Scouting the Blues in Round 2 vs. the Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, the first two teams to advance out of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, will face each other in the second round beginning this week. The Avalanche were the number one seed in the Western Conference, finishing with 119 points in the regular season. St. Louis was seeded fourth with 109 points, but entered the postseason having won 12 of their final 15 games.

The Avalanche made quick work of the Nashville Predators in the first round, sweeping the Predators in four games, despite Colorado losing its number one goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, to injury early in Game 3. (Kuemper is expected back for the second round.) In something of a minor upset, the Blues dispatched the Minnesota Wild in six games.

The Avalanche and Blues met in the first round of the playoffs last year, with Colorado sweeping the series in convincing fashion. They outscored the Blues 20-7, averaging five goals per game.

While the Blues’ roster has a lot of similarity with the group they put on the ice in the 2021 playoffs, there are a few key differences.

David Perron

First and foremost is the presence of left wing David Perron. Perron was on the COVID protocol list at the start of the Blues’ first-round series against the Avalanche in 2021. He had been the team’s leading scorer in the 2020-21 regular season, notching 58 points in 56 games, the first Blues player to average more than a point a game since Pavel Demitra did it in the 2002-03 season.

David Perron St. Louis Blues
David Perron, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Perron had a solid 2021-22 regular season (57 points in 67 games), it wasn’t the explosive performance he had last year. But he was healthy heading into the playoffs, and there were high hopes for his contribution. He didn’t disappoint, scoring a hat trick and an assist in the very first game against the Wild. He went onto to score five goals and four assists in six games, tying him for the fifth-best point total in the playoffs, as of this writing.

In two games against the Avalanche in the regular season (Colorado went 2-1 against St Louis this year), Perron scored two goals — one at even strength, and one on the power play. In his 39 career starts against the Avalanche, he has an impressive 34 points (16 goals and 18 assists).

He’s a tenacious forward (his 48 penalty minutes led all members of the Blues’ offense this past season) with plus speed who can be creative with the puck. He will be a focal point of the Avalanche defense.

Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad, a member of the Avalanche in the 2020-21 season, was a stud in last year’s playoffs for Colorado. His seven goals were second only to Nathan MacKinnon’s eight, and his eight points were good enough for fourth best on the team. The stellar performance led to a contract with the Blues in the offseason with average annual value (AAV) of $4.5 million.

Saad’s 49 points for St. Louis in the regular season, an average of 0.63 points per game, is in line with his career average of 0.59 points per game. He had one goal and one assist in two starts against Colorado this season, and had one goal and two assists in the first round series against the Wild.

But his performance in last year’s playoffs makes Saad a wild card Colorado can’t ignore.

Vladimir Tarasenko

While forward Vladimir Tarasenko did play against Colorado in the 2020-21 playoffs, he entered that postseason off an injury-riddled campaign that saw him on the ice for only 24 of the team’s 56 games. This year, Tarasenko played in 75 of the club’s 82 games, tallying a team-leading 82 points, and average of 1.09 points per game. He had five goals and one assist in the series against the Wild.

Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

Like Perron, Tarasenko has performed well against Colorado over the course of his career. Over 40 starts he has 31 points, 14 goals and 17 assists. With his health not a question, expect him to give Colorado all they can handle.

Blues Depth

In addition to the three skaters mentioned above, all of whom enter the 2022 playoffs in a decidedly different state than in 2021, the rest of the the Blues’ roster is deep.

Nine players had at least 20 goals in the regular season, and four of those — Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jordan Kyrou — averaged better than one point per game. The team has above average speed (Kyrou won the Fastest Skater Challenge at the Skills Competition at this year’s All-Star Game), though they’re far less physical than Colorado’s first round opponent, the Predators. Nashville led the league with 1,035 penalty minutes (PIM) in the regular season. St. Louis was 30th with 611 PIM.

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Binnington Back on His Game, But…

St. Louis netminder Jordan Binnington was sharp in the three games he started against the Wild in the first round of the playoffs, posting a .943 save percentage (SV%) and a stellar 1.67 goals-against average (GAA). He looked like the Binnington who led the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019, when he started all seven games of the final series against the Boston Bruins.

That said, Binnington has always played well against the Wild. In nine career starts, he’s 7-1-1, with a .926 SV%, a 2.12 GAA, and one shut out. It’s been a decidedly different story against the Avalanche.

A look at Binnington’s record against Colorado in the regular season suggests the Avalanche have him figured out. In 15 career starts, Binnington is 7-8-0 with a .895 SV%, a 3.27 GAA, and no shut-outs. Binnington started all four games against the Avalanche in the 2021 playoffs, and things didn’t go well. He finished with a .899 SV% and a dreadful 3.59 GAA.

Related: Blues Need Binnington, Husso & Tarasenko for Stanley Cup Run

Backup goaltender Ville Husso has one career start against Colorado, and he played well, allowing two goals on 36 shots. While it’s expected Binnington will start Game 1 for St. Louis, watch for Blues head coach Craig Berube to have him on a short leash. It would surprise no one to see both goaltenders at some point during the series.

Prediction for the Series

While the Blues are healthier than they were last year, and while they enter the series against the Avalanche hot, serious questions about their goaltending, combined with the level of Colorado’s play, tilt the series heavily in the Avalanche’s favor. Yes, the Blues will play with added verve after getting swept by Colorado last year, but it won’t be enough. With home ice, and presuming Colorado can get over its second round curse, I have the Avalanche winning in five games.

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