Nov 27, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) scores a goal past Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) during the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What We Learned: Avalanche - Blues

Despite the surprise return of Matt Duchene to the lineup, there was no victory to be had on Wednesday night as the Avalanche saw their three-game winning-streak come to a screeching halt.

This one wasn’t quite as bad as their last loss to the St.Louis Blues — a 7-3 drubbing that let everyone know who was the upstart and who was the contender. While this time around, the Avalanche looked better, it was all a moot point after 20 minutes (more on that in a bit). The positive is that the Avalanche didn’t just give up; they put together two solid periods to follow and had several chances to get on the board only to be turned aside by Jaroslav Halak.

Let’s not waste a whole lot of time: here’s what we learned from Wednesday’s 4-1 loss.

Starts Are Important

In the end, this game came down to the first period and the respective starts by both teams. The Blues came out like a house of fire, attacking and pressuring right from the opening faceoff. The Avalanche were reeling early and it showed.  Before you know it, the Blues are celebrating Alexander Steen’s 20th goal of the season and a 2-0 lead. This came at the 6:10 mark of the first period.

Superior teams like the Blues win games not only because of complete game efforts but because they come out of the gates hot, not needing time to get into the swing of the game. This doesn’t happen every single night as no team has a perfect night every night, but the Blues are statistically the best team in the NHL for a reason and they showed the Avalanche why.

Even when Colorado got a fortunate bounce on Patrick Bordeleau’s goal two minutes later, the momentum was snuffed out by a Jaden Schwartz shorthanded goal to close out the period. Good teams counter that momentum and neutralize it by either shutting you down or scoring a back-breaker. That wrister off of Schwartz’s stick was that back-breaker.

Reality Bites

At 17-6-0, the Avalanche are still in great position. They are tied for third in their division with the Minnesota Wild (their opponent the next two games) with 34 points and they also have games in hand on every team in the division save the last place Dallas Stars. There is nothing to panic about and, aside from the general health of the team, nothing to worry about through 23 games.

But the reality at this point is becoming clearer and clearer: the Avalanche are a good young team, but anyone with delusions that they might contend this year have to see the two games against the Blues as a wake-up call. They were thoroughly dealt with by a truly elite team both times and it was never really that close. And while they have wins against other very good clubs (Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago), a few of those games were won through goaltending and fortune as they were outplayed in both.

With the record the way it stands, it might be hard to remember where this team has been the last few seasons.  The fact of the matter is that they still have a lot of growing to do and they still haven’t learned to win yet despite early success. When they can compete with the Cup contenders night in and night out, then and only then will we all know that they are ready.

Nov 27, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) skates with the puck as St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) and goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) defend during the second period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Warm Bodies

Regardless of how the night turned out, it was good to get Duchene back in the lineup.  The team had obviously been doing just fine without him, but any time you lose your leading scorer and get him back, you’re more than thrilled.  Duchene was an early Hart Trophy candidate until his injury and needs to pick up where he left off if the Avalanche are going to continue their strong start.

The Avalanche have been relatively lucky with injuries this season as they are now only missing Alex Tanguay and Ryan Wilson.  Even so, those two are set to return to the lineup in two or so weeks (Patrick Roy has said early December for both).  When this group is at full power, there are few offenses as deep as Colorado’s and the defense, over-achievers they’ve been, can’t afford to lose anyone and hit a slump.

This season will be a learning experience for the youngsters as they are finally winning games and seeing their potential come to fruition. Staying healthy will be the biggest key to that maintained success. So far, so good for the Avalanche.

Next up: 11/29 @ Minnesota

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 Steen Alex Tanguay Central Division Colorado Avalanche Matt Duchene NHL Semyon Varlamov St. Louis Blues

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