The top four teams in the Western Conference - the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars - will partake in a round-robin tournament before the first round of the playoffs. These may not be elimination games, but the results of these contests will determine seeding for the rest of the playoffs.
|Blues vs. Avalanche||Aug. 2||6:30 p.m.|
|Stars vs. Golden Knights||Aug. 3||6:30 p.m.|
|Avalanche vs. Stars||Aug. 5||6:30 p.m.|
|Golden Knights vs. Blues||Aug. 6||TBD|
|Golden Knights vs. Avalanche||Aug. 8||TBD|
|Stars vs. Blues||Aug. 9||TBD|
|Goals per game||3.14 (15th)|
|Goals against||2.68 (5th)|
|Power play||24.3% (3rd)|
|Penalty kill||79.3% (18th)|
|5-on-5 xGF%||49.9 (17th)|
|5-on-5 SH%||8.6 (10th)|
|5-on-5 SV%||.927 (6th)|
The Blues showed no signs of a Stanley Cup hangover this season, as they jumped out to a 12-3-3 mark en route to the best record in the Western Conference. Their longest losing streak was five games, but two of those defeats came in overtime.
Tarasenko missed all but 10 games during the regular season after suffering a shoulder injury. How effective will he be having not played since October? He's easily the team's most dynamic player when healthy. Even though the Blues are a defense-first club, Tarasenko has the ability to push the team's offense from average to dangerous if he's at his best.
Could lack of speed be an issue?
The defending champs are solid from top to bottom, so we really have to reach to find a question mark. If they do have one weakness, though, it's a lack of team speed. That didn't hurt them last playoffs, or this season. However, after a short training camp with limited tuneup games, it's possible speedier teams like the Avs and Knights could have an edge over the more structure-reliant Blues and Stars off the hop.
|Goals per game||3.37 (4th)|
|Goals against||2.71 (6th)|
|Power play||19.1% (19th)|
|Penalty kill||81.4% (13th)|
|5-on-5 xGF%||51.6 (11th)|
|5-on-5 SH%||9.1 (5th)|
|5-on-5 SV%||.932 (3rd)|
The Avalanche dealt with a rash of injuries this season. Cale Makar, Andre Burakovsky, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Nazem Kadri missed a combined 88 games. That's five of the team's top six leading point producers. The Avs were resilient, though, embracing a "next man up" philosophy. It helps that Nathan MacKinnon put together a Hart Trophy-caliber season.
However, he only averaged 14 minutes per game, whereas the three Selke finalists all averaged closer to 20 (plus he has less responsibility as a winger). Nichushkin is set to play on a shutdown line with Landeskog and Kadri, though. Perhaps he'll begin to see more ice time in the round robin, where he could be a sneaky difference-maker for a team with a strong chance at a Stanley Cup.
Which goalie will grab the reins?
Pavel Francouz (.923 save percentage, 13.06 goals saved above average) was clearly Colorado's best goalie this season. However, Philipp Grubauer (.916 save percentage, 6.48 goals saved above average), is the more experienced and proven netminder. Grubauer will likely get the round-robin opener against the Blues, but Francouz could get the next game versus the Stars. From there, head coach Jared Bednar may just ride the hot hand.
|Goals per game||3.15 (13th)|
|Goals against||2.94 (13th)|
|Power play||22.0% (9th)|
|Penalty kill||76.6% (27th)|
|5-on-5 xGF%||56.1 (1st)|
|5-on-5 SH%||7.7 (21st)|
|5-on-5 SV%||.912 (27th)|
The Golden Knights fired head coach Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15 after a 24-19-6 start. However, the underlying numbers suggested Vegas was victimized by poor luck, as the club ranked second in the NHL in expected goals for percentage and 28th in PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) at that time. The Knights then started to have some bounces fall their way, as they posted a 15-5-2 record under Peter DeBoer.
Fleury, 35, began to show his age this season, sporting a .905 save percentage and a -6.50 goals saved above average. He'll likely get the first crack between the pipes, even though deadline acquisition Robin Lehner (.920 save percentage, 12.67 goals saved above average) is currently a far superior netminder. If Fleury shows signs of rust in the round robin, it could (and should) be Lehner's crease the rest of the way.
Will Max Pacioretty play?
Pacioretty did not travel with the team to Edmonton as he continues to rehab a minor injury, and it's unclear when he might arrive. The veteran winger led the team in both goals (32) and points (66) this season and was projected to play on the club's top line with William Karlsson and Mark Stone. If Pacioretty is out for the round robin, DeBoer could bump Reilly Smith or Jonathan Marchessault to the top line, although he'd be splitting up the pair of former Florida Panthers. Perhaps the ultra-talented Alex Tuch gets promoted to the first line, even though he had an underwhelming season. Regardless, Pacioretty's absence - for however long - would be big for Vegas.
|Goals per game||2.58 (26th)|
|Goals against||2.52 (2nd)|
|Power play||21.1% (13th)|
|Penalty kill||79.7% (17th)|
|5-on-5 xGF%||52.6 (5th)|
|5-on-5 SH%||6.7 (29th)|
|5-on-5 SV%||.933 (2nd)|
The Stars were hot and cold this season. They started the campaign 1-7-1 and ended it riding a six-game losing streak. But in between, they were 36-13-5. The biggest story of Dallas' season came off the ice when Jim Montgomery was fired for inappropriate conduct despite posting an 18-11-3 record. Veteran assistant Rick Bowness took over and led to the team to a 20-13-5 mark, embracing the team's elite defensive game.
Despite boasting a roster with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, Heiskanen is Dallas' most important player. He logs big minutes and was an integral part of the league's second-ranked defense. On the flip side, he's also relied upon to drive a lackluster offense from the back end, as he finished third on the team with 35 points. Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes were the talk of the town this season, but there's a case to be made that Heiskanen is the best young blue-liner in the expanded postseason.
Can they score enough?
One would have to imagine that if everyone is a bit rusty from the get-go, shooters will have the edge over goalies. Dallas relies heavily on its goaltending, but if Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin aren't as sharp as usual in the round robin, the Stars will have to find ways to generate more offense.
(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick)