2nd Round Preview: St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars

ST. LOUIS, MODavid Perron (57) of the St. Louis Blues works along the board with Dallas’ Esa Lindell (23) defending back in January of this year. (Jeff Roberson/AP Photo)

The Blues’ second-round opponent was determined last night. They will face the Dallas Stars in the best-of-seven series to see who will play for the Western Conference Championship.

Dallas eliminated the regular season Central Division champions in the Nashville Predators in 6 games with a 2-1 overtime victory on home ice.

The schedule for the series has not been announced; however, the Blues will have home ice as they finished 3rd in the division and Dallas was the first wild card.

REGULAR SEASON – Goaltending

They say you can throw out what happened in the regular season. None of that matters now. Well, as Blues fans, let’s hope so. The Blues were 1-3-0 in their four games with Dallas and were outscored 13-7 in those games.

Dallas goaltender and St. Louis native Ben Bishop had the Blues’ number. He was 2-1-0 versus his former hometown club with a 1.25 GAA and .941 Save %. Jordan Binnington is 1-2-0 against the Stars allowing 3.33 Goals per game with a .879 Save %.

Backup goalies Jake Allen for St. Louis and Anton Khudobin for Dallas each played one game of the regular season schedule, with Allen going 0-1-0 and allowing three goals on 17 shots. Khudobin was 1-0-0 allowing two goals on 45 shots faced.

REGULAR SEASON – Offense

The biggest thorn in the side of the Blues during the season was Dallas captain, Jamie Benn. He scored 5 of his season total 27 goals against them, including a hat trick in the final matchup. Tyler Seguin also netted three goals, and John Klingberg had a pair while facing the Blues. The top line for the Stars netted 9 of the 12 goals scored on St. Louis in the season series and held the Blues to only 7, an alarming stat for the team that finished 29th in goals scored.

For St. Louis, it was Vladimir Tarasenko with three goals against the Stars. No other Blues scored more than one goal against them in the four games.

REGULAR SEASON – Defense

Although the Blues lost 3 of the four games against them, the defense was noticeably better in shots allowed per contest. St. Louis allowed 83 shots on goal (20.8 per game) while the Stars defense allowed 130 shots on goal by the Blues (32.5 per game). With more emphasis on defense in the playoffs, let’s hope this would be a good indicator for St. Louis.

FIRST ROUND – DALLAS VS NASHVILLE

Dallas was the hotter team coming into the post-season, and they continued that trend, eliminating Nashville in six games. After being down two games to 1, they stormed back to win the final 3, outscoring the Predators 12-5 in those wins.

IN NET

Ben Bishop was announced this week as a Vezina finalist for his performance in net during the regular season and has proven to be worthy with a 4-2-0 record in the playoffs thus far. His 1.88 GAA and .946 Save % are outstanding. He’s a big goalie at 6’7″ and 215 lbs. To beat him, the Blues will have to get him moving in the net with quick puck movement to create open spaces to score. He’s a formidable puck-stopper. Backup Khudobin has not played yet in the postseason.

UP FRONT

The big line for Dallas is most often Benn (1G/5A), Seguin (2G/4A), and Alexander Radulov (4G/2A). Those three have 7 of the teams’ 18 goals in the first round. That’s nearly 40% of the team’s goals from one line. Jason Dickinson (2G), Roope Hintz (2G/1A), and Mats Zuccarello (3G) form the second line of offense and also have seven goals. When you combine their assists, the top 6 for Dallas accounts for 60% of the team’s scoring. St. Louis, on the other hand, is more evenly balanced with the top 6 accounting for less than 50% of the team’s points.

Rounding out Dallas’ forward lines is Andrew Cogliano (1G), Radek Faksa (1A), Blake Comeau (1G/1A) on the third line. Justin Dowling (1A), Jason Spezza (1A), and Tyler Pitlick make up the 4th line.

The Benn line has averaged around 20 minutes of ice time per game. The Faksa and Hintz lines, between 14 – 17 minutes each and the 4th line around 11 minutes. They are more of a top-heavy team than St. Louis, but their top players are excellent players. They pose problems for any team they face and are very good at taking advantage of the opponent’s mistakes.

