It will be a Central Division showdown Thursday night in the Midwest, as the St. Louis Blues (32-14-8) are set to host the Winnipeg Jets (26-23-5) at the Enterprise Center. These teams just faced each other last Saturday, with the Jets earning a big 5-2 victory in Winnipeg.
Here is a preview for Thursday night’s matchup between the Jets and Blues, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
Even though the Blues have scuffled as of late, going 2-4-1 in their last seven games with one of those wins in a shootout, they maintain a solid seven-point lead for first place in the Central. This season, St. Louis is 11th in goals per game with 3.2, averaging that total on 30.6 shots per game. The Blues have a very good power play, though, one that ranks fifth at 25 percent.
On defense, the Blues are among the league’s best, allowing the ninth-fewest goals per game at 2.78. While it is also in the top 10 in shots allowed with 30.2, St. Louis’ penalty kill has only been average as a whole, killing the man-advantage 80.8 percent of the time, which ranks a modest 15th.
If the Jets intend to stay in playoff contention, a win would be nice Thursday night. The team has dropped six of its last seven, with its only win coming against the Blues, and has fallen to fifth in the Central. Winnipeg ranks just 19th in goals with 2.89 on 30.8 shots, which is 20th in hockey. The Jets’ once elite power play has failed to find consistency this year and now ranks 22nd in the NHL at 18.6 percent.
While Winnipeg allows a high total of 33 shots per game, the 3.06 goals per game it gives up is only 16th. But penalties are a problem for the Jets. Not because they find themselves in the penalty box for only 7.3 minutes a night, which is sixth in the league, but because their penalty kill is the third-worst in hockey at 74.5 percent.
Who To Watch
One of Winnipeg’s most exciting players is winger Patrik Laine. The Finnish sniper broke out of his seven-game goal drought from last month in a big way, and now has four goals in his last six games. Laine now has 19 goals to go along with 28 helpers, as his skill will be on full display Thursday night against the defending champions.
Joining Laine in the point department lately has been Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers. Wheeler, who is close to Laine’s stat line with 16 goals and 29 assists, had a goal and assist last weekend against St. Louis and will aim to continue that success Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Ehlers has dished out assists in three straight contests, giving him 23 on the season to go along with 18 scores.
Among the great players on St. Louis’ roster, none is currently coming in hotter than Brayden Schenn. Schenn is coming off of a two-goal, one-assist performance on Tuesday against the Hurricanes, officially giving him the fifth 20-goal campaign of his career.
With 20 goals and 26 assists, Schenn is one of the more balanced and underrated forwards in the league.
Of course, St Louis has other players who are coming in with some juice. Center Ryan O’Reilly, last year’s Conn Smythe winner, dished out three helpers on Tuesday, upping his assist total to 38 on the season.
And while normally not thought about very often, veteran winger Zach Sanford is having a dynamic stretch with four goals and five assists during a six-game point streak.
Two strong goalies will be in net Thursday night. For Winnipeg, that means Connor Hellebuyck, who is 22-16-5 with a 2.70 GAA and a .919 save percentage, and also has four shutouts.
As for St. Louis, expect none other than Jordan Binnington. The second-year goaltender is an excellent 24-9-5 with a 2.64 GAA and a .910 save percentage and has one shutout this year.
Odds and Pick
Even though they currently aren’t in a great stretch, oddsmakers love the Blues Thursday night. FanDuel Sportsbook has St. Louis at -210 favorites. Part of that is certainly due to the Blues’ record at home, which is 18-4-4, and they are currently in the midst of an 11-game point streak.
I expect big things for the Blues Thursday night. Expect their power play to make their presence known against the third-worst penalty-kill unit in the league. On the other end, look for Binnington and the solid defensive core in front of him to limit Winnipeg’s ability to close in on the net. I’m picking the Blues -210 to keep their home point streak alive with a win.