St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche: Game Preview and Opponent Outlook


The St. Louis Blues will take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight, playing the first game of the year in what has become a heated divisional rivalry. The Blues, who have been thriving over the past week despite major adversity in the injury department, will be taking on a Colorado squad that has started slow after an impressively good season last year, going 3-4-4 in their first 11 games.

We talked to Austin Manak, one of the editors at our fellow FanSided site, Mile High Sticking, to give us some insight on what to expect from the Avalanche.

1. Does it seem to you like Colorado is struggling to adjust to life without Paul Stastny?

AM: Yes and no. I think there are two areas where Stastny is being missed right now. The first is Nathan MacKinnon, who had a nice comfort level playing with Stastny. Hard to say for sure, but MacKinnon’s slow start could be attributed slightly to losing a linemate he played very well with.

The other area is the power play. On paper, the Avalanche certainly seem to still have a lot of firepower, but they haven’t produced at a high level yet (15% which is 22nd in the NHL). Stastny was a key figure when the Avs had the man-advantage last season. The Avalanche PP has been heating up, and scoring some goals in recent games. Perhaps it just took the new pieces some time to click.

Ultimately though, the Avalanche have some issues as to why they aren’t playing well, but I’d put “lack of Paul Stastny” pretty far down on that list. Poor defensive zone coverage, bad d-zone exit strategies and execution, turnovers, constant juggling of lines to find chemistry, and top-guns having slow starts to the season (MacKinnon, O’Reilly, Landeskog, Iginla) are some of the main points on that list.


2. The Avalanche definitely balanced out the average age of their roster this offseason, bringing in guys in their late 30s like Daniel Briere, Jarome Iginla, and Brad Stuart to work with their core of star players in their early 20s. Do you think an inability for these two distinct groups of players to mesh has played any part in the Avs’ slow start?

AM: Daniel Briere and Brad Stuart were two players I wasn’t very excited about seeing in Avalanche sweaters. Stuart is a bad fit for the Avalanche system. They like to play a lot of man-to-man coverage in the d-zone, which leaves the slow-footed Stuart exposed. When he does get the puck, ideally he would be springing the talented forwards in transition, but that’s not happening either. Stuart usually resorts to a chip up the boards, resulting in a puck battle at best, or a mind-numbing turnover at worst. He’s not meshing at all.

Briere had a big moment in Boston, scoring a goal with under a second to go to win the game. Other than that, he has been a bit of an odd fit as well. The reasoning for trading PA Parenteau, was Roy didn’t like him for the bottom-six here in Denver, and PA was struggling to earn playing time on the top lines. Briere is older, and less-impactful than PA at this point in his career. With his diminutive size, he is an equally bad fit for the bottom-six as Parenteau. Briere was a healthy scratch in the Avs’ last game against the Islanders, in favor of the 22-year old Dennis Everberg. Pretty big decision by Roy.

Quick tangent! I mention Everberg, and he is a guy Blues fans should keep an eye on. He’s a big body, who had been playing in his native Sweden before signing with the Avs last summer. He may not have the elite skillset of Peter Forsberg, but he plays the game with the same relentless attitude that Forsberg used to have. Most Avs fans, including myself, are high on Everberg.

The last guy you mentioned, is of course, Jarome Iginla. Of the three, he is the one guy I’m actually excited about. He had a 2-goal performance in a 7-3 Avalanche win over Vancouver, and has thrown in a handful of assists this season, but he really hasn’t quite gotten things going like I think he eventually will yet. Part of it may be finding chemistry with a new team, and also Iggy has always been a notoriously slow starter.

TL/DR: Briere and Stuart aren’t having much impact at all, and I don’t have much hope for either guy meshing or finding a role on the team. Baffling trades, and even more baffling that Stuart was given a contract extension. Iginla still seems to be searching for chemistry with the Avs so he can really get going, but hasn’t looked out of place. The main reason the Avs have struggled, is the top guys haven’t been scoring goals. It has been a slow start for most of the big-names in Colorado.

