St. Louis Blues Offensive GVT: 17.9
St. Louis Blues Defensive GVT: -1.0
St. Louis Blues Goalie GVT: 3.5
St. Louis Blues Total GVT: 47
Minnesota Wild Offensive GVT: 17.2
Minnesota Wild Defensive GVT: -0.3
Minnesota Wild Goalie GVT: 3.5
Minnesota Wild Total GVT: 30
St. Louis Blues Strengths:
Up front, there aren’t many forwards who have been more dynamic than Vladimir Tarasenko this season. He has 25 even strength goals and his 1.39 G/60 ranks fifth in the NHL. If you include all situations, his G/60 jumps to 1.63, sixth in the NHL.
In addition, the Blues certainly have a size advantage over the Wild, who delivered the fewest hits in the NHL this year with 1,217. Many consider that physicality an advantage as the games get more physical, though it hasn’t served them well in recent years and the notion that hits produces champions, is highly contestable.
Part of their size and strength advantage is a strong defensive group featuring Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Carl Gunnarsson, Kevin Shattenkirk, and deadline acquisition Zbynek Michalek.
At large, they have the edge on the Wild in most categories, including a 51.7% CF%, 12th in the NHL, this season. Their 22.3% success rate on the power play is fourth in the league and dwarfs the Wild’s 27th rank power play.
St. Louis Blues Weaknesses:
Aside from struggles in recent postseasons, one concern for the Blues will be how their stats are trending. While they lead in many categories versus the Wild, their goal differential since the All-Star Break is just +3, meaning their +27 differential on the season is heavily weighted to the first half of the year.
Another big concern will be the number of penalties they’ve taken. With 103 on the season, they have the fifth most in the league. Their eighth ranked penalty kill (83.7%) has worked hard to be as good as it has been.
One last concern is a relative one, and it’s the trend of Brian Elliott’s goaltending. He’s the presumed number one, but the Blues are in the opposite situation of the Wild. It’s not yet clear who Ken Hitchcock will start between the pipes. If it’s Elliott, his season numbers are decent, but he’s moving in the wrong direction.
Below is Elliott versus Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk with a 10-game rolling adjusted Sv% and then a 20-game rolling high danger Sv% (a category the Blues best the Wild in on the season). The black line is Elliott and the red line is Dubnyk.
Minnesota Wild Strengths:
One of the team’s assets is a slept-on defensive group. Using GVT stats currently available on Hockey Prospectus, you get all four top defensemen — Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Marco Scandella — in the top 57 defensemen in the NHL. The Blues only have two in the top 57 and only three in the top 100.
Their league-best penalty kill will be a big asset, as will their strong play on the road. They won 12 straight road games prior to a season finale loss to the Blues. In each of those games they held their opponent to two or fewer goals.
Jason Zucker’s early return from injury has been undervalued as well. Through 51 games he has a 1.57 G/60 at even strength and a 1.64 G/60 in all situations, which is second and fifth in the league respectively. He plays penalty kill and limited power play minutes, but is ahead of Tarasenko in both groupings.
In addition, the team has been fantastic since the All-Star Break. Here’s a look how the Wild stack up against the Blues since the break.
Minnesota Wild Weaknesses:
Despite a top unit that generally features Parise, Koivu, Vanek, Pominville, and Suter, their power play is abysmal. If the Wild are unable to take advantage of the Blues propensity for penalties, it will be an albatross for Minnesota.
While we can tout the team’s top four defensemen, and even Matt Dumba’s emergence, the left side of the third pairing has been a problem all year. The two defensemen fighting for the position currently are Nate Prosser (46.96 CF%, -5.05 CF%Rel), who was waived by the Blues this year, and Jordan Leopold (44.98% CF%, -3.87% CF%Rel), who was traded by the Blues this year. The Wild are fielding a couple of Blues rejects on the left side of the third pairing.
The other major issue is that should something happen to Dubnyk, the Wild are in bad shape. Dubnyk’s success has been so well known that it’s not even making the cut in the strengths section because his presence has so clearly turned this team around. However, if something happened to him, it’s the Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom show, the duo who lead the team to having the worst even strength save percentage in the NHL prior to the Dubnyk trade.
The team’s are pretty evenly matched, with the Blues coming out ahead in most categories. But I think the Wild’s skill is a little slept on, even if they’re getting a lot of love for putting together an incredible run since the All-Star Break. The Wild’s strength at the start of the season and since the acquisition of Dubnyk paint a picture of a team who is capable of making a deep run.
The Blues are a solid team, but if the Wild can keep the series from being high scoring and grab a road win in the first two games, which is possible with their road strength lately, it’s likely to be another disappointing early exit for the Blues, who have been one of the NHL’s best regular season teams in the last few seasons.