The Western Conference round-robin tournament to determine the seeding of the top-four teams begins with the clash between the 1st-placed St. Louis Blues and the 2nd-placed Colorado Avalanche, both squaring off against one another in Edmonton.
Blues Get Ready For Title DefenseLast season’s Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues, didn’t miss a beat this year and are heading into the new postseason format as one of top-four sides of the Western Conference, participating in the First Round seeding round-robin alongside the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights. The team finished at the very top of its conference with a 42-19-10 record prior to the coronavirus outbreak, having lost just two of its last 12 regular-season games (10-2-0). Ryan O’Reilly leads the team with 61 points for the regular campaign (12 goals, 49 assists), while David Perron (60 points) and Brayden Schenn (58 points) have bagged the most goals (25 each).
Goalie Jordan Binnington has made 50 starts so far this season, recording a 30-13-7 tally for the year with a 2.56 GAA and a .912 save percentage. He has posted a 3-2-0 career tally against the Avs with a 3.48 GAA and a .871 save percentage. The Blues ended the regular season, banking the 14th highest amount of goals per game (3.14), while conceding the 5th lowest quantity defensively (2.68). The team was 3rd best in power play (24.3%) and 18th in penalty kill (79.3%).
Avalanche To Continue Excellent FormJust before the lockdown, the Colorado Avalanche were hot on the heels of the reigning Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference, sitting just two points behind them with a game in hand (42-20-8). Only Boston Bruins (44) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (43) had won more games this season than the Avs prior to the NHL shutdown (42; level with the Blues), despite Colorado triumphing in just two of its past five contests (2-2-1) following a seven-game winning run prior. Nathan MacKinnon leads the team with 35 goals and 93 points this season.
Both Philipp Grubauer (18-12-4 this year with a 2.63 GAA and a .916 save percentage) and Pavel Francouz (21-7-4 with a 2.41 GAA and a .923 save percentage) will split time in the net for the Avalanche in the upcoming round-robin contests. Grubauer is 2-3-2 versus St. Louis in past encounters with a 3.25 GAA and a .881 save percentage, while Francouz has never faced the Blues before. The Avs were netting the 4th highest number of goals per game ahead of the lockdown (3.37), while giving up the 6th lowest amount in their defensive zone (2.71). The team was 19th in power play (19.1%) and 13th in penalty kill (81.4%).
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Both teams have been equally impressive during the regular campaign. Both have split their season series, with either side winning two home games apiece, while both rank joint-3rd in the league in most wins (42). The Avalanche finishing below St. Louis in the final standings prior to the coronavirus outbreak is only due to the fact that Colorado played one game less and had one regulation defeat more. Whichever team comes into the postseason in a better shape, will win this fixture. And it is difficult to go against Colorado in this one! Especially after the Blues’ 4-0 defeat against the Chicago Blackhawks in their exhibition outing on Wednesday. Vladimir Tarasenko recorded four shots in 15 minutes of ice time in his first contest since undergoing shoulder surgery in late October, but the Blues were outshot 23-21, failed on all four power-play opportunities, went just 2-for-4 on penalty kill and had 13 giveaways. The Avs, meanwhile, banked a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on the same day and looked much better than their Central Division rivals, despite having to kill eight penalties (7-for-8). Neither side will be playing at its optimum. Still, expect Colorado to come out more prepared!
Prediction: Colorado Avalanche (-110)
Full-Game Total Pick
This series has seen quite a few goals lately, with the last three meetings between the Avalanche and the Blues witnessing no less than 25 goals, averaging 8.33 snipes per fixture. With both sides returning from a prolonged lay-off and looking quite rusty on the offensive end of the ice in their respective exhibition games, expect no more than five markers on the scoreboard here, though. Colorado has already gone below the total in 15 of its previous 19 competitive contests, while the very last five games of St. Louis have averaged just 4.20 strikes per matchup.
Prediction: Under 5.5