Who: St.Louis Blues (17-3-3)
When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST/7:00PM MDT
Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (12-5-0), STL – Jaroslav Halak (13-3-2)
The Dangermen: The last time these two teams met, it wasn’t pretty. The dangermen are the same this time around. Alexander Steen is still tearing it up with 19 goals and 29 points to date, putting him second in both categories. He scored a pair in a 7-3 route when these teams first met in St.Louis on November 14th.
T.J. Oshie, who had four assists that night, has come on with 21 points in 23 contests. He and David Backes (22 points) form the top line with Steen and it’s statistically one of the best in the game right now. They are smart, they are great with the puck and they make the most of their chances. The Avalanche will need to do a much better job keeping them in check this time around.
Jaden Schwartz has been on a nice little streak with four points in his last four games and Derek Roy has begun to score a bit more with increased ice time. He’s small and can be pushed around, but he’s a solid playmaker and can pop in more than his fair share of goals.
Interesting note: both of these teams are in the top six both offensively and defensively (St.Louis is second and sixth; Colorado is fifth and second).
The Defenders: You don’t get to be in the top six in both categories without a pretty good group on the back end. Kevin Shattenkirk missed Monday’s game with the flu but should find himself back in the lineup tonight. His 16 points so far only put him third on the Blues in terms of scoring from the blue line.
Budding superstar Alex Pietrangelo continues to showcase himself as one of the game’s best and is tied with Jay Bouwmeester for the team-lead from the blue line with 18 points through 23 games. He does everything well and is becoming a true elite defender.
With Barrettt Jackman and Roman Polak providing the stay-at-home presence, either Carlo Colaiacovo or Ian Cole will be tasked with replacing the injured Jordan Leopold who is on injured reserve with a hand injury.
This group makes you work for your shots (they are tied for third-best in the league allowing just 25.6 shots per game) and will not get caught out of place very often. The Avalanche are going to have to earn everything they get tonight.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: Back again is Jaroslav Halak, who continues to roll with a 13-3-2 record, posting a 2.21 GAA and .911 save percentage. He hasn’t had to be outstanding night in and night out thanks to arguably the deepest, most talented team in the league playing in front of him but he’s definitely just as strong when the action breaks down.
The last time he faced the Avalanche, he let in three goals on 24 shots but it didn’t really matter as the first goal went in after it was already a full on blow out.
Making Halak beat them is the key. Pepper him with shots from everywhere, make him think about every move and try to get to him early and often. It’s the key to beating any good team/goalie and one the Avalanche have seen work more than a few times this season.
How the Avs match up: The last time these two played, the Avalanche stupidly gave this group power play after power play before watching the Blues pick them apart. Oshie and Steen starred as usual and the Blues cruised.
The facts are simple: you aren’t going to beat this team up. But the Avalanche have shown of late that they can take a physical team’s best shot and give it right back. The Avalanche probably don’t want to get into a slugfest with this team, but shoving back is certainly welcomed.
Get in Halak’s face, hit the defensemen every available opportunity and punish the forwards if they dare go into the corners or along the wall. Giving this team space, especially with the way the top line of Backes – Steen – Oshie are playing, means certain doom.
Key Matchup: Avalanche defense vs Steen and co.
Cower in fear if: The Blues are punishing the Avalanche and not getting popped right back.
Halak is shutting down whatever does get through to him.
The Avalanche don’t STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.
Laugh maniacally if: One or two find their way to the back of the net early.
Superhuman Varly shows his face again.
The Avalanche are disciplined and physical, knocking the Blues off their game.
Silly predictions: Gabe Landeskog: Beast Mode shows itself for the first time in a little while; Ryan O’Reilly emerges from his quiet slumber; the Avalanche get more power plays than the Blues; Halak and Varlamov make this all about themselves.
Final: 2-1 Avalanche
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