2022 Winter Classic Odds, Pick, Prediction: Blues vs. Wild at Target Field (Jan. 1)
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- The Wild are favored as they host the Blues tonight at Target Field.
- These teams are separated by one point in the Central Division entering 2022.
- Michael Leboff breaks down the matchup and makes his betting pick below.
Winter Classic: Blues vs. Wild Odds
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
The National Hockey League will turn on the lights at Target Field on Saturday night for the 13th Winter Classic. The league’s annual showpiece features the Minnesota Wild hosting the St. Louis Blues, with the Wild sitting as -135 home favorites and the Blues coming back as +115 underdogs as of Friday afternoon.
Coming into the season both Minnesota and St. Louis were expected to contend for a playoff spot in the Central Division, though the Blues were projected as a fringe team and the Wild felt like a pretty safe bet for the postseason.
Through the first three months both teams have played at a playoff pace and are separated by just one point at the top of the Central Division standings.
The Blues Are Deep Up Front
When the Blues won the Stanley Cup back in 2019 they did it through the strength of a strong defense that excelled at limiting quality scoring chances. This season, the Blues are achieving success thanks to a deep, talented forward group that is outscoring their issues on the back end.
St. Louis comes into the Winter Classic sixth in goals per game, third in power play percentage and 11th in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes. When healthy, the Blues can roll four lines all game long and expect to get contributions from all over the lineup. St. Louis has five players with 10+ goals, five players with 23+ points and five players playing at — or quite close to — a point-per-game pace right now.
As strong as the Blues offense has been, the defense has been a bit of a mess. St. Louis ranks 23rd in expected goals against, 30th in high-danger scoring chances against and 14th in goals allowed per 60 minutes (all at 5-on-5). At some point you’d expect the Blues leaky defense will catch up to them, but they’ve been bailed out so far thanks to a productive offense and strong goaltending.
I was skeptical of the Blues’ goaltending situation coming into the season because there wasn’t much cover for Jordan Binnington, but that hypothesis has been proven bunk as St. Louis has used five goaltenders this season (Binnington, Ville Husso, Joel Hofer, Jon Gillies and Charlie Lindgren) and they’ve combined for a .919 save percentage this season.
Binnington is almost certain to get the start at Target Field and the 28-year-old netminder has been solid this season with a +1.7 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) and a .911 save percentage in 18 games.
Like every team in every sport, St. Louis could be missing some key players for this matchup. Brayden Schenn is on IR, Pavel Buchnevich missed Wednesday night with a non-Covid illness, while Ivan Barbashev and Robert Bortuzzo are in Covid-19 protocol.
Can Minnesota’s Offense Keep It Up
Like the Blues, defense has been the hallmark of the Minnesota Wild for the last four or five seasons. Hockey fans have gotten used to the idea of Minnesota sitting at, or near, the top of the league in terms of expected goals against, high-danger chances allowed and goals allowed at 5-on-5 in this era of the NHL.
While Minnesota’s defense still grades out decently in 2021/22, it has taken a step back compared to what we’ve seen from this unit in previous seasons. Part of that is due to the Wild creating more offense and playing a more high-event style, but it does make me skeptical of the team’s chances to contend with the elite teams in the NHL over the long-term.
Through 30 games Minnesota ranks 15th in high-danger chances allowed, 10th in expected goals against per 60 minutes and 20th in goals allowed per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but it does put more pressure on a thin group of forwards to produce consistently. To this point, the Wild have answered the bell with the third-best goals per game (3.63) in the NHL. It’s an impressive number, but at some point I’d expect Minnesota’s production to come back to earth as the Wild are outpacing their xG by 0.67 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
Another sign of some incoming regression is Minnesota’s high PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage at 5-on-5). The Wild currently boast the fourth-highest PDO in the NHL, thanks in large part to their 9.85 shooting percentage at 5-on-5. Some teams will always have a high PDO thanks to great finishing talent (like Washington, Colorado, etc.), but I just don’t rate the Wild’s offensive talent in that same tier. Kirill Kaprizov is talismanic, but his supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired, especially with Kevin Fiala struggling this season.
One way to combat any sort of negative regression is to get solid goaltending and the Wild have been able to count on Cam Talbot for that this season. The veteran netminder has skated to a +3.2 GSAx and a .914 SV% in 23 games this season.
Minnesota will be without its best defenseman, Jared Spurgeon, and best center, Joel Eriksson Ek, for the Winter Classic.
Blues vs. Wild Pick
Most models have the Wild as the stronger team in this matchup and that is understandable considering the bigger picture. Minnesota was terrific last season and has stronger underlying metrics this season, but I am expecting the Wild to trend down a bit over the next phase of the season — especially without Spurgeon and Eriksson Ek.
Through the first two months of the season the Wild were one of the league’s best 5-on-5 teams with a 55.8% goal share and a 54.1% expected goals rate. Over their last 10 games, the latter number has dipped to 47.6%, but the former number has remained relatively stable. In other words, Minnesota is playing worse but still getting similar results.
St. Louis is also due for some negative regression, but the Blues have the depth and talent up front to score their way out of problems, while I am skeptical that Minnesota will be able to keep up the pace.
When you factor in home-ice advantage (roughly 5% in the NHL), the listed odds imply that these two teams are near equals. I think that’s about right when they are healthy, but with Spurgeon and Eriksson Ek on the sidelines I think the Blues are slightly better, so long as Buchnevich is available.
The Wild are usually a trendy betting team and models are fond of them so this number may tick up even higher, but I think +115 is still a decent bet on the Blues in a game that I view as a coin flip, especially since we can expect more variance than normal in an outdoor game being played in the freezing cold.
The Bet: St. Louis Blues +115 or better
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