the Minnesota Wild finished the NHL regular season with a 19-2-3 record in its last 24 games. The St. Louis Blues have lost their final two games of the season, but they’ve won at least one point in 16 straight games before that, going 14-0-2 in that streak. Both teams enter the playoffs on some sort of roll, and unfortunately for one team, that roll will have to end when they meet in the first round of the playoffs.
The reward these two teams get for finishing the season on a stellar run is to face another team that finished the season in red. The winner of this series will be rewarded again, as they will likely get a second-round match against the Colorado avalanche, current Stanley Cup favorites at BetMGM. The Wild are -165 favorites to win this series against the Blues, advance to the second round and try their luck in Colorado.
Ranking close, measurements don’t agree
The Minnesota Wild finished the regular season with 113 points and 53 wins, earning them the Central Division’s second seed and home ice advantage in their opening-round series against the Minnesota Blues. St. Louis. The Blues finished third in the division, amassing 109 points and 49 wins.
From a standings perspective, there isn’t much that separates these teams. We’ve already talked about the dominance of these teams down the stretch. Minnesota finished with the second-best record in the West, the Blues with fourth. The Wild were 5th best in the entire league, while the Blues were 9th. The Wild was slightly better, but nothing to highlight.
However, if you take a look at the advanced metrics that focus on puck possession and shot-generating ability, there is a clear difference between these teams and probably a main reason while the The Wilds are heavy favorites to win this series at -165.
According to NaturalStatTrick, Minnesota ranks 6th in the league in 5-on-5 expected goal percentage with a 54.2% rating. In contrast, the Blues rank 19th with an expected goal ratio of 47.8%. This is the second-lowest among playoff teams, trailing only the New York Rangers. They are the only two teams in these playoffs with a rating below 50%.
These two teams are actually quite similar in their ability to generate offense. In fact, they’re exactly the same, averaging 2.47 expected goals per hour at 5v5. That puts them in the middle of the league. Where these teams differ is in their play in their own zone. Minnesota has the second best expected goals mark in the league, behind only the Boston Bruins. They’re sitting at 2.09 xG/against per hour at 5-on-5. The Blues find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking 27th in the 32-team league.
Luckily for the Blues, the whole game isn’t 5-on-5. The more penalties called in this series, the better for St. Louis. The Blues had the 2nd best powerplay in the league in the regular season and the 5th best penalty kill. On the other hand, Minnesota ranked 18th in power-play efficiency and a dismal 25th (worst among playoff teams) in shorthanded percentage. The advantage of the special teams goes to the Blues.
Break down lists
Looking at the lineups of these two teams, we understand why they ended the regular season on such a roll and why they are relatively close in the standings. However, you also see two main factors that could give the Wild an advantage.
Minnesota has the best player of this series in Kirill Kaprizov. He had 108 points and 47 goals this season, finishing top 5 in the league in both categories. Leon Draisaitl of Lubricators is the only other player to achieve this this season. It’s Kaprizov’s second season in the league and his first full 82-game season, so he’s yet to earn the reputation of someone like Auston Matthews or Connor McDavidbut make no mistake, Kaprizov is one of the best in this league.
At 34, Mats Zuccarello is enjoying a career season, scoring 79 points in just 70 games. He missed the final games of the regular season, but is expected to be ready to play Monday night. Ryan Hartman centers Zuccarello and Kaprizov, and his 65-point season more than doubled his previous most productive offensive season. He’s still annoying and abrasive, but he’s unlocked an attacking side we didn’t know he had.
Kevin Fiala gives the Wild another bona fide star on the 2 line, as he has scored 64 points in 51 games since rookie Matt Boldy was called up and put on his line. This duo leads the Wild’s second line, and they have a terrific backline as their third line. The trio Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno have conceded just five goals this season at 5-5 while playing together.
Although the Blues may not have a star like Kaprizov, they are a very deep team themselves. They’ve had nine forwards who have eclipsed the 20-goal mark this season. Vladimir Tarasenko has had a tremendous rebounding season, leading the Blues in goals (34) and points (82). Tarasenko is one of four Blues forwards to play better than a point per game this season, alongside Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich and Jordan Kyrou.
The Blues had eight players eclipsing the 50-point mark this season, while the Wild had just four. Depth matters in the playoffs, and St. Louis certainly has it.
Another problem for the Blues could be the defensive core. As we saw above, they rank in the bottom 6 in the league in terms of expected goals. Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk are fine, but neither is a true No. 1 defender. Parayko needs to cover Marco Scandella’s shortcomings. Torey Krug is a scoring defenseman, but he struggles powerfully in his own zone. Robert Bortuzzo is an anchor to Nick Leddy on third pairing, and Leddy is already a far cry from the defender he was earlier in his career with the Blackhawks and Islanders.
On the other side, the Wild have the best all-around defenseman in this series in Jared Spurgeon. They also have the best pure defenseman in the series with Jonas Brodin. While they may not be a game-changer offensively, they are solid. There’s no anchor on that defense either, when you could argue the Blues have two in Scandella and Bortuzzo.
There were a lot of goalkeeping questions in this series, and at least for Game 1, we now have answers.
The Minnesota Wild acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline in an attempt to bolster their goalie, who was arguably the team’s weakest link. Fleury is a three-time Cup champion, five-time star, likely future Hall of Famer, and he won the Vezina Trophy in Las Vegas last year. However, his 2021-22 season has fallen short. He has just .908 save percentage on the season and .910 save percentage in 11 starts since joining the Wild.
Fleury was brought in to play with Cam Talbot. Talbot has similar numbers to Fleury, posting a .911 save percentage this season. However, he is 16-0-3 in his last 19 starts and hasn’t lost a game since March 1.
At least for Game 1, the Wild are going with experience on a good streak, because Fleury will be between the posts.
The situation in St. Louis was less divided, but still intriguing.
In 2019, Jordan Binnington entered as a rookie and supported the Blues as they went from last place to Stanley Cup champion in six months. However, he’s been an average goaltender outside of that and has struggled especially hard in his playoff appearances since.
Enter Ville Husso, the 27-year-old Finnish goaltender with just 17 games of NHL experience this season. However, Husso has been tremendous this season and snatched the job from Binnington. Husso has a .919 save percentage this season, compared to Binnington’s .901. Husso ranks 7th in the league with a +14.2 goals saved above expectations (GSAx) mark, while Binnington has a -10.0 mark on the year.
Unlike the Wild, the Blues will leave their Stanley Cup-winning goaltender on the bench in Game 1, as Husso gets the start.
Over the season, the comparison between the two starters of match 1 is not close. Husso has a GSAx of +14.2 while Fleury has a score of -12.6 (-1.3 with Minnesota). However, one is a three-time Cup champion with over 500 regular season wins and 90 playoff wins. The other is making his playoff debut. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw all four Guardians in this series. Good luck trying to figure out how this will turn out.
The best bet
the The savages are the deserving favorites here, but I think -165 is a bit too steep. These two teams have met 11 times in the past two seasons, and the Blues have won 9 of those games. It should be noted that four of those wins required overtime, showing that these teams are extremely even.
To get -165, you have to think the Wild is winning that streak 63% of the time. I think it’s 55-45 at best for the Wild, which means there’s value on the Blues at this price. Would I be shocked if the Wild won? Absolutely not, but from a betting value perspective, the a slight value seems to be with St. Louis at +135.