The St Louis Blues‘ season is hanging by a thread with only one game separating them from elimination.
On Friday, they suffered their third consecutive multi-goal loss of the First Round. So far, this first versus fourth West Division series is mapping out exactly how most had predicted. Next-to no galaxy-braining for this matchup as the Avalanche was a landslide favorite in the build-up.
Sure enough, Colorado has set the tone early in each bout, dominating the first period and securing the lead from there. St Louis has certainly played its part in a very entertaining series, but the Avalanche has taken a stranglehold on proceedings.
While the Blues aren’t quite condemned to the gallows just yet, the executioner has probably got his robes on, ready to go.
Avalanche’s Dominance and Depth Sinking the Blues
First and foremost, Colorado is playing to everyone’s expectations which is out of the Blues’ control. Their talent advantage over St Louis was no secret coming into this series and the Avalanche’s skaters have backed it up on the ice.
Jared Bednar’s four most frequently used lines have all provided a significant statistical edge at five-on-five. The lowest expected goal share among them is the Saad-Jost-Nichushkin combo with a mere 55.07 percent. Meanwhile, each Avalanche line has at least 54 percent of the unblocked shot attempts and scoring-chance share.
Blues Depth Shortage
Conversely, St Louis has just one dominant five-on-five line and not much else to speak of. Ivan Barbashev, Ryan O’Reilly, and Jordan Kyrou have produced over 70 percent in both scoring chances and expected goal share. The Blues’ next best line is Tyler Bozak‘s, which creates more opportunities than its opponents but doesn’t generate enough quality (43.81 xGF%).
Worse still are St Louis’ second and fourth lines which are heavily out-chanced on the ice. Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular, has looked like a shell of the player he once was and is clearly struggling to adjust post-injury. This lack of depth is where Colorado has taken advantage, especially in the underlying numbers; in over 30 minutes of even-strength play, the Avalanche’s bottom-six has created over 70 percent of the scoring chances.
However, these metrics are merely a gateway to explaining game flow and control. What’s obviously more important when it comes to brass tacks is goals. There, the edge is also with the Avalanche. Colorado has scored first in all three meetings and has not fallen behind at any point in the series. As a result, St Louis has trailed for over 75 percent of the time in the first three games.
Needless to say, chasing a game constantly against the best team in the league isn’t an obvious recipe for success.
St Louis Blues Mistakes May Cause Elimination
Another disappointing aspect for the Blues has been the avoidable errors they’ve committed. Coming into a series as overwhelming underdogs, St Louis’ blueprint for success was requiring near-flawless displays against a buzzsaw Colorado outfit. Unfortunately, this benchmark hasn’t been close to being replicated.
A particular area of concern is the types of goals St Louis has conceded. In all three games, the team has been guilty of giving up avoidable goals in a tie-game situation.
For example, at one goal apiece, in Game 1, Marco Scandella botched a hit along the boards in the neutral zone which freed up Mikko Rantanen to skate behind the net, undetected. He would go on to supply Nathan MacKinnon in the low slot for the go-ahead goal in the third. It was a lead that the Avalanche wouldn’t relinquish.
Furthermore, Jordan Binnington was the culprit in the next two games. His first goal in Game 2, which squirted through his five-hole on a redirected point shot, was soft but most egregious of all, was the opener in Game 3. Advancing well out of his net to clear a loose puck, Binnington took a huge gamble with the series on the line at home and was embarrassed by Ryan Graves, who deked around him and took full advantage of a gaping cage. It was a team-deflating goal, especially given the fact that St Louis was hanging with the Avs up until that point.
While it may seem nitpicky to hone in on one particular play, especially considering how playoff games ebb and flow, ultimately, against the best team in the league, you have to be near-perfect to even steal a game. In fact, it is these microcosmic moments that end up defining a team’s success or demise in the playoffs.
Finally, what will also irk Blues head coach Craig Berube is the opportunities that the Blues have failed to fully capitalize on, particularly in Game 2.
Thrice the Avalanche fed errant passes from behind their own net into the slot and on every occasion the Blues couldn’t take advantage of the gift-wrapped high danger chance.
Then came the biggest opportunity of the series for Ryan O’Reilly‘s side. After Nazem Kadri‘s boneheaded hit in the third period of Game 2, St Louis was awarded a five-minute powerplay. At the time, they were down 3-1 in the game.
Yes, they did they manage to score on the resulting man-advantage, but they only produced three shots on net aside from the goal-scoring play. I think they should be disappointed that they didn’t get more looks at Philipp Grubauer. Moreover, what was arguably more disappointing was the lack of quality they created during the whole sequence, which has been a recurring theme in the playoffs.
Despite having the sixth-best powerplay (23.23 percent) in the regular season, St Louis has struggled against a ferocious Avalanche kill. Currently, the team is 1/7 in the series and 15th (out of 16 playoff teams) in high-danger chance rate (8.07 per 60). To put this number into context, Colorado is over double that rate, at 17.16 per 60.
Overall, the St Louis Blues’ elimination may seem like a foregone conclusion. So much so that most journalists are already scribbling down notes for their obituary columns. But it all boils down to simplicity now for Craig Berube‘s group.
They have to take their chances on the powerplay, keep it tight at five-on-five, and fight tooth and nail in puck battles. (Oh and play the first line, a ton, because they are cooking).
There also needs to be desperation in their play. Every game now is about getting the win, by whatever means necessary. From here on in, St Louis is playing Game 7’s on repeat.