Hours away from the opening faceoff in Colorado, am I hearing “Let’s Go Blues!” at a lower decibel level? If so, I understand the anxiety, the angst.
This first-round series against the Avalanche is a brutal assignment. The Blues are taking on the team that had the NHL’s best record during the regular season. A team that’s 26-5-2 since March 10. A team that has the speed, the savvy and overflowing talent. The Avs reminds me of the old Soviet Red Army team back in the day.
And virtually no one outside of St. Louis gives the Blues anything more than a faint chance to upset Colorado.
My favorite ‘dis — in terms of capturing the Avalanche is coming, look out St. Louis! sentiment — comes from analyst Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic. He’s really good. And in this instance, he’s as subtle as Bob Plager going after Bryan Watson.
“In all my years of doing this, I’ve never seen such a lopsided series (win) probability,” Luszczyszyn wrote. “It honestly feels a little uncomfortable to have one team favoured this heavily in a sport as chaotically random as hockey where anything really can happen.”
Luszczyszyn called Colorado “the best five-on-five team since 2007-08 — which is as far back as modern analytics goes — going up against a (St. Louis) team that usually wouldn’t be good enough for the privilege of facing them.”
And that was written before David Perron went on the Covid-19 list, denying the Blues the services of a talented and experienced leader who gave them 19 goals and 39 assists for a team-leading 58 points.
The Avs won the season series 5-3. But the Blues were oddly defiant in matching or even exceeding Colorado when the teams played at 5-on-5. Despite having only 45 percent of the shots on net and 39% of the high-danger scoring chances, the Blues outscored the Avs 10-9. At all strengths the goal tally was an even 17-17 despite the Avs having 54 percent of the shots on goal, 57% of the scoring chances, and 63% of the high-danger shots.
This isn’t supposed to happen. Based on the advanced metrics and quality of shots, the Avs should have scored 62 percent of the goals at 5-on-5. And just about 63% of the goals at all strengths.
Well, what happened?
Jordan Binnington happened.
Binnington and Ville Husso were superior in net. They turned aside a high volume of shots and sweet-spot scoring chances, outperforming their Colorado counterparts.
Unless an injury becomes a factor, Binnington will almost certainly start every game of this series, so let’s focus on him. Binner started seven of the eight regular-season games versus the Avs this season. Nine of the 18 goals scored against him came on Colorado’s dangerous power play.
At 5-on-5, Binnington had an outstanding .943 save percentage against the Avs. In two consecutive wins over the Avs at Enterprise Center, Binnington saved 47 of 48 shots at 5-on-5. In the seven games Binnington had an excellent .881 save percentage on high-danger shots at 5-on-5.
The Colorado goaltenders couldn’t match that. Not even close. And that’s how the Blues scored just as many (or more) goals as the Avalanche.
For the Blues to do it again and take down Colorado, Binnington will have to be even more confident, stubborn and preposterously good. He’ll have to replicate his best days in net, whether it be the 2019 season and playoffs or his recent stoning of the Avalanche.
One note about that: the Avs used three goalies against the Blues during the regular season. But their No. 1 guy, Phillip Grubauer, faced the Blues only one time after starting the season with two consecutive games against St. Louis. He went 2-1 against the Blues, with all three games played in Denver. His 5-on-5 save percentage was fine (.918) but not great. Can the Blues make Brubauer crack? Not sure, only because I don’t really trust the Blues’ scorers to come through. And Perron will be out, at least for the first game — and probably longer.
Binnington has been in sharp form as of late.
Since the start of April until the end of the regular season, here’s where Binnington ranks among the 25 NHL goaltenders that played at least 500 minutes at 5v5:
- 5th in save percentage, .931
- 4th in goals saved above average (6.35)
- 5th in high-danger save pct. (.857)
- 2nd in medium-danger save pct.
One flaw, and it’s potentially a killer: While Binnington was outstanding overall, he let in a few too many softies, ranking 24th among the 25 goaltenders in low-danger save percentage (.949.)
If Binnington makes it easy for the Avs to score a few cheap goals, the Blues have no chance of winning this series. At every turn, Binnington must steal all-but-certain goals, steal Colorado’s confidence, steal games, and steal the series. Anything less is a likely and predicted disaster for the Blues.
Binnington will need plenty of help from his mates, but as the last line of defense against a team that has more skill, speed and waves of playmakers, he’s the most important player in this series.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.