The Western Conference St. Louis Blues will be looking to defend their title as NHL champions, after their Cinderella story season last year. The Vancouver Canucks on the other hand, find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in half a decade and will be hoping to win their first playoff series since 2011. As different as these two teams’ recent history is though, there’s no shortage of storylines as we approach puck drop. Let’s take a look.
Vancouver Canucks vs St Louis Blues Series Preview
The Canucks and Blues met three times during the regular season, with Vancouver coming away a winning record of 2-0-1. The St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks have met three previous times in the playoffs, in 1995, 2003, and 2009. The Canucks came out victorious all three times, with the most recent series ending in a four-game sweep.
Binnington and Allen
After leading the Blues to a championship in a breathtaking rookie season, Binnington enjoyed a solid sophomore year in the NHL. In 50 appearances, he put up a 2.56 goals-against-average and .912 save percentage. This was only one half of a formidable goaltending tandem for the Blues, however, as Jake Allen enjoyed quite the season himself. In fact, his best season to date, strictly statistically speaking. Boasting a 2.15 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage in 24 appearances, he provides the Blues with an incredibly steady option should they choose, or be forced not to play Jordan Binnington in net.
And although the round-robin games provide an incredibly small sample size, they do hint that this isn’t as distant of a possibility as some may think. Binnington struggled mightily in the round-robin, allowing eight goals in two games for a GAA of 4.10 and a SV% of .895. And on the other end of the spectrum is Jake Allen. He was exceptional in his appearance against the Dallas Stars, only allowing one goal and finishing the game with a .974 SV%. If Binnington does fail to get his feet under him immediately, we could very well see Allen get a start fairly early in the series.
Markstrom and Demko
On the other end of the ice, Jacob Markstrom will provide a tough challenge for the Blues shooters. Coming off of another fantastic season, the play of the team MVP will be absolutely crucial for the Canucks. He managed a GAA of 2.75 and a SV% of .918 behind a mediocre Canucks’ squad, and those numbers only improved in the postseason.
Playing in all four games against the Minnesota Wild, he finished the qualifying round with a sparkling 2.27 GAA and .926 SV%. Markstrom stood on his head countless times during the regular season, and will need to maintain his high level of play if the Canucks want a chance at taking down the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Backing up Jacob Markstrom will be 24-year-old Thatcher Demko. The young netminder struggled statistically during the regular season, with a meager 3.06 GAA and .905 SV%. It must be noted, however, that this wasn’t for consistently poor play but rather for a few uncharacteristically bad games. The impact of a fatigued goaltender was clearly on display in Game 4 of the qualifiers, where Jacob Markstrom had one of his worst outings in recent memory. That being said, we shouldn’t be surprised if Demko does see some action in this series, should Markstrom show signs of fatigue or otherwise struggle.
The Blues and Canucks respective special teams will be a major defining point in this series. The two teams are nearly identical in terms of special teams stats, as outlined below.
St. Louis Blues:
3rd ranked power play during regular season (24.3 percent)
18th ranked penalty kill during regular season (79.3 percent)
Top power play scorers:
David Perron (27 points)
Alex Pietrangelo (22 points)
Brayden Schenn (21 points)
Jaden Schwartz (20 points)
Ryan O’Reilly (18 points)
4th ranked power play during regular season (24.2 percent)
16th ranked penalty kill during regular season (80.5 percent)
Top power play scorers:
Quinn Hughes (25 points)
J.T. Miller (25 points)
Elias Pettersson (24 points)
Bo Horvat (16 points)
Brock Boeser (14 points)
Both teams boast lethal power plays and mediocre-to-average penalty killing, and both teams will undoubtedly be looking to take advantage of this fact. They’ll look to play to their strengths, which is the powerplay, and simply outscore the opposition in special teams assignments. Their respective power plays were responsible for a lion’s share of their offence during the regular season, and they’ll hope to maintain that moving into the first round. With that being said, it becomes clear just how much each side’s penalty killing will have on their plate as they look to shut down various offensive weapons.
In the case of the Blues power play, it’s important to mention that they were without one of their main offensive threats, Vladimir Tarasenko, for most of the season. However, with his recent return, the already dangerous power play will only receive more of a boost. On both sides, expect the power plays to be an all-out, offensive effort.
Offence from the Blueline
The Blues and Canucks saw significant offensive impacts from their respective defencemen during the regular season, as both teams were in the upper half of the league in points from the blueline. They’ll certainly hope that to be the case in the playoffs as well.
The St. Louis Blues were 13th in the league in points from the blueline, with 143 total points from defencemen. They had three defencemen eclipse the 20-point mark; Alex Pietrangelo (52 points), Colton Parayko (28 points), and Vince Dunn (23 points).
The Vancouver Canucks were 8th in the league, with 157 total points from defencemen. They had four defencemen reach 20 points; Quinn Hughes (53 points), Alexander Edler (33 points), Tyler Myers (21 points), and Chris Tanev (20 points).
However, while there is clearly no shortage of offensively capable defencemen in this series, two names stand out above the rest. Alex Pietrangelo and Quinn Hughes. They are two of only seven defencemen to reach the 50-point mark during the regular season. The play of these two star players will be critical for the success of their teams.
The St. Louis Blues captain enjoyed one of, if not the best offensive season of his career in 2019-20. His 0.74 points per game was the highest scoring rate of his career. He notched 16 goals and 52 points in only 70 games. Those point totals were good for sixth among defencemen, behind only John Carlson, Roman Josi, Victor Hedman, Quinn Hughes, and Anthony DeAngelo. His 16 goals ranked him second among all defencemen, only to Zach Werenski. He also did an impressive job of controlling possession and shot share, with a Corsi and Fenwick of 52.9 percent and 52.5 percent respectively.
We saw last postseason just how crucial Pietrangelo’s production is to the Blues success, as he put up 19 points in 26 playoff games en route to capturing the Stanley Cup. The Blues brass will surely hope for much the same these playoffs, as they look to recapture the magic of 2019.
Quinn Hughes, as mentioned above, also had himself a sensational 2019-20 season. He finished the regular season tied for fourth in defencemen scoring, and led all rookies in points and assists. Like Pietrangelo, Hughes was splendid in controlling possession and shot share, with his Corsi and Fenwick numbers at 52.7%. He’s only ramped up his offence in the postseason. He leads all defencemen in scoring with six points in four games. This is fantastic news for his Canucks, who will face a tough test against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
As much disparity as there is between the two teams and their recent resumés, this series won’t be a cakewalk for either team. Neither team has exactly been the other’s Kryptonite, and I could see this series going in either direction. With that being said, I’m inclined to make the more controversial decision of taking the Canucks as my winner.
I think the Canucks momentum plays into their favour here. They come in red hot with a three-game winning streak, having already dispelled the Wild in the qualifying round. The Blues on the other hand, are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. They didn’t play anywhere near their best in the round-robin. If the Canucks key players are able to continue their dominance, they will certainly give the Blues fits in all three zones.