After a terrific two-game winning streak against the Colorado Avalanche, the St. Louis Blues finally looked to be hitting their stride. Playing some of their best hockey of the season, the Blues were firing on all cylinders against an intimidating Avalanche squad. Now comes their next challenge: the red-hot Minnesota Wild.
Riding the high of their seven-game winning streak, the Wild have secured their spot in the postseason and are looking to continue winning into the playoffs. The Blues have found success against the Wild this season, with a 2-1 record, including a monstrous 9-1 victory in early April.
If the Blues want to continue dominating the talented Minnesota team, they need to focus on these key factors to ensure they walk away with a series sweep in the race for the final playoff spot in the West Division.
Get Ryan O’Reilly the Puck
After three games without a point, O’Reilly exploded in the Blues’ second of three contests against the Avalanche last week for a four-point performance that included a hat trick and an assist. He followed up his phenomenal performance with two assists in the following game.
With nearly a point per game (0.97 PPG) this season, O’Reilly has been the Blues’ leader on and off the ice. To capitalize against the Wild, the team will have to rely on him to continue his high-scoring efforts to get them on the board early and often. In their previous victories against the Wild, he put up a combined three goals and two assists, an indication that his impact on the scoreboard translates to the win column.
The Blues will want to set O’Reilly up for success with scoring opportunities and ample shots on net to make sure they control the upcoming series from start to finish.
Limiting Turnovers inside the Defensive Zone
One of the team’s unfortunate trends this season has been moving the puck cleanly out of the defensive zone. The Blues have struggled with this, which has resulted in several dangerous scoring chances against that more often than not have lead to easy goals.
Playing against a team that is equally lethal on offense as they are on defense, turnovers of this variety cannot occur. If the Blues cannot move the puck safely in their own end, the Wild will make them pay; they are one of the strongest transition teams and at pushing a high tempo on their forecheck.
To avoid these costly mistakes, the Blues will need to be methodical on the breakout in transition, taking care of the puck, and scanning the ice well before making that first pass. While this could slow the pace of their transition, the Blues cannot afford to take unnecessary risks at this point into the season.
By taking care of the puck and ensuring their turnovers are kept to a minimum, the Blues will be able to play conservatively and control the pace of the game.
Contain Kirill Kaprizov
The odds-on Calder Trophy favorite Kirill Kaprizov has been lighting the lamp on a regular basis this season. He’s on a five-game goal-scoring streak, and the 24-year-old winger has shown he has what it takes to compete in the NHL, and excel.
Kaprizov is a nightmare for teams when he enters the offensive zone, able to outmuscle the opposition when crashing the net, or he can beat netminder’s with ease with his laser fast wrist shot.
For the Blues to win the next three games, they will have to find a way to neutralize the young Russian. St. Louis is a fantastic team defensively, and they have found success taking on the top offensive players within their division, whether it is playing preventative defense, and making sure the puck never gets to the end of his stick, or asserting a physical presence each time he steps on the ice for his shift.
Stopping Kaprizov is no easy task, but the Blues are well equipped to take on the challenge. Not only can they end his goal-scoring streak, but they could also slow down his onslaught of points produced during his 2020-21 campaign.
Ville Husso Needs to Elevate his Game
With a solid seven wins in 14 appearances this season, Ville Husso’s overall performance has been mediocre. With a poor goals-against average (3.43) and save percentage (88.7%), the Blues have managed to win games despite his lacklustre play.
Jordan Binnington earned the past five starts, so it is likely we will see Husso get the nod for at least one of the three games against the Wild. Husso’s last start was against the Wild on April 10, when he had one of his strongest outings of the season. With 28 saves on 30 shots en route to an overtime victory, the Finnish netminder could not be solved by the Wild down the stretch.
If we see shades of the Husso that put up a wall against the Wild in early April, it would be the deciding factor in the team’s success going into this regular-season series. The Blues will rely on him to be serviceable when his number is called and give Binnington much-needed rest heading into the tail end of the season.
If Husso can maintain composure and secure a win in any of his starts against the Wild, this would be a massive boost in the team’s race to the playoffs.
Originally from Owen Sound, Ontario, Matt Eichhorn has spent the past 4 years studying the field of Sport Media at Ryerson University. Eichhorn is a life-long hockey fan with experience working in a variety of media roles around the game. Currently, Eichhorn covers the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers.