The Colorado Avalanche is taking some momentum with it into St. Louis in an all-important matchup against the division-rival Blues (5-3-1) tonight at Scottrade Center.
Coming off of an outstanding 5-0 victory over the potent New York Islanders, the Avs now have points in five consecutive games, and they’re looking for more in a contest that will certainly have consequences in the standings come the end of the year.
Defense - COL
Goals: 1 | Assists: 6 | Pts: 7
Shots: 22 | +/-: -6
“This is a huge game for us, probably the biggest of the year up to this point,” rear guard Tyson Barrie
said after today’s morning skate. “I thought we played one of our best games [Thursday], and Varly was good. It was nice, we started scoring some goals, and hopefully we can carry that confidence into tonight.
“I think confidence is such a big part of the game, and we’ve been lacking that a little bit to start this year off. So it’s nice to see the boys feeling it a bit more.”
For the Avalanche, keeping on the upswing and using that confidence to breed more of the same will be the key to success tonight against the Blues.
“It’s really important, especially [with] a division rival like St. Louis,” said defenseman Nate Guenin, who will make his second consecutive start on the Colorado blue line this evening. “We know we’re always going to get a solid performance out of Varly back there. The other night we were able to get the pucks in the back of their net, so we want to keep that trend going.”
Rarely is a match against St. Louis an easy affair for the Avalanche, but the visiting squad is coming off of a lopsided 4-0 shutout victory over the club from the end of last season, a win was key in helping the Avs to the Central Division title.
“They had the better part of us for a while there, and we just kept playing our game,” said Guenin of the series against the Blues last year. “We want to win this game, whatever kind of game it is. We expect a hard fought game from them. They play hard.”
For Guenin, the thing that makes St. Louis so difficult to play against is the teamwork inherent in their structure.
“They play really well as five-man units,” Guenin said. “Everybody on the ice is on the same page and they play their system really well. They’re a tough team to play against.”
Any bid to compete against the Blues will require hard work from all areas of the ice, including the goaltending. That should be no new challenge for Semyon Varlamov, who thrives under the intensity of a heavy barrage of rubber flying his way.
Varlamov turned aside all 40 shots faced on Thursday against the Islanders and stopped 49 on Tuesday in a 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks. While those shot totals are higher than the Avalanche defensemen would prefer to have, they know that Varlamov can handle the load. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to give him an easier night against St. Louis.
“Varly, he’s special. He’s a special guy and he’s one of the best guys off the ice. You like to play hard for him, and try not to let him have too many shots,” said Barrie. “Eighty-nine in the last two games, I think that’s too many, but you see he thrives under that pressure. He’s outstanding when sometimes we’re not.
“He’s unbelievable and we rely on him heavily, maybe a bit too much. So we’ll try and give him a break here tonight.”
After a sluggish start to the current campaign, tonight’s game could be one that defines the Avalanche in terms of the Central Division, according to Guenin.
“When you’re a little kid, you want to be the hardest working guy on the block and that’s what we’re looking to do here,” he said. “They’re a division rival, and we’re looking to show our force here.”
Gabriel Landeskog—Matt Duchene—Ryan O'Reilly
Jamie McGinn—Nathan MacKinnon—Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay—John Mitchell—Dennis Everberg
Cody McLeod—Marc-Andre Cliche—Maxime Talbot
Jan Hejda—Erik Johnson
Brad Stuart—Nick Holden
Nate Guenin—Tyson Barrie