Two Central Division teams clash in the Lone Star State tonight, as the red-hot St. Louis Blues (32-22-5, 3rd Central) take on the Dallas Stars (29-25-4, 4th Central).
Although these teams are right next to each other in the standings, six points now separate them. For the Blues, they come into this game on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak, capped off with an overtime win against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Things have not been as rosy for the Stars lately, who have lost five of six, including three straight games. Before that, however, they won five in a row.
These teams have played twice this season, back in January just four days apart. The Stars won in St. Louis, and then a few days later the Blues won in Dallas. Tonight, the Blues are road favorites, listed at -130.
Ain’t Singin’ the Blues
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Blues. After losing to the Kings on January 21st, their third loss in four games, St. Louis was 21-22-5. That was the last game they lost. Since then, they have ripped 11 straight wins, eight in regulation, and now sit comfortably in a playoff spot.
The Blues made a lot of changes to their roster in the offseason to improve their club, and they are finally paying off. St. Louis has gone from the bottom of the league to a respectable 14th in goals per game. They also rank 17th in shots and 14th in shooting percentage. Their biggest improvement has come from defense and goaltending, as the Blues are now seventh in goals allowed and third in shots allowed. During this stretch, St. Louis has allowed more than two goals twice.
Ryan O’Reilly, who scored the overtime winner in their 11th straight victory, leads the team in points with 61. Vladimir Tarasenko has shaken off a cold start and now leads the team with 26 goals. Three defensemen (Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, and Colton Parayko) are all inside the top-11 in points production.
Of course, the biggest change and the main reason for this streak is rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Taking over for Jake Allen, Binnington has shined in net, going 13-1-1 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He is once again expected to start tonight.
(Not) Shooting Stars
The Stars are currently a playoff team, sitting in the first Wild Card spot. But their spot in the playoffs is far from secure, as they are just two points ahead of the Blackhawks, who are just outside of the postseason picture. Dallas was 28-21-4 after a February 4th win against the Coyotes, their fifth straight. Since then, they’ve dropped five of their last six. The last three losses, in particular, they’ve been outscored 14-3.
The Stars have been a team dominated by offense the last few years, but this season the scoring has not been there. Dallas ranks 29th in both goals and shooting percentage and is just 23rd in shots on goal. The reason they are still a playoff team is due to their much-improved defensive play, as they rank third in goals allowed and 14th in shots allowed.
Tyler Seguin has had a productive season, scoring 55 points while playing in all 59 games. Alex Radulov is next with 46 points, and Jamie Benn follows with a disappointing (by his standards) 39 points. However, Jason Spezza is the next forward after that all the way down at 24 points, as three defensemen separate him and Benn.
It’s been a fairly even split between Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin this year in goal, with Khudobin expected to start tonight. The veteran is 10-13-3 with a 2.58 GAA and .921 save percentage.
For Dallas to pull off an upset, they need a lot of shots on net to challenge the rookie Binnington. However, they have not succeeded in the possession game, which gives St. Louis a big edge. That, plus all-around momentum, lead me to pick the Blues to win -130.