NHL Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Canucks vs. Blues Game 1 Preview (Wednesday, August 12)
Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller.
Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues Odds
|Canucks Odds||+130 [BET NOW]|
|Blues Odds||-150 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||5.5 (+112/-136) [BET NOW]|
|Time||10:30 p.m. ET|
The Vancouver Canucks return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Their reward? A matchup with the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
St. Louis was the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed when Covid-19 stopped play on March 12th. However, after going winless in the round-robin to open this tournament, the Blues are entering the playoffs as the fourth seed.
Vancouver took advantage of a matchup with a middling Minnesota Wild team and eliminated them in four games during the qualifying round. The Blues will be a much stiffer challenge.
St. Louis Blues
I hate to speak in cliches, but the Blues are a team built for playoff hockey. They play strong defensive hockey and like to use their size to play with a bit of an edge. Granted, you don’t need to play that style to be successful, but it’s a good representation of what we are dealing with when we evaluate this team.
Evaluating St. Louis begins with goaltender Jordan Binnington, who took the NHL by storm in 2019 when he was recalled from the minor leagues and led the Blues from last place in the league to a championship. His sophomore year was more pedestrian, but he was still a top-15 goalie in goals saved above expectation. Goaltending shouldn’t be an issue, but don’t expect the guy who came in and stole the Cup in 2019.
Defensively, the Blues are elite. No team in the league allows fewer shots and they’re are a top-seven team in the league in terms of expected-goals against. Their blueline is deep with guys like Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk.
Their forwards also have a commitment level to defense that plenty of teams lack. While Vancouver beat the defensively-minded Wild last round, Minnesota featured far worse goaltending.
It’s hard to judge the Blues forward group from this past season, as their best player, Vladimir Tarasenko, missed all but ten games. Nevertheless, the Blues were a bottom-five team in the league at creating high danger chances. In addition, they were bottom-five in expected goals scored per 60 minutes.
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.
Hopefully Tarasenko’s addition to the first line with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn can help the Blues generate more dangerous scoring opportunities. The second line with David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Zach Sanford is a tremendous two-way line that can hurt you at both ends of the ice. They’ll be tasked with shutting down Elias Pettersson and company.
St. Louis’ best asset is the depth up and down their lineup. Bottom six players like Robert Thomas, Tyler Bozak and Alex Steen give the Blues a tremendous advantage in their effort to wear teams out by grinding them down with four lines. The depth takes a bit of a hit as Sammy Blais is likely to miss this game.
While St. Louis succeeds with their depth up and down the lineup, Vancouver relies heavily on three, maybe four, elite talents to drive their team.
Pettersson has developed into one of the most important and valuable forwards in the league. His Corsi percentage relative to the rest of his team is +8.28%. All this means is that when he’s on the ice, his team has over 8% more of the shot attempt share compared to when he’s not on the ice.
Quinn Hughes is a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. As a defenseman, Hughes put up over 50 points this year. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar will challenge Hughes for the award, but the Canucks defender is central to the team’s success.
Former Calder Trophy finalist Brock Boeser had a bit of a down year, but he likely would have scored over 30 goals in his first two years in the league had he played a full season. In addition, new acquisition J.T. Miller had a career year putting up over a point-per-game in his first year with the club.
There are two issues at play for Vancouver here. First of all, St. Louis is a team that has elite depth. Vancouver’s bottom lines are littered with players like Jay Beagle, Tyler Motte and Antoine Roussel, who at best are non-factors and more accurately are detrimental when on the ice. The absence of forward Tyler Toffoli only adds to the lack of options for this Vancouver team.
The other issue is that Blues defender Ryan O’Reilly might be the best defensive forward in hockey. He won the Selke award, given to the league’s best defensive forward, in 2019 and is nominated again for the award in 2020. For a top-heavy team like Vancouver, if O’Reilly can shut down the Pettersson line with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, the Canucks are in real trouble.
St. Louis has struggled to create good scoring chances all season and it prefers to play a slow, grinding game in the corners. Vancouver is a top-heavy team that is playing against a team that has the best shutdown center in hockey.
St. Louis has “home-ice advantage” which in this bubble situation only really matters in terms of line matching and changes. That advantage will actually be important in this game as there will likely be a game of cat and mouse as Canucks’ coach Travis Green tries to keep Pettersson away from O’Reilly. If the Blues get the matchup they want, the Canucks’ ability to score will be severely limited.
I don’t think St. Louis has a 60% chance of winning this game, which is implied by the -150 line, but I’m not dying to bet the other side here. There’s something to be said about a young group playing their first real playoff game together against a team that won it all a year ago.
I would look towards the total here and particularly the under. Both Binnington and Markstrom have been above average goalies this year. St. Louis plays an elite defensive game and Vancouver struggles to score outside of their top line.
Pick: Under 5.5 goals (-135). I would take under 5.5 and lay up to -140.