hottest teams in the league posting a 28-10-4 record, only one point out of first place in the Central.   

Winnipeg led the Central Division for a good portion of the campaign prior to cooling off the last month.  Winnipeg staggered to the finish line going 14-14-3 over the last 9 weeks of the season costing them first place.  The Jets held the tiebreaker advantage against the Blues (45 wins in regulation versus 42 for St Louis) giving them home ice for the series.  The participants are definitely entering this contest going in opposite directions. The Jets might have beaten Saint Louis 3 times in the 4 games on ice this year, but the last meetup between the teams was December 7th.  Winnipeg has not faced a rejuvenated Blues with their rookie netminder in the crease.  For this reason, the head-to-head matchups do not provide a good preview of this series between the teams.

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Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after scoring a goal

Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after scoring a goal

Vladimir Tarasenko is an offensive force imported from Russia reminiscent of the old Soviet Red Army players.  Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn provide a healthy amount of balance between scoring and passing from the center position.  Reilly led the way with 49 assists with Schenn following his example with 37.  On the opposite side, David Perron has scored 23 goals and contributed 23 assists to the Blues attack, hitting the back of the net on nearly 20% of his shots.  The offense scored a middling 244 goals on the year one of the lowest totals for playoff teams.

Winnipeg scores goals finishing 7th with 270 scores on the year and 3rd in the West.  The club was 3rd in PDO (shot percentage + save percentage), and led the Western Conference.  The Jets have a three-pronged attack headed up by Mark Scheifele.  The center leads the team with 38 goals followed closely by Kyle Connor and Patrick Laine with 34 and 30 goals respectively.  Blake Wheeler is an effective passer with 71 assists on the year, tops on the team. 

Blake Wheeler on the break away

Blake Wheeler on the break away

The defensive side is in excellent shape for the Blues.  Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn effectively set the plate for the scoring attack with over 20 assists apiece.  The physical presence of Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson make it difficult for opponents to score.  Saint Louis’ defense finished 3rd in the NHL only allowing 7.6 shots from close in goal per game.  The strength of the Blues backline is a major reason for the success of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. 

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Jordan Binnington has taken the NHL by storm in his first season with 1.87 goals allowed average.  The rookie is in the top 5 in save percentage at 94.2% and his goals saved above average is top 10.  When opponents are getting through the Blues defense, Binnington has been equal to the task with a sterling 87.7% high danger save percentage.  However- playoff hockey is different than the regular season and this is Binnington’s first go round in the tournament.  The Blues need the newcomer to be ready for the playoff pressure because his backup Jake Allen has been underwhelming this season.  Allen started the year as the starter, but after the rocky beginning to the season lost his job to Binnington.  Allen’s GSSA is on the high side and his stats put him in the bottom 33% of goalies this year. 

 The Jets are one of the few playoff teams allowing more shots from up close than they took on offense. In this day of defenders scoring double digits goals, the Jets did not feature one on their backline. Jacob Trouba led his peers with 50 points on 8 goals and 42 assists. The Jets rely more on finesse in their defensive zone than physical play with only two defenders putting more than 100 hits on the opposition. Saint Louis will not worry about getting beat up as they approach the Winnipeg crease during the series.

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Connor Hellebuyck played a preponderance of the games in the net for Winnipeg this year.  The Jets primary goaltender faced the most shots of any goalie in the league stopping 1,871of the 2,050 pucks fired his way.  Hellebuyck can match Binnington’s performance for Saint Louis during any game in the series.  Connor was a Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) in 2017-18 demonstrating his excellence between the pipes.  Hellebuyck may not have the sterling statistics of Binnington this season but is an experience playoff goaltender.  He won 9 playoff games last year as the Jets bowed out to Vegas in the Conference finals.

The Blues are the sexy pick to get past Winnipeg in this series.  No doubt the Blues fly into Winnipeg for game one brimming with confidence.  The Blues offense is good enough to beat most teams in the league on a regular basis.  Binnington proved to be rock solid in front of the net with a veteran Jake Allen subbing in if necessary.  The Jets on the other hand, lost the Central Division lead and were fortunate to get home ice.  Winnipeg played 500% hockey over the last 31 games of the year.  People have forgotten that Winnipeg started the season as a top pick to represent the Conference in the Cup finals this season.  They have faded down as we neared the finish line but give me the Jets in 6 games.  Hellebuyck can match Binnington in the net and the Jets have a slightly better front line. 

Current odds as of 4/9:

Saint Louis -130

Winnipeg +110

-@holmes168