Nashville coach, Peter Laviolette was interviewed during game 6 and said: “We’ve got to cut down on our mistakes because every time we make one the puck ends up in the back of our net.”

The St. Louis defense will have to be selective when pinching in on the offensive end of the ice and not let the talented Stars players get odd-man rushes and breakaways going the other way.

DEFENSE

The Dallas defense is typically Esa Lindell and John Klingberg in the top pairing. Rookie Miro Heiskanen and former Blue Roman Polak make up the 2nd pair, followed by Jamie Oleksiak and Ben Lovejoy in the third pair. The Stars get considerable offense from the top 4 with Klingberg (1G/5A) leading the way. Lindell (2A) and Heiskanen (1G/1A) are the only other defensemen with multiple points in the first round.

The Blues defense had five players notch more than one point with Alex Pietrangelo (6A), Jay Bouwmeester (3A), Colton Parayko (2A), Vince Dunn (2A), and Joel Edmundson (2A) piling on. Despite this, the Blues were the only round one team this postseason without one defenseman scoring a goal.

Similar to the statistics noted above in the regular season, the Stars defense allowed more than 36 shots on goal per game in the series against Nashville. Conversely, the Blues held Winnipeg to just 28.8 shots on goal per game. St. Louis will need to continue this trend, playing their style of play and limiting the Stars’ chances.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Dallas power play was 10th out of 16 teams in the first round of the playoffs going 4 for 22 with the man advantage for an 18.2% rate of success. St. Louis was 5th at 26.3% and scored five goals out of 19 chances against Winnipeg.

The first unit for Dallas on the power play is usually made up of Hintz, Benn, Zuccarello, Seguin, and Klingberg. This group had two goals in the first series. The 2nd unit of Dowling, Spezza, Radulov, Lindell, and Heiskanen accounted for the other 3 Dallas power play goals.

The Dallas penalty kill unit was perfect in the Nashville series. The Predators went 0 for 15 on their power play chances. I’m not sure if that’s an accurate indication of a solid penalty kill for Dallas as Nashville finished the regular season last in the NHL at a dismal 12.9% success rate.

St. Louis killed off 11 of 14 (78.6%) of the Jets’ power play opportunities, and the Jets were a much more lethal unit when given the man advantage in the regular season at 24.8% on the year.

OTHER NOTABLES

INJURIES

The Blues finished the first round pretty healthy, as far as we know. Oskar Sundqvist may have been banged up a little after his collision with the goal but should be good to go. Robert Botuzzo was cut on the wrist but is supposed to be available if needed.

Dallas has some injuries, F-Martin Hanzal (back) has not played since Dec 23rd; F-Mattias Janmark (leg) has not played since April 13th; D-Marc Methot (knee) is out for the season.

FACEOFFS

Puck possession is an all-important facet of the game and starts with winning faceoffs. The Blues won 52.2% in their opening round while Dallas only won 46.5%. Spezza and Hintz are the Dallas faceoff specialists at 58.2 and 54.3% respectively during the regular season. Seguin, Dowling, and Faksa are all over 50% as well.

The Blues’ best in the faceoff dot in the regular season were O’Reilly and Bozak. Look for them to continue taking most of the draws for St. Louis.

HONEST ASSESSMENT

I think for St. Louis to win this series they’ll need to do a few things:

  • Quick puck movement to get Bishop out of position and create more open net.
  • Continue the aggressive fore-check to create more puck possession and turnover opportunities in their offensive zone
  • Depth scoring from St. Louis should be a problem for Dallas. If the Blues can get to their style of play Dallas will have a hard time stopping 3 or 4 lines the Blues throw at them.
  • The lack of depth for Dallas should allow more scoring chances for the Blues 3rd and 4th lines.
  • St. Louis must contain Benn, Seguin, and Radulov. Keep their scoring chances to a minimum and Dallas should have a hard time scoring otherwise.
  • The Blues defense must continue to limit shots on net for the rookie, Jordan Binnington to continue to thrive. Fewer shots on net means a better chance of winning for any goalie.
  • Home ice should matter and St. Louis has it this round. Let’s make it count. Let’s go Blues!
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