March 25, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; St. Louis Blues center Alex Steen (20) shields the puck from Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla (16) in the first period at Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Avalanche - Blues

Who: St.Louis Blues (11-2-3)

When: Tonight, 8:00PM EST/6:00PM MDT

Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (9-3-0), STL – Jaroslav Halak (9-2-2)

The Dangermen: The Blues might be the deepest and best team the Avalanche have faced so far this season. There are few playing better right now than Alexander Steen. He’s in the midst of an 11-game point streak with 10 goals and four assists over that time. He’s got 14 goals and 22 points on the season and has consistently been the best forward for the blues.

With Steen on the top line, David Backes and T.J. Oshie are also having pretty good seasons as they sit second and fourth on the Blues scoring list respectively. Backes has 16 points in 16 games and Oshie isn’t far behind with 12. They’ve been consistently dangerous this season and a huge reason the Blues are one of the best teams in the league right now.

We’ll get to the presence the defenders are having later on, but the pressure extends past the top line. Youngsters Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have been strong and they have a guy with four goals and eight points on the fourth line (Derek Roy). They have 18 guys with multiple points this year, they roll three good lines and even their fourth (with Roy and Max Lapierre) has some talent to it.

This is a very deep, very smart, very good team offensively. 

The Defenders: As with the forwards, this might be the best group Colorado has faced to date.

To say that the Blues get solid offensive contributions from this group is an understatement. Their franchise defender, Alex Pietrangelo, leads the way with 13 points through 16 games while Kevin Shattenkirk is right behind him with a dozen of his own. And right behind them is Jay Bouwmeester with 11 points.

These guys are very good passers and dangerous on the power play. Not only that, but this group has size and skating ability to boot. Barrett Jackman, Ian Cole and Roman Polak are your stay-at-home guys while the first three pile up the points.

They have a little something for everyone and above all else, they play a smart game. The Avalanche are going to have their hands full in the offensive zone with the Blues and their defensive corps.

Puck Stoppers Inc.:  And if you get past all of that, there’s Jaroslav Halak waiting to shut you down. He hasn’t been quite as good as he was two or three years ago, but it appears he’s closer to that than he was a year ago.

Nov 12, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) makes a save against the Phoenix Coyotes during the first period at the Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

He’s sporting a shiny 9-2-2 record with a 2.25 GAA and .909 save percentage. He’s the unquestioned starter this time and has earned his spot. He’s a good athlete and is capable of stealing a start or two if the Blues aren’t on their game (note: they mostly are).

Behind him is Brian Elliott, who also had a down year last year but is back to normal with a 2-0-1 record, 2.05 GAA and .925 save percentage.

There really isn’t anything about this team that isn’t very good. People considered them Cup contenders prior to the season for a reason; they’re living up to that contender status so far.

How the Avs match up: This is going to be a test to say the least. If the Avalanche want to walk away with a win, they need to be smart on both ends of the ice. Quick passes and smart decisions on the defensive side of things. You can’t have sloppy breakout passes against a team like this.

Offensively, the Avalanche are going to need to be in the back pocket of these defensemen to rattle them. Be fast, be aggressive and get as many shots as possible on Halak. You can’t have too many on any night but against a good goalie and defense, you need as many as possible.

Varly needs to be on his game tonight. If he’s off at all, the Avs go down. It’s just as simple as that.

Key Matchup: Avs defense vs Blues rolling three complete lines

Cower in fear if: The Avs don’t STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX. Seriously, this power play is not to be trifled with.

Varly isn’t lights out.

Steen continues to light the world on fire.

Laugh maniacally if: The Avs win the possession game, keeping pressure in the offensive zone.

Defense is making quick passes and breakouts, not giving the Blues forwards a chance to set up shop.

Matt Duchene video games everyone to death.

Silly predictions: Overtime!; MacKinnon builds off his nine-shot night against Carolina with a goal tonight; Steen continues his point streak; the Blues get a goal from the third or fourth line; Avs get a goal from the defensemen.

Final:  3-2 Blues

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Alex Pietrangelo Alexander Steen Colorado Avalanche David Backes Jay Bouwmeester Nathan MacKinnon NHL Semyon Varlamov St. Louis Blues

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