The battle of the Central Division is here with the St. Louis Blues facing the Chicago Blackhawks. We ask: who will take the series?
Will it be the upward trending Blues carrying a 8-2-0 record in their last ten games played? St. Louis looks strong and poised to succeed where they have failed before, but the Blues have a history of falling short on expectations in the playoffs. Will it be the consistently post-season dominant Blackhawks who can never be counted as out? Chicago is not the dominant team of 2013, but neither were the 2015 Stanley Cup Winning Hawks either.
The two teams have gone head-to-head five times this season, and they have all been fairly close games. Three games have gone into extra time, with one of which ended in shootout. Of the two games that did not receive extra time to decide the outcome, the losing team was within one goal at the end
Their first meeting was a high scoring affair, with Chicago scoring five goals in the first period and St.Louis scoring two. St. Louis was able to mount the comeback despite being outshot 43-29, with Vladimir Tarasenko winning it 6-5 in overtime.
Their next meeting was a more back-and-forth match, with Chicago ultimately pulling ahead with goals from Trevor van Riemsdyk and Patrick Kane in the second period. St. Louis stepped up the pressure in the third period but were unable to beat Corey Crawford. Ultimately Artem Anisimov buried the empty net goal killing the Blues chances for a comeback.
In their third matchup, Corey Crawford shutout the Blues for the only game where the last game coming from an empty net, overtime, or shootout goal.
The next game ended in a shootout after a battle of the netminders. Crawford put up a strong performance with 0.933 save percentage over regulation and overtime, only to be to lose it allowing 3 goals in 6 shootout attempts versus Jake Allen. Allen was no slouch either, stopping 33 of 35 shots in regulation and overtime for a 0.943 save percentage and stopping 4 out of 6 shootout attempts.
Not to be outdone by their peers, Brian Elliot and Scott Darling put up their own goalie clinic the next game. Each goaltender stopped all but one shot in regulation, but Vladimir Tarasenko’s second goal of the game in overtime pushed the Blues on top.
xG Stats – Special Teams Matrix pic.twitter.com/XO3WSWsGV3
— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) April 8, 2016
Both teams have been strong with the man-advantage, but the Chicago Blackhawks ultimately come out ahead with the league’s second most efficient power play conversion at 22.6%. The St. Louis Blues have been no slouch either though with the league’s sixth highest conversion rate at 21.5%.
While the battle in power play supremacy may be close, the Blues have been far more successful killing penalties. St. Louis sits at third in the league with preventing 85.1% of the opposing team power plays, while Chicago falls all the way to 22nd with an 80.3% killing rate.
It is interesting to look at the underlying numbers with DTMAH’s expected goal model, which suggests both teams have had their power play units benefit from sloppy goaltending and owe their own goaltenders a lot for their performance on the kill.
While both teams have had their ups and downs, the St. Louis Blues have been one of the most dominant teams at even strength over their past 25 games.
Not only has St. Louis dominated recently, but they have been the better even strength team overall this season. St. Louis’ 52.5 Corsi percentage just barely sits above Chicago’s 51.3. The gap widens slightly though with the Blues’ 52.7 Fenwick percentage outperforming the Blackhawks 50.7 and an even larger gap with 52.4 expected goals percentage versus a below league average 49.4 percent.
If the fancystats are not your thing, we will also point out that the Blackhawks have been poor at 5v5 even in plain-old-fashion goals. Chicago has been outscored by 7 goals at 5v5, only controlling 48.7 percent of even strength goals. The Blues meanwhile have outscored their opposition by 15 goals, controlling 52.9 percent.
For all the talk about Crawford and finishing talent that the Blackhawks carry, their PDO sits just below league average at a very sustainable 99.6. St. Louis’ has not been vastly outperforming shooting percentages either, with a 100.2 PDO.
Goaltenders are voodoo. While this sentence is an extreme hyperbole, it is true that even the best predictions on goaltenders can fall flat fairly quickly.
Ultimately though this series projects as quite the goaltender battle between Brian Elliot and Corey Crawford.
Over the past two seasons, the two have stopped nearly identical percentage of shots against in 5v5 situations. Crawford carries a 93.15 5v5 save percentage, while Elliot carries a 93.13. Adjusting these numbers for shot location keeps the spread still the same, with a 93.07 and 93.05 adjusted 5v5 save percentage.
Crawford begins to gain a bit of an edge, however, if we include special teams. Crawford sits 1/10th of a percentage point ahead with an all-minutes 92.39 save percentage, over Elliott’s 92.29. Adjusting for shot location only closes the gap by 1/100th of a save percentage point, with a 92.25 versus 92.16.
Note: these numbers include post-season performance from last year to increase sample size and look at “playoff performance edge”.
|Thursday April 13th||Blackhawks @ Blues||9:30 PM EST|
|Friday April 15th||Blackhawks @ Blues||8:00 PM EST|
|Sunday April 17th||Blues @ Blackhawks||3:00 PM EST|
|Wednesday April 19th||Blues @ Blackhawks||9:30 PM EST|
|Friday April 21st||Blackhawks @ Blues||TBD|
|Sunday April 23rd||Blues @ Blackhawks||TBD|
|Tuesday April 25th||Blackhawks @ Blues||TBD|
It really is hard to make a prediction. Going into the series, St. Louis looks to be the better team, but not in a David versus Goliath sense. In addition, we’ve seen St. Louis go into the playoffs before and collapse. It was also only last year that Chicago “struggled” in the regular season (relative to their old dominant self), only to pull it together and winning the ultimate prize.
Maybe history keeps on repeating, but I’m predicting a 6 game series with the Blues walking away with the victory.
All numbers and charts courtesy of WAR-on-ice and Corsica unless stated otherwise.