The Colorado Avalanche seemed firmly entrenched in a free-fall to kick off Februry, losing eight straight games and falling out of playoff contention altogether.
They finally started to turn things around with a dominant performance against the Winnipeg Jets, who dropped a 4-1 decision at the MTS Centre to stop Colorado’s losing skid. Now, the Avalanche will need to take home another win to show it wasn’t just a fluke — although if there was a team they didn’t want to face to pull off the win, it’s the one they’ll face tonight.
St. Louis started off the year looking like they were firmly in the Jack Hughes sweepstakes, but the call up of goaltender Jordan Binnington and a little bit of resurgent shooting luck have them now sitting pretty in the playoff race. They’ve won their last eight straight, a near perfect mirror image of what Colorado looked like prior to their win against Winnipeg on Thursday, and their last game — a decisive win over the Arizona Coyotes — didn’t challenge them much. They’re well-rested, flying high, and could pose a legitimate challenge for the Avalanche in a tough matinee game.
Mikko Rantanen has been ice-cold for the majority of the last few weeks, with just one assist in the Winnipeg win and one goal in his last nine games. Every good player goes through brief slumps, but this one is particularly concerning — especially since the Avalanche have yet to prove their offense isn’t largely top-heavy. The team lives and dies by the performance of their top line, and seeing its star winger in a cold stretch hurts tremendously.
On the other side of the spectrum, rumors were heating up about Vladimir Tarasenko earlier in the season when he just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net. In a reassuring example of how Rantanen will likely heat back up again, Tarasenko is no longer having any issues with that — but it’s also bad news for Colorado that he’s heating up right now. Two goals against Arizona and a five-goal, eight-point performance in his last three games alone are downright terrifying for Colorado to face down.
Neither team has officially announced their starting goaltender for the game just yet, but there’s little reason to believe that the Avalanche won’t give Semyon Varlamov another go after his strong performance on Thursday. He stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced, book-ending his miserable performance against Toronto by allowing just one goal in regulation again following the Boston overtime loss in the game prior.
For St. Louis, the projected starter is Jake Allen, but it’s really anyone’s guess who gets the nod. Jordan Binnington has been the heartbeat of the team through their resurgence, and he’s proven both anecdotally and statistically that he gives the team their best chance to win. Allen stopped 40 shots against Nashville in his last game, though, and the Blues may see the Avalanche as an easy team to face and throw him a softball start. At some point, they’ll have to rest Binnington and try to get Allen’s stats back up to snuff; his current .898 save percentage in all situations just won’t cut it.