Wrapping up our series preview before the start of the second round concludes by covering the St. Louis Blues and their defensive woes. The difference in this series with the Colorado Avalanche might come down to the back end. Here’s the projected defense for St. Louis:
Nick Leddy (4) - Colton Parayko (55)
Calle Rosen (43) - Justin Faulk (72)
Niko Mikkola (77) - Robert Bortuzzo (41)
The Top Pairing: The best they can do
The biggest name from the defense is Parayko. After losing Alex Pietrangelo to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Blues have been short of a star, veteran leadership in the backline. Parayko is the best they can do at the moment.
In 80 games from the back end, he only recorded six goals and 29 assists. It was nothing very stellar for a Blues team that was so strong defensively in their 2019 run to the Stanley Cup. His linemate, Leddy, only played 20 games in the year with two goals and six assists.
Compared to the top pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews, there is undoubtedly a staggering difference. They will have a tough time keeping the defensemen and their forward partners at bay.
The Second Pairing: More to be desired
The second pair of Faulk and Rosen is a little lopsided. This year, Faulk has been their highest-scoring defenseman with 16 goals and 31 assists in 76 games. His linemate in old friend and mostly minor leaguer Calle Rosen has only two goals and six assists in 20 games.
The second pairing for the Avs tears apart this defensive pair. While both Samuel Girard and Josh Manson were out of the team for an extended period of time via injury and trade, they both combine for more points than Rosen. While they aren’t close to Faulk who played nearly the entire season for the Blues, the talent from the two Avs men is better than Faulk’s talent in my opinion.
The Third Pairing: A well-known name, and ... who?
Bortuzzo is a name Avs fans are surely familiar with and know of well. The grizzled veteran has taken a dive down in his career after winning the Stanley Cup in 2019. This year alone, he only has one goal and five assists with a -4.
His partner in crime, I will be honest, I have never heard of up until this preview. Niko Mikkola is only in his third year in the NHL having played around half of the games in the season the last two years. His numbers are a little better than Bortuzzo’s, with three goals and 10 assists on the year.
The third pairing of the Avs defense is actually pretty similar to the Blues here. There’s a veteran with Erik Johnson paired with an up-and-coming defenseman in Bowen Byram. Both have more points on the board compared to their respective opponents and again, conquer their defensive matchup against the Blues.
Scott Perunovich is their younger talent on the blue line, a 23-year-old first-year pro who has been mostly dressing as a seventh defenseman to run the power play. He scored six points in 19 games in the regular season plus three in three games in the Wild series.
Who has the edge?
The answer is pretty straightforward here: the Avs are ahead of the Blues' defense by a wide margin. When you have two of the best defensemen in the league with Makar and Toews, it is going to be hard to beat them on a nightly basis.
Even outside of the top pairing, while the stats and matchups are a little more even, the Avs have the edge here as well. The Blues have depth and options in the forward and goaltender positions but not in defense. The Avs should be able to handle them relatively well.
However, there is one big caveat and game-changer that can come in this series. Torey Krug has been out of the Blues lineup since Game 3 of the first round against the Minnesota Wild with an injury. He’s been working his way back and thanks to some extra rest and days off from NHL scheduling, he is closer to making an appearance back in a Blues jersey.
Ever since his departure from the Boston Bruins, he has been a stallion in the city of the gateway to the West. With nine goals and 34 assists, he can make a difference. If he can do so, he will look to be the difference-maker in the back. While it’s not close, he will be working towards breaking the ice during the meat of the series. Another piece of their walking wounded defense is Marco Scandella who might be closer to contributing than Krug and would at least boost the experience level of their current back end.