After nearly five months, the Colorado Avalanche will finally be back on the ice to play in a game that matter - sort of. The Avs will face off against the St. Louis Blues in the first game of a round-robin series to determine the top-4 seeds for the Western Conference playoffs.
These two teams finished the regular seasons separated by only two points at the top of the Central Division standings. They split the season series with the Blues winning the first two games and the Avalanche besting St. Louis in the two most recent outings.
The Opponent: St. Louis Blues
Puck drop: 4:30 p.m. MT
Watch: SN360, TVAS2, NBCSN, NHL.TV, ALT, FS-MW
Listen: Altitude 92.5, AM 950
After a regular season riddled with injuries, the Avalanche are finally healthy - and that should terrify the rest of the Western Conference.
The big-3 are all healthy after both Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen missed significant portions of the season. For now, Coach Bednar has split them up in an attempt to create a little more balance in the team’s top-6. Landeskog has been moved to the left wing with Nazem Kadri and Val Nichushkin in order to create a second line that will be able to play both a grinding, shut down role while adding a scoring punch behind Nathan MacKinnon.
Though they won’t start the game together, we’re almost certain to see Landeskog back up with MacKinnon and Rantanen at some point - particularly if the Avs fall behind by a goal or two.
On the back end, we are set to see the same top-4 that the coaching staff became comfortable with late in the season. Cale Makar and Ryan Graves will be used for most of the offensive starts, while Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson will get most of the shut down assignments. Johnson looked tremendous in both training camp and the exhibition game. He will be looking to have a big impact after struggling mightily in last year’s playoffs.
Andre Burakovsky - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog - Nazem Kadri - Valeri Nichushkin
Vladislav Namestnikov - J.T. Compher - Joonas Donskoi
Matt Nieto - P.E. Bellemare - Matt Calvert
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ryan Graves - Cale Makar
Ian Cole - Nikita Zadorov
St. Louis Blues
The defending Stanley Cup Champions finished the regular season on top of the Western Conference. Only the Boston Bruins finished with a better than the 42-19-10 record put up by the Blues.
Like the Avalanche, the long layoff had a major impact on the Blues’ lineup. Vladimir Tarasenko was expected to be out for the season, but the long layoff has allowed him to get healthy. He will give the team the scoring punch that they lacked at times this season.
With Tarasenko injured, Brayden Schenn and David Perron led the team with 25 goals apiece while Ryan O’Reilly led the way with 61 points in 71 regular season games.
With their captain and best player Alex Pietrangelo set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, this could be one last push for a Blues team that has a legitimate chance to go back-to-back.
After playing the first half of the exhibition game against the Minnesota Wild, Philipp Grubauer is going to get the start between the pipes for the Avalanche. While battling through injuries during the regular season, Grubauer finished with a 18-12-4 record and a .916 sv%.
For the Blues, they are going to be hoping Jordan Binnington is able to repeat his performance from the playoffs a year ago. After backstopping St. Louis to the Stanley Cup, Binnington took a bit of a step back this season from a statistical standpoint, posting a .912 sv%.