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Golden Knights vs. Blues Odds & Pick: Expect a Low-Scoring Affair Thursday

Golden Knights vs. Blues Odds & Pick: Expect a Low-Scoring Affair Thursday article feature image

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Vladimir Tarasenko.

  • Sam Hitchcock previews Thursday's matchup between the Las Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues.
  • Find analysis of the betting odds below, complete with why Sam expects it to be a low-scoring affair.

Las Vegas Golden Knights vs. St. Louis Blues

Golden Knights Odds +102 [BET NOW]
Blues Odds -118 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 5.5 (-125/+104) [BET NOW]
Time 6:30 p.m. ET

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This matchup is a coin flip. Two powerhouses — the representatives from the Western Conference in the last two Stanley Cup Finals — showcase different ways to succeed. The Blues want to implement an endless cycle that negates the Golden Knights’ scoring prowess. The Golden Knights want to push the pace and have their forwards attacking in space.

Las Vegas Golden Knights

With Max Pacioretty possibly scratched, Vegas loses one of the NHL’s best players on the rush. During the regular season, only Senators winger Brady Tkachuk finished with more individual rush attempts at 5-on-5. As far as individual expected goals, Pacioretty finished with a mark of 17.56. Jonathan Marchessault ranked second at 13.56. One of the most important takeaways of the advanced stats revolution in the NHL has been that shooting, especially in high volume, matters. If you shoot more, you win more. If it is at 5-on-5, even better. Pacioretty leads the NHL with 222 shots at 5-on-5. Losing one of the NHL’s most dynamic forwards forces Vegas to reshuffle its top six forwards.

Coach Peter DeBoer’s response to the Pacioretty injury Monday night was plopping Chandler Stephenson on the first line with William Karlsson and Mark Stone. It seemed like instant chemistry as less than two minutes into the game Stephenson beat Stars goaltender Ben Bishop from the middle slot. But when things cratered in the second period and Vegas fell behind 3-1, DeBoer put his top forwards in a blender, hoping to find a few permutations that could elicit a response since the game had gone sideways.

Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith were reunited, and in seven minutes together they accrued one goal and finished with a 56.52% expected goals percentage. If Pacioretty cannot play against St. Louis, it is fair to wonder whether DeBoer starts that trio together, evoking memories of their dominant playoff run in 2018. Should that happen, DeBoer may try Stone with Nick Cousins and Stephenson. Those three played together for five minutes against the Stars, and Cousins provided a tip-pass that Stone utilized to burst through the offensive zone and score.

One unknown is goaltender Robin Lehner, who was less than laudable in his first game. Lehner’s Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) was -0.67, which gives him plenty of room for improvement. Lehner had no chance on the Corey Perry goal, but the Jamie Oleksiak shot was stoppable. He also looked rickety at times on seemingly routine saves, nearly allowing a puck from fourth-line forward Andrew Cogliano to slip through from just above the goal line.

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.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues would be wise to douse Lehner with shots from all angles because this supports their strategy of suppressing Vegas’ shot count. Slow the Golden Knights down with extended territorial advantage and try to harness the area behind the net. Vegas finished its game against Dallas with 55 shot attempts while only permitting 36. During the regular season, the Golden Knights had the best shot attempt percentage of any team in the NHL at 5-on-5. The Blues have their work cut out for them, but the alternative of trading rush chances with the Golden Knights is worse.

Watching Vegas or Colorado dash up the ice and create using their finesse and skill can be mesmerizing. The Blues are going for the opposite effect. They win by making things ugly, cycling the puck below the goal line or ringing it around the boards to their defensemen at the point. The hemmed-in opponent becomes fatigued and its defensive coverage slackens. Anecdotally, it can also have a numbing effect on the viewer. But the success was borne out with a Stanley Cup last season.

For the Blues last season, supplementary scoring was a lifeline in moments of urgency. Stay-at-home defenseman Carl Gunnarsson quieted the din of the crowd in Boston’s barn with a missile from the point to even the Cup Final at one game a piece. Three weeks before that, in double overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, Patrick Maroon stuffed a loose puck past Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop to propel the Blues to the next round.

It was not just timely goals, though. On a shift-to-shift basis in the 2018-19 postseason, Sammy Blais and Robert Thomas both finished with better expected goals percentages and high-danger chances per 60 minutes than the members of the first line: Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. Blais and Thomas were both sheltered by coach Craig Berube and played less minutes, but St. Louis needs its role players and defensemen injecting offense, especially when its top six are struggling. In the game against Colorado, the only semblance of a rush game was generated by Blais, Thomas and the defensemen.

Against the Colorado Avalanche Sunday, the Tarasenko-Schenn-Schwartz line flailed, finishing with a 17.69 expected goals percentage and conceding three high-danger chances while engineering zero. While this line did score Colorado’s only 5-on-5 goal, Berube needs a contingency plan if it continues to limp along. Although the role players have a large impact for the Blues, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Schenn, Tarasenko and Schwartz accounted for 43 of St. Louis’ 75 goals last postseason. Berube needs to find combinations where this core is influential.

Another important decision for the Blues will be how to employ the shutdown line of Alexander Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev. Berube started them against the Avs’ top line, hoping they could nullify Nathan MacKinnon & Co. At the end of the first period, they had an expected goals of 38.46% and had allowed three shots while collecting zero. Berube punted on this plan over the subsequent two periods. How the coach utilizes the Sundqvist line against Vegas will be fascinating. Does Stone get the checking-line treatment, or will it be Marchessault and Smith?

Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) is an advanced statistic that measures a goaltender’s performance against the quality of scoring chances he faced. It is a better catch-all metric compared to save percentage because every SV% counts every saved shot and goal the same, while GSAx weights shots by the quality of the scoring chance.

GSAx numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.

Betting Analysis

It is worth flagging the Blues’ game against the Avs for a few more reasons. Tarasenko seemed rusty and the first line was suboptimal. There wasn’t much of a rush game to speak of, and in the few odd-man rushes the Blues saw, they tried to pass unsuccessfully instead of testing Philipp Grubauer. The Blues looked outclassed at moments.

But it is a sucker’s bet going against St. Louis in game No. 2. The Blues are an elite defensive team in terms of allowing chances and goals. They arguably have the goaltending edge. Against Colorado, the best moments for St. Louis came when they loaded up on the forecheck and when Alex Pietrangelo tried to create. This game smacks of a low-scoring, unexpectedly physical affair. The difficulty Vegas will have scoring is only compounded by the murkiness around Pacioretty’s injury. At -104, there is not a ton of value. I like the Blues to slingshot back, although if Vegas drops to -102, it would behoove any bettor to immediately back the Golden Knights.

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