More from St. Louis Blues


3. The Blues were 3-1 in four meetings with the Avalanche, a first-year division opponent, in 2013-14. What do you think the Avs need to change from last year in order to have more success against the Blues?

AM: There is a team-profile that always tends to give the Avalanche trouble, and that is a team that plays a heavy game. What I mean by this, is teams that tend to forecheck hard, and also can muck things up and slow their opponents down in the neutral zone.

The Blues seem to be able to play this style well against the Avalanche. Minnesota is another good example within the division. The heavy forecheck puts a lot of pressure on the suspect Avalanche d-core, which forces them into a lot of mistakes and gets the Avs pinned in their own zone. This is when things really break down for the Avs, and the forwards start spending all of their time and effort trying to win puck battles and clean up the mess in their own zone. When they do get it out, they don’t have the puck support or outlet passing from the back-end to be able to break teams that set up a good wall through the neutral zone.

For the Avalanche to have success, they want to utilize their skating. Matt Duchene is the one guy who has really been playing well for the Avs, and he is a poster-boy in this regard. When he gets a little bit of room to use his wheels, he is as dangerous as they come. The Avs always play teams like Chicago well, because both teams like to skate rather than play a heavier style.

The big thing to focus on as a fan, is how well the Avalanche are able to get the puck out of their own zone. If they can do this, and do it quickly, they will be able to get the puck through the neutral zone before St. Louis can set up their systems, and let their elite skaters start to put some pressure on the other end of the ice.


4. There are two players with the ties to the Blues on the Avalanche’s current roster: Erik Johnson, who obviously disappointed as the number one overall selection and then received a fresh start in Colorado, and Reto Berra, who was originally a member of the Blues’ organization before being traded for Jay Bouwmeester back in 2012-13. Can you give us a quick update on your initial impressions of those two so far this season?

AM: I like Erik Johnson a lot. When he is on his game, he’s fantastic. My favorite thing about his game is his ability to join the rush and jump down low in the offensive zone. He creates a lot of problems for defenses when he is doing this with confidence, and picking the right spots.

EJ at times can get a bit frustrated, and this can lead to some poor decision making. He also really struggles to get his shot through from the point. These are the two things holding him back from really being considered an elite number-one d-man. He’s close though.

Reto Berra had a lot of Avalanche fans realllllyyyy worried when he first arrived in Denver. He made two appearances, and gave up 7 goals on 32 shots, leaving most Avs fans screaming at their televisions, “why did we give up a second-round pick for this scrub?!”

This year has been a different story. During training camp he looked a lot more confident, and wasn’t letting in those easy goals. He had a fantastic preseason as well. This season, he has posted a 2.07 GAA and 0.932 save percentage in 4 appearances. He almost really had an opportunity to show is stuff, when Semyon Varlamov was put on IR with a groin injury, but 2 minutes into his start on that same day, Berra was run over by a Montreal player, causing him to miss a few games as well. It was a brief moment of goalie panic for the Avs, but both guys are back healthy now.

The biggest difference I have noticed, is he is playing a bit deeper in his net, and is more relaxed and ready when he prepares to make a save. Last season, he played much farther out, and looked frantic and panicked at all times. Playing deeper in the crease, and calmer is allowing him to utilize his size, and take away much more of the net. Varlamov will be getting most of the work this season, but Berra seems poised to have a very strong year as his backup.

Thanks to Austin for contributing some of his Avs expertise to us.

Brian Elliott will start in goal for the Blues tonight. Forwards T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny have been declared out against Colorado, while Joakim Lindstrom, David Backes and two other players who coach Ken Hitchcock did not disclose the identity of are questionable tonight. All things considered, it’s very likely that the Blues will once again be using seven defensemen in the lineup against Colorado. Unfortunately, the Blues don’t have enough cap space to recall anyone from AHL Chicago, so it should be interesting to see what ends up happening if the worst-case scenario plays out in terms of injuries.