The Blues should lose to Colorado because that’s what everyone is saying, and that makes it true.
The flawed forecasting model used by analysts at The Athletic assessed the rosters and other factors and spit out a Colorado win probability of 85 percent in this second-round series. In the first round, The Model informed us that Minnesota had a 75 percent likelihood of eliminating the Blues.
The Athletic then polled its entire hockey-writing roster for a prediction in this series, and 2.3 percent of the authors picked St. Louis to upset Colorado.
The Avalanche dominated during the regular season. And if you’re a heralded, terrifying regular-season monarch it only can mean one thing: seizing the Stanley Cup is inevitable. Oh, what’s that? The Avs were bounced in the second playoff round in each of the past three seasons?
And if you want to connect the past to the present even if it makes no sense whatsoever, then of course the Avalanche will roll over the Blues … because the Avs swept the shorthanded, exhausted Blues away in four straight games in last year’s pathetically one-sided first-round postseason matchup.
The Blues didn’t have it in that series because they didn’t have the presence or full-service duty of many of the leading men on this season’s 109-point team: forwards David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich plus defensemen Justin Faulk, Nick Leddy, Scott Perunovich, Robert Bortuzzo or a healthy and unhindered Colton Payarko.
I enjoy gauging the predictions … and the narratives that are baked into the predictions. Why? Well, because my own predictions often go astray, and as soon as it happens I realize that I got hooked on a narrative and overlooked some obvious things.
I make fun of predictions because it’s a way of reminding myself that we don’t know as much as we think we know. We assume things that aren’t true, or focus on the wrong priorities, or underestimate the underdog-team factors. We’re homers or haters and make picks based on emotions, personal animus or sucking up to fans so they’ll like us.
My prediction? If the Blues don’t play their arses off, if the Blues don’t play smart, and if goaltender Jordan Binnington isn’t the miracle-man sequel to 2019 – then the landslide will take them down. But I don’t believe the Blues will cave in.
Unlike like last year The Note will go in strong, and they’ll remain fearless. The Blues will push and push and push in an attempt to make the Avalanche remember their recent history of postseason heartbreak. If doubt creeps into the Colorado mindset then we’ll have a lengthy and suspenseful series. If the Blues can weaponize their championship pedigree – as they did so effectively against the Wild – then this will turn into a psychodrama series.
But those calling their shots in advance – Colorado wins this round – have a basis for believing that. The Avalanche are a superb team that had the NHL’s No. 2 points points percentage (.744) during the regular season. The Blues (.665) came in ninth overall.
The Blues famously have nine 20-goal scorers. The Avalanche have seven 20-goal scorers and the best top-six set of forwards – and the deepest and most talented set of defensemen – in the league. The Blues have no one like Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, who has 96 points in 81 games so far, postseason included. Colorado’s defensemen scored more goals this season than any NHL defense group since 1992-93.
The Avalanche packed the roster with more grit and size after last spring’s second-round failure against Vegas. They acquired a new goaltender, Darcy Kuemper. They have so many names that create anxiety among opponents: Nathan Mackinnon, Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Devon Toews.
Colorado has its own problematic history of coping with postseason pressure – but this isn’t the Minnesota Wild, a fragile team that folds as soon as a couple of Blues players shout “Boo!” That said, the Avalanche are overdue for a serious Stanley Cup run, and it’s up to the Blues to make that a factor.
The Blues embrace the underdog role – and they’re good at it – so this should work to their advantage … as it did in 2019.
I noticed a few things that gave me more reasons to believe in the Blues chances of toppling the Avs:
1) For all of the talk about Colorado’s huge stable of elite talent, the Blues and Avs were essentially tied for average goals per game: STL was third in the NHL with 3.77 scores per contest, and Colorado was right there with an average of 3.77.
2) Colorado did a more effective job of preventing goals, but the difference isn’t significant: 2.83 goals per game (Colorado) to 2.91 goals-game (STL.)
3) The Blues have the superior special teams, ranking second in power play success and seventh in penalty-kill percentage. The Avalanche were fifth and 15th in the league, respectively, in those categories.
4) On the laptop screen, the Blues match up better against Colorado at five-on-five than they matched up versus Minnesota going into the first round. The Avs ranked fifth in the NHL with a goal share of 56.3 percent at five on five, but the Blues were close to it with their eighth-ranked goal share of 54 percent. I’m not using the expected-goals metric for a simple reason: the Blues have made that irrelevant all season long. They excel at scoring actual goals. Which are more valuable than expected goals.
5) The top-10 Blues goal scorers combined for 249 goals this season. The top-10 Avs scorers combined for 235. The Blues are more capable of spreading the scoring out.
5a) The Blues top nine forwards who will man the top three lines for Game 1 scored 233 goals during the season. Colorado’s top nine forwards for Game 1 combined for 221 regular-season goals.
My biggest concern is the Blues’ ability to suppress goals. I felt the same way going into the Minnesota matchup, but the Blues held the Wild to an average of 1.66 goals over the final three games … winning all three. But a big reason for that was Binnington’s impressive skill at handling the puck behind his net to thwart the Wild’s forecheck.
Without that forecheck creating sweet scoring chances, the Wild couldn’t get cooking. Colorado is much better than the Wild at skating into the zone and maintaining possession. And when the Avs go with the dump-and-chase, they’ll play the puck to the corner – away from Binnington.
During the regular season the Blues allowed 2.55 goals per 60 minutes at five on five. That ranked 18th in the NHL. They allowed the sixth-most scoring chances per 60, and the seventh–highest percentage of shots from high-danger areas per 60. The Avs can’t turn this series into a shooting gallery.
Either way, Binnington is essential to the Blues’ hopes of getting by a formidable opponent and advancing to the Western Conference Finals. He’ll have to be great.
Pardon the fancy-pants stats but when the Blues won the Cup in 2019, Binnington had a tremendous quality-start percentage of .692. In the 2020 playoffs, that fell to .200. Against the Avs in last year’s first round, Binnington’s quality-start percentage (.250) was still down and out.
But in his three starts against Minnesota in the Blues’ first-round conquest, Binnington went 3 for 3 … all quality starts … a quality–start percentage of .1000.
The Blues need the 2019 Binnington to stand up in this one. They need the guy who returned to 2019 form in those three stirring starts against Minnesota. It’s unfair to put so much on a goalie – but hey, that’s hockey. And Binner must become the winner in this one. Picking the Blues to win means that you’re willing to bet on Binnington. In case of emergency, at least the Blues have Ville Husso in the bullpen.
Thanks for reading … good luck to the Blues.
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All stats used here were sourced from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.