Preview: Avalanche at Blues, Game 18

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Johnson and the Avs (14-3-0) travel to St. Louis to face the defensively sound Blues (11-2-3).

Nothing is as important as a division game. Especially in the Central Division.

Indeed, top to bottom the Central is perhaps the strongest division in the NHL at this moment in time. Separated from first place Colorado by a mere five games, the Nashville Predators are the only last place team sitting at an even .500 (not counting OT losses). The same can't be said for the atrocious last place Sabres (Atlantic), Blue Jackets (Metropolitan), and Oilers (Pacific). But it's still early, and time will tell if the parity sticks.

What's certain to stick, however, are the St. Louis Blues. Sitting only three points behind Colorado, they are considered by many to be one of the most complete teams in the league. Behind only the Avs and Bruins, they have the 3rd best goals against, showing that their stingy defense from last year plans on making life difficult once again.

This is the first of four meetings between the two sides, with the second matchup coming very shortly later this November 27th.

Players to watch:

  • Erik Johnson & Kevin Shattenkirk/Chris Stewart - Oh c'mon, don't pretend like you weren't thinking it. These two teams are forever connected by the big trade over 2 years ago. At first - and keep in mind this is all according to the average fan leaguewide outside of Colorado - it looked like a win-win for both sides. Then later on, most of these fans saw it as a complete heist in favor of St. Louis. Today, I'm not so sure it's looking that way anymore. EJ, still only 25 - an age where defenseman continue to develop - has been playing phenomenal this season. The confidence Roy instilled in him has been remarkable, and the stupid mistakes he used to make almost never happen now. (Jan Hejda's role is largely responsible for this success). This season, the Avs got who they traded for. And barring an unexpected collapse, there is no reason why they wouldn't make the same trade 10 times out of 10 today. On the flip side, you have Shatty and Stewie. Shattenkirk (12 pts in 16 games) is real solid in his role and St. Louis couldn't have asked for more. Stewart, on the other hand, is divided among fans. See for yourself.
  • Alexander Steen - To anyone who predicted Steen's hot start, congratulations on not existing. Nobody saw this coming: His 14 goals and 8 assists for a combined 22 points is among the league's best. And he's not just getting streaky bounces here and there: Four of his goals have come on the powerplay, and three of his goals have been game-winners. As someone who's always overlooked Steen, I'll certainly keep my binoculars on him tonight.
  • Nathan MacKinnon - It's no secret that the kid loves to shoot. A lot of his shots have come from unfavorable angles far back just as he crosses the blueline, but they are often so hard and so sudden that a play is created following it. On Tuesday against Carolina, Nate notched a whopping nine shots, tying captain Gabe Landeskog (who did it twice) for the franchise-record for rookies. Speaking of Mac and Landy, check out this "romantic" gem from Twitter.

Not certain about the lines tonight as there has been a little bit of in-game shuffling by both teams here and there, but I'll go with what appears most likely and you can correct me in the comments if need be:

BAD GUYS

Alex Steen David Backes T.J. Oshie
Brenden Morrow Vladimir Sobotka Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz Patrik Berglund Vladimir Tarasenko
Derek Roy Maxim Lapierre Ryan Reaves
Alex Pietrangelo Jay Bouwmeester
Barret Jackman Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak (2.25 GAA, .909 SV%)
Brian Elliott (2.05 GAA, .925 SV%)

Out: Jordan Leopold (hand), Magnus Paajarvi (upper body)

GOOD GUYS

Ryan O'Reilly Matt Duchene P.A. Parenteau
Gabe Landeskog Paul Stastny Jamie McGinn
John Mitchell Nathan MacKinnon Max Talbot
Cody McLeod M.A. Cliche Patrick Bordeleau
Jan Hejda Erik Johnson
Andre Benoit Cory Sarich
Nick Holden Nate Guenin
Semyon Varlamov (2.01 GAA, .936 SV%)
J.S. Giguere (1.00 GAA, .970 SV%)

Out: Ryan Wilson (back), Alex Tanguay (knee)

Check out St. Louis Game Time for more coverage.

Puck drops 6:00pm MT / 8:00pm ET
TV: RDS, ALT, FS-MW

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