West Division playoff preview
Housing two of the league's consensus top teams, the West Division is a gauntlet. The Avalanche and Golden Knights have eyes on the Stanley Cup, but the rejuvenated Wild and 2019 Cup champion Blues are hopeful of playing spoiler.
Should we be expecting chaos in the West when the playoffs get underway?
1. Avalanche (-400) vs. 4. Blues (+300)
|60.71 (1st)||xGF%*||45.89 (24th)|
|60.33 (1st)||CF%*||48.00 (20th)|
|58.75 (1st)||HDCF%*||43.89 (30th)|
|8.72 (8th)||SH%*||8.19 (15th)|
|.916 (18th)||SV%*||.916 (19th)|
|22.7 (8th)||PP%||23.2 (6th)|
|83.1 (8th)||PK%||77.8 (25th)|
|1/13||COL 1 - STL 4||1.53 - 3.48||44.71 - 55.29||8 - 10||Grubauer - Binnington|
|1/15||COL 8 - STL 0||3.11 - 1.23||59.36 - 40.64||11 - 7||Grubauer - Binnington|
|4/2||COL 3 - STL 2||3.81 - 1.94||56.93 - 43.07||14 - 8||Johansson - Binnington|
|4/3||COL 2 - STL 1||4.36 - 2.08||56.7 - 43.3||14 - 8||Grubauer - Husso|
|4/14||STL 3 - COL 4||2.56 - 2.96||47.13 - 52.87||11 - 11||Binnington - Dubnyk|
|4/22||STL 2 - COL 4||1.74 - 4.02||53.36 - 46.64||7 - 10||Binnington - Dubnyk|
|4/24||STL 5 - COL 3||3.1 - 4.08||39.67 - 60.33||5 - 14||Binnington - Dubnyk|
|4/26||STL 4 - COL 1||1.67 - 3.23||32.89 - 67.11||7 - 15||Binnington - Johansson|
There are a handful of elite teams in the NHL, but Colorado is in a tier of its own at the top.
Juggernaut is just the tip of the iceberg when describing how dominant the Avalanche were at five-on-five this season. They led the NHL in GF%, SF%, FF%, CF%, xGF%, SCF%, HDCF%, SF/60, SA/60, FF/60, FA/60, CF/60, CA/60, xGA/60, SCF/60, and SCA/60. The list grows if we dive deeper into the advanced stats pool, too. And it's not just that the Avalanche led the league - they embarrassed the rest of it. Just look at the gap they built on the next best teams:
To no one's surprise, Colorado took home the Presidents' Trophy, securing home ice throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and there are no signs of slowing down. The Avalanche's PDO was right around the league average; in fact, their shooting percentage was nearly two points lower than it was last year, suggesting they could be even better - good luck to the rest of the league.
This first-round matchup shouldn't scare Colorado fans despite the somewhat familiar territory the Blues find themselves in. St. Louis could relish once again in this underdog role they find themselves in, similar to when they won the Cup in 2019. But it's a lazy narrative. While a chunk of the core remains together, the circumstances surrounding the team this season are much different, and the truth is the Blues are but a shadow of their former selves.
They were miserable at five-on-five throughout the year, finishing 24th in xGF% and 20th in CF%. They aren’t exactly coming in hot, despite what a late-season push to secure a playoff spot might suggest. Over the second half of the season - dating back to March 17 - the Blues rank 30th in expected goal share. Even after finishing the season 8-1-3, they posted a miserable 42.31 xGF%. There are few redeeming qualities to uncover about this team to suggest an upset could be in the cards.
But my biggest concern surrounding the Blues is their non-existent offense at five-on-five. They ranked 29th in xGF/60 (1.97) and dead last in HDCF/60 (8.1). What saved them was the league's fourth-best high-danger shooting percentage at 20.7%, way up from last season's mark of 16%. It's hardly sustainable. As a whole, Colorado's five-on-five SV% was a hair below the league average, but that would also seem in line for a positive correction with a healthy Philipp Grubauer. The 29-year-old finished sixth in GSAA this season and saved four goals above expected (13th).
To have success in this series, the Blues need to be much better at five-on-five. They actually did well in this regard during the regular season, outscoring the Avs 15-13 at even strength, but a deeper look shows that's misleading. The Avalanche controlled 57.48% of the expected goal share at five-on-five in the season series, but were undone by goaltending - Devan Dubnyk and Jonas Johansson started five of the eight head-to-head meetings. Grubauer allowed just five goals in his three starts against St. Louis, with four of them coming on the season’s opening night.
