As the Blues prepare for the Predators in their Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round matchup, it seems apparent we’re going to see a low scoring series. In the first round, Jake Allen was second in goals against average at 1.47, trailing only Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne’s 0.70 GAA. Rinne leads all playoff goalies with a save percentage of .976, leading Allen, who is in second with a save percentage of .956.
The goalies are going to be THE key for each team, but there are other points to be taken into consideration. It was notable that the Chicago Blackhawks, the team Nashville beat in the first round, admitted that they didn’t have playoff intensity in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Preds.
After Chicago’s exit interviews over the weekend, Mark Lazarus of the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted “Brian Campbell said the #Blackhawks “got stuck in regular-season” mode.”
Other players shared similar sentiments, with Patrick Kane telling Lazarus ‘‘Maybe we won a couple of close (regular season) games that might have made us feel like we were better than we really were,’’ and Duncan Keith said the team had “no bite or push back.” It seems clear the ‘Hawks didn’t think they brought their “A-game” to the series against Nashville, and got swept.
Meanwhile, as the Blues eliminated the Minnesota Wild in five games, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said “They weren’t the better team, but they won four games.” I thought, in watching the Western Conference playoffs, that Minnesota actually DID play better than the other seven teams, but ran into the spectacular Allen.
As we get ready for the second round, I don’t think the Predators have the depth that Minnesota had, but Rinne is hotter than Devan Dubnyk was. And for Nashville, they are going to face a team that has ratcheted up their post-season intensity and is getting superb goaltending. The Blues will definitely provide more intensity than the ‘Hawks admitted to bringing, and they’ll deliver more bite and pushback.
Here are five areas where the Blues need to get better to beat Nashville…
1) Power Play: The Blues were just 1-15 in power play opportunities against Minnesota. That 6.7% success rate is tied for worst in the playoffs. The Blues have too much talent to have that level of PP success, so they need to pick it up.
2) Stay out of the penalty box: The Blues have the fifth most penalties among playoff teams with 22. As we saw in the clincher on Saturday, two of Minnesota’s three goals came on the power play. It’s simply too dangerous to spend so much time in the penalty box, as the Blues did with their seven penalties in game five. That’s fourteen minutes, nearly a quarter of the game. After leading the league in PK under Mike Yeo in the last two months of the regular season, the Blues were seventh in the first round.
3) Win faceoffs: This was a problem with Paul Stastny out of the lineup. The Blues were last among the sixteen first round playoff teams, winning just 42.6% of their draws against the big, tough Minnesota faceoff men. Nashville was fourth, winning 52.8% against Chicago. With some time back in the league under Vladimir Sobotka’s belt and Stastny returning, the Blues should win more faceoffs and have more offensive zone possession time than they did against the Wild.
4) Get more shots on goal: The Blues were last in the playoffs at 26.8 shots on goal per game. They need to test Rinne. The Blues need a lot more offensive zone time, and they need to get the puck to the Nashville goaltender. With as hot as he is, the Blues need traffic in front of Rinne and to get deflections. Long shots that he can see, like Minnesota had against Allen, aren’t going to make it to the back of the net.
5) Don’t try to play too heavy: The Blackhawks’ Toews told reporters he needs to focus less on playing “heavy” and more on recapturing the speed of his younger years. That was one of his problems against a Nashville team that has speedy forwards Victor Arvidsson, who was great against Chicago, and a top line of Ryan Johansson, Kevin Fiala and Filip Forsberg. The Preds can outskate opponents. If the Blues are trying to hit what they can’t catch, they’ll be in trouble. The Blues need to play fast against Nashville throughout the series, because the Preds can zoom by in an instant.
This has a chance to be an epic series, with two goalies at the top of their game, two great coaching staffs and two young ascending teams. If the Blues impose their will, they can win. But if they allow the Predators to play their game the way they did against the Blackhawks, then the Blues will be in trouble.