Here are Today’s NHL Picks:
The Western Conference Final opens in San Jose tonight as the San Jose Sharks go up against the St. Louis Blues. Both teams survived Game 7 as St. Louis beat the Dallas Stars in overtime while San Jose survived against the Colorado Avalanche.
Our series preview is right here.
As always, the goalies take considerable spotlight at this stage of the playoffs. Teams get this far due to their goaltending being a part of the equation. Jordan Binnington versus Martin Jones was not the goaltending matchup most expected to see in the Western Conference Final.
Martin Jones helped closed the door as he enjoyed a less turbulent round two as opposed to round one. He only had one RBS (really bad start) and that was in Game 6. To be fair, he did not face the amount of shots that Jordan Binnington did at times against Dallas.
With the way both goalies are playing, this could be an interesting series. Goals could come in bunches and then dry up rapidly. If that sounds familiar, that was the modus operandi of both conference semifinal series.
Why is there a heavy focus on the goaltending? At some point, a team needs their goaltender to bail them out. Binnington was able to keep St. Louis alive in overtime until Patrick Maroon won the series. Jones did the same against Colorado in an impressive save sequence late in their game.
Strength vs Strength:
Alas, this one is vital. It will be intriguing to see which top-six unit sustains its production from Round 2. The Logan Couture line and Couture has cooled off over the past few games. Vladimir Tarasenko has been far more inconsistent but generates scoring chances aplenty. It will be a matchup that expects to feature many ebbs and flows.
One of the biggest problems St. Louis will have in Game 1 is trying to slow down the San Jose pace. It is that high-event pace which gave Vegas and even Colorado headaches late in the series. The trouble is that St. Louis plays that way at home so both teams are home dominant (by greater than 20% pace differential). Besides Jaden Schwartz and the third line for San Jose, there is one other X-factor.
Robert Thomas is going to be a player to watch. He dominated Dallas in Game 7 and it was more than just his two assists – including the primary series clinching helper. Thomas plays at times like a younger Timo Meier. There is a little power, a dash of speed, and an ability to shoot the puck which puts some fear in goalies.
Game 1 Picks:
Our betting rationale is mixed for this game. The problem is we cannot check off rest as being an advantage for either team. Also, in theory, San Jose should be able to play at a higher pace at home. However, St. Louis suppresses shots on the road better than in St. Louis by almost a third.
The other dilemma is Jordan Binnington has not played once against San Jose. Chad Johnson faced the Sharks twice and Jake Allen once.
San Jose averaged 3.65 goals per game during the season while St. Louis yielded just 2.38 goals per game on the road. There were many games away from home where the Blues allowed 26 shots or less. San Jose typically averages 34 shots per 60 at home. It is a true study in contrasts. Saturday night could be an exercise in treading lightly.
1u – SJS Sharks MoneyLine @ -120
1u – Over 5.5 total goals @ +114
By Chris Wassel