St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks
Team Records and Head-to-Head
Blues – 52-23-7, 111 points. Goals F/A – 239-188. Fenwick Close – 53.1%
Blackhawks – 46-21-15, 107 points. Goals F/A – 261-212. Fenwick Close – 55.2%
Season Matchup – Blues won three of five matchups, twice via shootout, although they were outscored by the Blackhawks by a combined 17-14. Take away the shootout winners, and the Blackhawks outscored the Blues by a 19-14 margin.
While the Blues won three of five against the Blackhawks during the regular season, not only did Chicago outscore their longtime rivals, but as two of the victories were in the shootout, the teams each earned six points from their head-to-head battles. Of greater interest are the final two battles, both after the trade deadline acquisition of Ryan Miller by St. Louis. The Hawks won both of those games, the former of which saw Miller get the start, although he was lifted midway through the third period after surrendering the fourth goal in an eventual 4-0 defeat. It should also be noted that the defending champions outshot the upstarts from Missouri in all but their first matchup. In light of everything, it is reasonable to think that in a world without shootouts, the Blackhawks would have won at least one of the games that could not be decided in 65 minutes or less.
St. Louis – 19.9 GVT
Chicago – 41.9 GVT
Advantage – Chicago – 22
More than just the additional 22 goals scored on the season, Chicago’s offensive superiority can be best illustrated by comparing the Fenwick events from both teams. Looking only at even strength, game close situations, the Blackhawks had 300 additional offensive Fenwick events, which works out to over 3.5 per game. The offensive firepower is well spread out for the Hawks, with five players (Sharp, Kane, Hossa, Toews, and Keith) ranking among the top 35 league wide in offensive GVT. In contrast, only one Blue (Steen) makes that list, and he is near its bottom.
If we want to use a different metric than GVT, a good place to start is scoring rate per 60 minutes at even strength. A common number cited as being a standard for top six forwards is around 1.75 points per 60 minutes of even strength play. Looking at all skaters who appeared in at least 20 games this year, the Blues have five such men, plus one more who missed by the slimmest of margins. Of those six, four are dealing with injuries and two (Tarasenko and Berglund) are expected to miss at least a portion of the first round.
The Blackhawks have nine such players. While superstars Kane and Toews had both missed the last few games of the regular season, all systems appear to be ‘Go’ for game one on Thursday.
St. Louis – 25.6 Defensive GVT, 4.2 Goaltending GVT. 29.8 total defensive GVT
Chicago – 17.5 Defensive GVT, -12.6 Goaltending GVT. 4.9 total defensive GVT
Advantage – St. Louis – 24.9
As big as Chicago’s advantage on the offensive end is, St. Louis’ defensive supremacy is even more apparent. With one caveat. Much of the Blackhawks’ horrid marks in net come from the second and third string netminders, as Antti Raanta and Nikolai Khabibulin combined for a -12.3 GVT. Neither man should be expected to spend one minute between the pipes barring a serious injury to starter Corey Crawford. That caveat aside, and forgetting for a moment his subpar play down the stretch for the Blues, Ryan Miller is a clearly superior goalie to Crawford.
As we move to the skaters, like with any other Ken Hitchcock coached team, the Blues defensive game is a team-wide concept. While all of their regular defensemen are counted relatively evenly in terms of zone starts, the stud pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester (both Canadian Olympians) are counted on most when it comes to facing the top line of the opposition. Particularly noteworthy of their usage is that of the 22 regular blueliners (min. 30 games played) to have faced tougher opposition as measured by Corsi Quality of Competition, none have better raw Corsi numbers than either of the Blues top pairing. Most of the club’s top nine forwards are also considered to be very strong in their own ends, with Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund faring particularly well.
St. Louis – 6.5 power play GVT (19.8% success rate), 9.1 shorthanded GVT (85.7% success rate).
Chicago – 4.5 power play GVT (19.5% success rate), 1.1 shorthanded GVT (81.4% success rate)
Special Teams advantage – St. Louis – 10
By rate stats, the Blues are a far more successful team on either side of the special teams war, especially so in their ability to kill penalties. And yet, despite killing over 4% more penalties than Chicago, the Blackhawks have only allowed four more actual power play goals against on the season. The reason is simple: The Blues spent far more time killing penalties than did the Blackhawks. Although the lack of discipline has not affected the Blues so much when it comes to winning games, it may have a hidden effect on their ability to score. After all, the team is far less likely to score when shorthanded than at 5-on-5. The most egregious offender has been Brenden Morrow and considering his other shortcomings at the age of 35, the Blues would be wise to consider giving him a reduced role if he is even healthy enough to suit up.
St. Louis Blues forwards vs the trainer’s table
The Western Conference is shaping up to be a real dog fight as only one of eight teams chock full of big nasty players will make it through to the Stanley Cup finals. It is expected that, to make it far, players will sacrifice life and limb to push their club one step forward to hockey’s ultimate platform. The Blues are hoping their postseason injury list is reversed, starting off heavy and gradually thinning out as more and more players return to game shape. As this preview is being written, it is still unknown how many of their banged up regulars will be able to dress for Game 1, but most are expected to be available. While the Chicago players dealing with injuries are no less important to their team, both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are expected to be ready. If the Blues do not have their full complement (or very close to it) of regular forwards, the six game losing streak that closed out their regular season is likely to be extended.
The Blues have only lost one game in regulation all season in which they scored at least three goals. On March 28, with nine games remaining on their schedule, the Blues had 107 points, the most of any team in the NHL, and the best mark in the Central Division by eight points. The team, reeling with the aforementioned injury stack to their top forwards, failed to score three goals in a single game over any of their remaining matches. As result, they won only two more and lost the Division’s top spot that would have seen them avoid such a difficult matchup for their first round opponent.
Blues in seven. The previous sentence is contingent on the Blues showing up for Game 1 with at least five of their injured six forwards healthy and ready to fire. Without that qualifier, not only will the winning team be different, but so will the number of games needed.
Ryan Wagman is a long-time author of Hockey Prospectus including his Zamboni Tracks transactions column, a contributor to several HP annuals, contributor to ESPN Insider, and long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs supporter.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @RAWagman.