NHL Stanley Cup Round 1 Western Conference Preview: St Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild

This first-round match up is a bit of a conundrum. You never hear very much of either team. The Blues are pretty streaky, and go from losing a lot of games on the bounce to winning twice as many, and the Wild just quietly go about their business until you realise they’ve scored the most goals in the west and were only three points out of winning the conference.

This could be a sneaky-good series.

Western Conference Round One
St Louis Blues Vs Minnesota Wild
Standings
10th League 5th
5th Conference 2nd
3rd Division 2nd
3rd Central Seeding 2nd Central
Season Record
46-29-7 99pts Overall 106pts 49-25-8
235 Goals For 266
218 Goals Against 208

 

Seven points separated second and third in the central this year, mostly inspired by the Wild’s superb goal difference. We’ll look at reasons for that later.

Record versus opponent
34 33 5 All-time 33 34 5
2 4 0 Playoffs 4 2 0
3 2 0 2016/17 2 2 1

The Blues have the advantage on this year’s match-ups, and slight edge overall. The teams have only met once in the post-season, the Wild winning in six in 2014/15.

Scoring Leaders
Vladimir Tarasenko 39 Goals 28 Eric Staal
Jaden Schwartz
Vladimir Tarasenko
36 Assists 43 Mikael Granlund
Vladimir Tarasenko 75 Points 69 Mikael Granlund
Vladimir Tarasenko 286 Shots 211 Eric Staal
Ivan Barbashev 25.0 Shot % 20.0 Joel Eriksson Ek

 

The Wild don’t have any truly elite scorers, but what they do have is depth. Twelve players broke into double figures for goals, and nine players broke the 40 point barrier.

The Blues, on the other hand, have Vladimir Tarasenko, and not much else. Seven players reached double figures (one of which was the now-departed Kevin Shattenkirk), but only two broke 20 goals. Six players still on the side broke the 40-point mark, so they’ll need some more people to stand up in the post-season.

Even Strength Team Possession (via corsica.hockey)
Unadjusted SZV Adjusted
CF% FF% CF% FF%
St Louis 50.18 50.47 50.53 50.59
Minnesota 49.35 49.91 50.36 50.87
Unadjusted Possession Leaders (ES, min 200 minutes)
CF% FF%
D F D F
St Louis Robert Bortuzzo (51.32) Jaden Schwartz (53.61) Robert Bortuzzo (54.04) Jaden Schwartz (53.32)
Minnesota Jared Spurgeon (51.14) Martin Hanzal (58.99) Jared Spurgeon (51.83) Martin Hanzal (59.24)

Unadjusted, the Blues seem like the better possession team, but when you adjust for score, zone and venue, it seems like the Wild get leads and let teams come on to them a little bit.

The Wild do have the better high-end possession players, though. They hugely overpaid for Martin Hanzal but his underlying numbers are good.

Special Teams
Power Play Penalty Kill
% Rank % Rank
St Louis 21.3 8th 84.8 3rd
Minnesota 21.0 9th 82.9 8th
PPG For SHG Against PPG Against SHG For
St Louis 50 5 40 3
Minnesota 47 3 37 5

Two top-ten power plays go head to head, and the Blues have a very good penalty kill. Not that the Wild’s isn’t good, but we’re talking top three here.

I’m not sure special teams will be the game breaker here, but it will be a good test of both teams’ credentials.

Goaltending
St Louis Minnesota
Jake Allen Carter Hutton Devan Dubnyk Darcy Kuemper
5v5 Sv% 92.46 92.11 93.07 90.97
5v5 HDSv% 81.17 83.33 80.53 79.27
All Sits Sv% 91.48 91.25 92.33 90.21
All Sits HDSv% 81.25 81.75 80.00 77.88

 

The two starters are very good, often ignored goaltenders. Jake Allen took a while to get used to being the starter in St Louis after Brian Elliott’s departure, but he’s grown into the role and is now posting some very good numbers. Devan Dubnyk is also often slept on, but there’s no doubting the Wild rode him at several points this year.

As for the backups, Hutton is a better option than Kuemper, but it’s not likely that Kuemper is going to be called upon. Hutton may switch in if Allen is in desperate need of a rest.

Prediction

 

It’s tough to choose a winner here. Do you go with the all-over strength of the Wild, or the option of Tarasenko going nuclear in the post-season? If Minnesota manage to keep him quiet, they’ll take the round, maybe in six.

The winner of this tie meets the winner of the Predators/Blackhawks match-up. There’s gonna be no easy rides this year.

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