I don’t give a damn about making predictions on sporting events. I care only if I’ve invested money in the outcome.
I’m not wagering on the first-round Stanley Cup postseason series matching the St. Louis and Winnipeg … but I do care about the result … and I believe the Blues should prevail.
Much depends on these five-plus factors:
1. The Blues maintaining the sharp and determined form that generated 65 points — the most in the NHL — and a .722 points percentage (most in the West) since Jan. 3.
2. The Jets remaining relatively dormant. Winnipeg, a team with potentially destructive firepower, has been lurching and stalling for three months. Their collection of premium forwards and snipers have underachieved. More on that in a couple of minutes.
3. Goaltending, goaltending and goaltending. Simply because goaltending can elevate — or deflate — a team during the Stanley Cup tournament. It’s always about goaltending at this time of year.
In this matchup Blues rookie Jordan Binnington posted vastly better statistics than Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck since taking over as STL’s primary starter since Jan. 7. But the postseason is a new season; Binnington is about to enter the crucible.
4. The Blues successfully imposing their style of play to keep the Jets from going off on goal-scoring binges.
This is what I’m talking about…
Since Jan. 3, when the Blues hit their peak form and stayed there until the end of the regular season, here are stat-flash looks at examples of their possession dominance. And we’ll compare it to Winnipeg’s profile since Jan. 3.
Based on their share of shots and scoring chances over the last 45 games of the regular season the Blues had a goal-expectancy percentage of 56 percent at even strength; that was No. 1 in the league over that time. (Meaning that based on their impressive possession metrics, the Blues realistically could be expected to score 56 percent of the goals in games — to only 44 percent for their opponents. That, my friends, is monster dominance.
Over their final 45 games the Blues had 183 more scoring chances than their opponents at even strength; that ranked third in the NHL. And Winnipeg? This: Opponents had 158 More scoring chances than the Jets. It’s worth repeating, so ponder these even-strength numbers again: since Jan. 3 the Blues were +183 against opponents in scoring chances; the Jets were the worst in the NHL with a stunningly bad minus 158.
And what about the even-strength, high-danger chances since Jan. 3? (“High danger” as in shots taken from the sweet scoring spots on the ice, the slot and the crease.) The Blues were No. 1 in the NHL with a 58.4 percent share of those high-danger chances in 45 games; The Note had 143 more than their opponents. And the Jets? They were 28th in the NHL since Jan. 3 with a high-danger share of 45.8 percent. Using the raw count, Winnipeg was a horrendous minus 61 compared to their opponents in high-danger chances.
5. Even if the Blues lose Game 1 and Game 2 in Winnipeg, they must keep the faith. Here’s why: over the past five seasons, in first-round playoff games, road teams have won just as often as the home teams, with an equal split of 180 games (90-90.)
If the Blues take care of business at home during this series, they’ll need just one victory at Winnipeg to tilt the series their way. And that triumph can come in a Game 5 or a Game 7. Then again, the same applies in reverse. With road teams having so much success postseason success, the Blues have to be alert, and valiant, about protect their home-ice edge at Enterprise Center. They can’t have the Jets stealing games in St. Louis.
For what it’s worth:
* Road record since Jan. 3: Blues, 15-6-5 for a points percentage of .673, No. 3 in the league over that time Jets, 10-12-1 for a points-percentage of .457, ranked 19th over that time.
* The Jets are a great home team, right? This is what we’ve been told many times in recent days. And absolutely, the rink in Winnipeg has been a treacherous patch for visiting teams in recent seasons. But we’re talking about more recent and relevant trends here.
Well, it is true that Winnipeg has a winning home record since Jan. 3 (12-6-2) … but over the same time frame the Blues have the NHL’s second-best home record overall, and the No. 1 home mark in the West, at 15-4 for a points percentage of .789.
5a. What about the special teams? Isn’t that a factor? Yes, of course. And from the St. Louis perspective, there’s been considerable fretting over the potency of the Winnipeg power play.
Indeed when that PP is clicking, the Jets are dangerous. But consider: since Jan. 3, the Blues and Jets are essentially tied for power-play success rate. The Blues are 7th in the NHL at 21.8 percent; the Jets are 8th at 21.7.
As for penalty killing since Jan. 3, the Blues have rank tied for 5th in the league with a PK rate of 84.8 percent. And Winnipeg is way down the list with a PK rate of 77.4% since Jan. 3. That ranks 26th in the league over that time.
If the Blues, for the most part, can play these games on their terms, then they should advance to the second round. Every recent trend leads to that common-sense opinion. But the playoffs are tricky. And random. A sequences of bounces, deflections, terrible officiating calls, soft goals, and wild swings of momentum.
There’s no predicting that sort of thing. But if the Blues can remain true to the Craig Berube way of hockey — go north-south with pace … attack … jump on the Jets’ defensemen on the forecheck to force oodles of turnovers … and frustrate opponents by hogging and cycling the puck … then St. Louis can look forward to another round of playoff hockey.
“The change in the Blues has been unbelievable,” said the great Blue, Bernie Federko, the current Fox Sports Midwest analyst and Hockey Hall of Famer. “The Blues have have four lines that can score, and defensemen that jump into the offense and make plays. And Binnington has been great. If the Blues can continue to play and compete the way they’ve been doing it, I really like their chances.”
Thanks for reading …