A lot of people wondered whether or not the St. Louis Blues could flip the switch for Game 1 of the first round. It turned out that they could not. The Vancouver Canucks took down a 5-2 victory on Wednesday night and the reigning champs already appear to be taking on water. There is no such thing as a must-win game until you face elimination, but the Blues are in a “must-show-something” spot for Game 2.
They’ll be in that spot as a -145 favorite per the odds at DSI Sportsbook. The Canucks are +125 on the other side with a total of 5.5 juiced to the under.
The most important player on the ice for the Blues in Game 2 will be the one wearing the most pads. Jordan Binnington was a regular season savior and a postseason hero for St. Louis during last season’s magical run. Unfortunately, he was outplayed by Jake Allen during the regular season and could very well be replaced going into Friday night’s game.
Binnington was the poster child for resiliency last season in the NHL Playoffs. He was 8-2 with a 1.78 GAA and a .937 SV% following a loss. He also benefited from a Blues team that was extremely good in its own zone after Craig Berube took over the team just 19 games into the season.
The 26-year-old was not bad during the regular season. He had a 2.56 GAA and a .912 SV%, but Allen was clearly better. He had a 2.15 GAA and a .927 SV%. Perhaps more importantly, Allen posted an 11.23 goals saved above average mark, while Binnington had a 3.31 GSAA. With how uncomfortable Binnington has looked in the restart and the playoffs, with 13 goals allowed in three games, the Blues may have to make the tough decision and play Allen.
It isn’t all on the goaltending, though. The Blues had 31 shots on Jacob Markstrom in Game 1, but it was the first signs of true life from their offense since the month of March. In the restart games, the Blues generated very few scoring chances. They had 18 scoring chances in Game 1 and nine of them qualified as “high-danger” scoring chances, but they still only managed two goals. Vladimir Tarasenko still didn’t seem to have all of the rust shaken off.
The Canucks have to be happy about scoring five goals and winning the first game of the series, but they have to button some things up as well. They allowed those nine high-danger scoring chances and also lost in other areas at 5-v-5 like Corsi% and 5-v-5 shots on goal. St. Louis also won in the dot.
In a normal environment, Vancouver would be praised for taking away home ice. With all of the games in the Edmonton bubble, most people won’t really realize that there are still advantages to taking over home ice. St. Louis squandered one of their games with the last change. Against a Canucks team that doesn’t have a ton of depth up front, the first game could represent a real lost opportunity for the Blues.
The Blues have been able to deflect some of the blame from Binnington because the Canucks scored three power play goals. St. Louis did have a below average penalty kill during the regular season, but they also need Binnington to make some saves in key spots. They also need to get their legs going. Vancouver had six power play attempts to St. Louis’s three. The Canucks already had a series playing for their postseason lives. The Blues did not. They went through the motions in the Round Robin. St. Louis looked a step slow at times and it led to some undisciplined infractions.
The reality, though, is that St. Louis was the better team 5-v-5. Markstrom was clearly better than Binnington, but the Blues got a taste of what they’ll need to do better in Game 2. It starts with getting up to game speed and ends with Binnington making the saves he should. Perhaps the Blues will opt to use Jake Allen and he could be an upgrade for them if he does get the call.
Vancouver had four high-danger chances in the first period at 5-v-5. They had two after that. St. Louis adjusted to some degree as the game wore on, but the penalty kill failed them. At 5-v-5, they are the better team. They should bounce back and even up the series here, regardless of whether or not Binnington or Allen gets the call.
Pick: St. Louis Blues -145