You can find my more in depth preview here
but here are my four keys to the series.
Win the close games, win the series.
The Blues have played thirteen games but are only +1 goal differential, +2 if you adjust for empty net goals. The Blues have won seven of eleven one-goal games, adjusted for empty net goals. Contrast that to the Sharks who have a zero goal differential and have only played seven one-goal games, adjusted for empty net goals, winning five of those.
Will the experience of finding a way to win the close games be a key to this series? It could be in this blogger’s opinion.
Score 1st and survive the 1st period, win the third period, win the series
The Sharks have struggled when not scoring 1st, winning only three of eight games. When they score 1st, they have only lost once in six tries. The Blues were much better at coming from behind, winning half of the games where the other team scored first. They also were better scoring 1st, doing so nine times though they only won six of those nine games.
The Sharks are leading the playoffs in first period goals with 14 and have a +8 differential in the first period. The Blues are 5th in goals but have a -4 goal differential.
Interestingly the Sharks have allowed a league high 16 goals in the third period, 1/3 more than the 2nd worst team. They are 3rd in third period goals but do not have a positive goal differential.
The Blues are 2nd in third period goals for and have a +8 goal differential. They are allowing the fewest third period goals when you adjust for games played.
If the Blues can survive the first period, this playoff year would suggest that they should be able to exploit the Sharks poor goal differentials in the second and third periods.
Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending
Martin Jones has had five games under 89.6% this playoff season, one game between 89.6% and 92.2%, and eight games above 92.2%. Jordan Binnington has only had three games under 89.8%, three games between 89.8% and 92.5%, and seven games above 92.5%.
What may be a bit more interesting is that Jones has been exceptional against high danger chances (according to Corsica Hockey), 3rd best in the league at 85.3%. Binnington is only 10th out of goalies with 300 playoff minutes at 78.2%. The Sharks have given up the most high danger chances at 109 while the Blues have given up 3rd most at 87. While Jones’s save percentage is 7% points higher in the playoffs, it was 5% lower in the regular season.
What may be more interesting is that Jones has been poor at mid-danger chances, only stopping 87.3%, 14th best, and giving up the most mid danger goals of any goalie (19). Binnington has only give up 12, stopping 91.4%. In the regular season, Binnington’s mid-danger save percentage was 0.4% points higher than Jones.
You expect bigger save percentage variances in high danger chances, partially because of luck and partially because of fewer chances. You don’t expect this big of a difference in mid danger chances.
Both goalies have been lights out on low danger chances stopping 99.3% of the low danger shots, a big improvement for Jones who only stopped 95.9% of the low danger shots he faced.
Who will have more of the low valley save percentage games? Will the Blues be able to win even if Jones puts up good numbers like they did in Game 7 against Dallas?
Stay disciplined and win or at least be even on special teams
The Sharks have drawn the most power play opportunities this playoff season, drawing 54 opportunities and scoring 10 goals. Of course 40% of their power play goals came on their incorrectly called 5 minute major penalty against Vegas. Their 18.5% success rate would fall to 17% if you exclude that major, just below the Blues 17.1%. The Blues have done well, drawing 41 power plays.
The Sharks are also the most penalized team, being shorthanded 52 times. The Blues are just over half of that with 28 times shorthanded. San Jose has killed 80.8% of those penalties while the Blues have killed only 75%.
The Blues faced the 4th and 11th best power plays in the league in the 1st two rounds while the Sharks only faced the 7th and 25th best power plays. This easily can account for the difference in the penalty kill especially when you consider the Stars power play should be improved with Mats Zuccarello back for the playoffs.
If the Blues can draw penalties at a 2 to 1 ratio and convert at similar levels on the power play, their odds of advancing improve.
The last key which will be interesting to watch is willingness of the coaches to make adjustments and how long it takes to make those adjustments. It appears Bortuzzo is in for Gunnarsson due to injury.
NHL Champions for Charity Playoff Edition
In what I hope becomes a Hockeybuzz tradition, Hockeybuzz Sharks blogger Steve Palumbo
and I placed a wager on the series. If the Blues win, Steve has agreed to make a donation to the Gateway Area Multiple Sclerosis Society
(@mssociety on twitter) whose mission is help each person affected by MS in St. Louis address the challenges of living with MS. They help by raising funds for cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education and providing programs and services that empower people with MS and their families to move their lives forward. If the Sharks win, I will donate to the Hydrocephalus Association
(@HydroAssoc on twitter) whose mission is to connect individuals to larger communities that can provide support and understanding, to educate national and state policymakers, the medical community, and the general population, and to advance treatment and eventually find a cure for Hydrocephalus.
I hope that our wagers will inspire players and fans to pledge donations for each win their team makes in the NHL playoffs.
NHL Champions for Charity Regular Season
Given that the Predators pulled out the division title, all be it not without some controversial officiating in the last couple of games, Best Buddies Tennessee https://www.bestbuddies.org/tennessee/
is the beneficiary. Best Buddies Tennessee is dedicated to establishing a volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a side note, I recently got to experience a Best Buddies even in the St. Louis area that was led by the Eureka high school football team. It was a lot of fun and brought a lot of joy to those involved.
It’s a great day for hockey.