What this boils down to is the Blues not having any forwards driving play to any degree of success this season. While every Colorado forward is above 55% in expected goals percentage, none on St. Louis are above 50%. Even if the Blues play their absolute best, can they generate enough offense to push the Avs to the brink?
Pick: Avalanche -2.5 games (+145)
2. Golden Knights (-240) vs. 3. Wild (+190)
|54.01 (5th)||xGF%*||52.52 (11th)|
|54.53 (4th)||CF%*||46.81 (26th)|
|53.47 (8th)||HDCF%*||55.41 (5th)|
|9.45 (4th)||SH%*||10.21 (1st)|
|.920 (12th)||SV%*||.919 (14th)|
|17.8 (22nd)||PP%||17.6 (24th)|
|86.8 (1st)||PK%||80.8 (12th)|
|3/1||VGK 5 - MIN 4 OT||3.36 - 1.87||57.83 - 42.17||14 - 7||Fleury - Talbot|
|3/3||VGK 5 - MIN 1||3.52 - 4.41||51.61 - 48.39||10 - 16||Fleury - Talbot|
|3/8||MIN 2 - VGK 0||3.02 - 1.02||46.75 - 53.25||10 - 4||Kahkonen - Fleury|
|3/10||MIN 4 - VGK 3||4.14 - 2.03||44.75 - 55.25||12 - 4||Kahkonen - Fleury|
|4/1||VGK 2 - MIN 3 SO||3.99 - 3.86||48.52 - 51.48||16 - 14||Lehner - Talbot|
|4/3||VGK 1 - MIN 2||3.09 - 2.66||60.33 - 39.67||9 - 7||Fleury - Talbot|
|5/3||MIN 6 - VGK 5||2.95 - 2.45||41.66 - 58.34||16 - 7||Talbot - Lehner|
|5/5||MIN 2 - VGK 3 OT||1.5 - 2.79||39.31 - 60.69||6 - 8||Talbot - Fleury|
It's fairly safe to say the Golden Knights are a consensus top-three team in the NHL, yet the Wild will be relieved to be preparing for a first-round series against them as opposed to Colorado. Minnesota had a tough time against the Avalanche this season but seemed to have the Knights' number, winning five of eight head-to-head meetings while losing just once in regulation.
It's actually because of their poor record against the Wild - the only team they had a losing record against this season - that the Knights didn't comfortably win the West Division and Presidents' Trophy. Securing home-ice advantage in the first round was important - Vegas hasn't won a game in regulation in Minnesota in franchise history.
The Knights are a better overall team than the Wild according to just about every metric, but a switch seems to flip when these two meet, with the stats backing up Minnesota's head-to-head edge. The Wild owned a larger share of the expected goals at even strength in five of eight meetings, including a 54.5% cumulative tally in those games. The Knights' mark of 45.5% was nearly nine points lower than their season total. You know that person in high school you had a crush on and couldn't seem to formulate proper sentences when you were around them? That's who the Wild are to the Knights.
When it isn't playing Minnesota, Vegas is a force. The team is deep, diligently structured, and plays a brand of hockey conducive to playoff success. They play fast and strong with the ability to wear teams down over the course of a series. Everyone on the roster buys in. They have an uncanny ability to drive play regardless of who’s on the ice, with every skater - with the exception of Ryan Reaves (49.39%) - controlling over 50% of the expected goal share at five-on-five.
And Vegas only grew stronger as the season wore on, much closer resembling the Cup contender we all knew them to be, while the Wild tailed off after such an impressive start. But form always seemed to go out the window when these teams met.
So what is it about Minnesota that makes Vegas look ... human?
Well, the Wild - despite the dynamism of rookie Kirill Kaprizov - do their best work down low, cycling and grinding teams down on the forecheck. They take the Knights' workmanlike, in-your-face approach and throw it right back at them. The Wild ranked fifth in rebound shots this season, and that ability to generate second-chance opportunities proved problematic for Vegas, who allowed the second-most rebound attempts in the league. Minnesota creating offense in tight resulted in a significant discrepancy in high-danger chances in the head-to-head meetings and, ultimately, its winning record.
This series is going to be an excellent barometer for what matters more between season-long and head-to-head stats. The start of the playoffs represents something of a blank slate, and Vegas has experience in spades in its short existence, but Minnesota will come into this series full of belief. Six of the eight meetings between these teams were decided by just one goal, and while the Knights are the better of the two, they're going to have to earn every inch.
Pick: Wild +1.5 games (-110)
Alex Moretto is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.