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Preview: Inconsistent Avalanche look for revenge in St. Louis

The last time the Avs and Blues played, Jared Bednar said his team “quit” in what was a shambolic performance.

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

10 days ago, the Colorado Avalanche lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, and alarm bells went off across Avalanche fandom. Losing to one of the worst teams in the NHL is never a good thing, but it was emblematic of some larger struggles the Avs have had beating bad teams like Anaheim, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

The next game, the Avs gutted out a defense-optional game against Ottawa, abating some concerns while still leaving others unaddressed. After Ottawa, the Avs played their most complete game of the season in shutting down the frisky Coyotes, which led some of us to believe that Avs fans simply needed to “R-E-L-A-X.”

Colorado Avalanche

Then came the third-period choke in Arizona the next game out, as the Avs blew a 4-0 lead and lost in overtime, making me question my choice of words in that Arizona recap. Devon Toews said after the game that the Avs “change how they play” when they get a big lead, adding to his publicly mounting frustrations that he began expressing after the Chicago loss when he said, “I think we got some guys who think they’re playing well, and I think they’re kidding themselves at this point.” Things are not alright in the Avalanche locker room.

There is plenty to be frustrated about, and the Avalanche seemingly struck out again on a second-line center, as Ryan Johansen has played his way into Jared Bednar’s bottom six, so some of the problems from last year still persist. That all said, a lot of teams would be dying to trade their problems for Colorado’s at this point, as despite all this frustration with this up-and-down season, the Avs are still in first place in the Central Division (albeit while playing two more games than the Stars and Jets at this point.)

They have a goal differential that is only bested by five other teams—three of whom are in the Pacific—a division where the top has been beefing itself up against its litany of bottom feeders all year long. Additionally, only the historically lucky Vancouver Canucks have scored more goals than Colorado has this season. Things are far from perfect in Colorado, but the sky is not falling like a particularly vocal part of Avalanche fandom is asserting.

The Tomas Tatar trade to free up cap space and the Ryan Johansen disappointment make it seem like it is just a matter of time before the Avalanche add some reinforcements, but until then, it’s still likely anyone’s guess which Avalanche team shows up not just on any given night, but in any given period.

Projected Lineup

Valeri Nichushkin — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Miles Wood — Ryan Johansen — Jonathan Drouin
Andrew Cogliano — Fredrick Olofsson — Logan O’Connor
Joel Kiviranta — Ben Meyers* — Kurtis MacDermid

Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Bowen Byram — Josh Manson
Jack Johnson — Sam Malinski**

*Note: Ross Colton left the last game after blocking a shot, and Jared Bednar told Altitude Radio that it hit a nerve, but there’s a possibility that he could play tonight. The Avs recalled Ben Meyers so if Colton does not play it seems as if Meyers will.

**Bednar also said that Sam Girard is close to returning and it’s possible he could play tonight, and if he does the Avs might choose to ease him back into play with some third-pairing minutes in place of Sam Malinski.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues have also been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team this year, as they have proven they are capable of beating the Avs and Lightning by a combined score of 13-2 in back-to-back games, then losing to the historically bad San Jose Sharks 5-1 their next time out. They opened December losing five of six, but they have turned it around and now have won five of their last six.

Like the Avs, it’s anyone’s guess what Blues team shows up tonight. The main point of drama in St. Louis right now is that Jordan Binnington’s ironclad grip on the starting job may be starting to slip a bit.

The Blues have alternated goalies all year like they view Binnington as their starter, but they’ve proven they’re willing to give Joel Hofer a chance to take the job, as he started a majority of St. Louis’s games in November and has started two of their last three. Moneypuck currently pegs Hofer as 33rd in the NHL in goals saved above expected at 2.4 (one spot ahead of Alexandar Georgiev), while Binnington ranks 44th at 0.4.

Projected Lineup

Pavel Buchnevich — Robert Thomas — Jordan Kyrou
Jake Neighbors — Brayden Schenn — Kasperi Kapanen
Brandon Saad — Kevin Hayes — Alexey Toropchenko
Mackenzie Maceachern — Oskar Sundqvist — Sammy Blais

Nick Leddy — Colton Parayko
Torey Krug — Justin Faulk
Marco Scandella — Scott Perunovich

Goaltenders

Alexandar Georgiev has struggled quite a bit this year, and it has led Jared Bednar to play backup Ivan Prosvetov in more games than anyone expected this month. Georgiev has started the last five Avalanche games, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bednar give him the night off, although New Year’s Eve against the Sharks is a more traditional spot to get his starter a rest. That said, Bednar has demonstrated he’s trying to jump-start Georgiev, as he played Prosvetov on the first night of a back-to-back in Winnipeg while reserving the second night at home against the Sharks as a get-right game for Georgie. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried that again here.

For the Blues, Joel Hofer is playing his best hockey of the year, just letting in two goals in his last two games, and if I had to guess, I’d say that the Blues will keep trying to ride his hot hand tonight against the Avs.