Western Conference Finals Preview – St. Louis Blues v. San Jose Sharks

After a wild seven game series with the Dallas Stars, the Blues emerged victorious. Saturday, they continue their inexorable march to the Cup against the San Jose Sharks. Before breaking down the series, I’ll have to admit (though often considered a sacrilegious act to hockey fans), that I am a baseball fan and ardent supporter of the St. Louis Cardinals. As such, I noticed a quite interesting parallel between the World Series of 2011 against a Dallas-based team and the second round series with the Stars. Each series had game winners in this order: STL, DAL, STL, DAL, DAL, STL, STL.

So, instead of recalling the vituperative memories of the last time the Blues and Sharks played in the playoffs, let’s focus on the last time the STL and SF baseball teams played for a premonition:

Oh. Right.

Anyway, back to the better sport – the Blues and Sharks finished the regular season with similar point totals, though the Sharks finished two points ahead with 101 and will start the series at home.

The two teams met three times during the season, with the Blues going 1-1-1, including a 4-0 win and 4-0 loss in November (which, as we’ve seen before, does not really matter because that was before the team learned how to play hockey), as well as a 3-2 overtime loss, in a game without Vladimir Tarasenko.

Like with any series, there are a number of factors that could be ‘keys to the series’, but quite honestly, there really is only one important one – Martin Jones. Jones is about as bad as Ben Bishop is good, so if the Blues cannot win this series, and score a fair amount of goals, it is completely on them. Though San Jose sports Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on defense, neither is particularly adept at defense these days. Since Burns, Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture are quite skillful offensively, the Blues simply need to play as strong of a game defensively as they did in game 7 against Dallas, and bide their time until they get their offensive chances.

To put how mediocre Jones is in perspective, let’s compare him to the much maligned Jake Allen, who absolutely was not good for the Blues during the season and a major reason for their stodgy start to the here. According to NaturalStatTrick, Martin Jones has a save percentage of .896, while Allen’s is .905. Allen has a GSAA of -5.91, while Jones has an astounding -22.87. GSAA is a metric that basically measures goals saved above average. While -5.91 isn’t great, it’s much better than -22. The only part where Jones beats Allen is in High Danger Save Percentage, with a paltry .806 to .796 edge.

Of course more goes into an evaluation of a goalie than simply his raw stats, most notably team defense, but at minimum we can conclude that San Jose is not good at keeping the puck out of their own net, and Jones himself is not good when facing high danger shots. If the Blues do not score against Jones, the last thing anyone should be doing is valorizing him, because in all likelihood it will be the shooters that are taking bad shots, as opposed to Jones making great and timely saves.

That’s basically it. Score goals. Just score goals. Play solid defense. And, above all else, don’t throw the puck in your own net:

Blues in 6.

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