DENVER - After playing eight seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Blues forward Paul Stastny admitted there could be some nerves and emotions before tonight’s game at Pepsi Center.
“I want to get that first game out of the way. After that, it’s just another game,” Stastny said. “I know a lot of those guys on (Colorado's) team and this is the organization that gave me a chance to blossom into the player I’ve become. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for everything they did for me.
“I’m just excited to be back here with a Blues jersey to play another NHL game.”
Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t downplay how emotional a return like this can be for a player.
“I think it’s really uncomfortable for the players,” Hitchcock said. “He’s just going to have to go through it. Finish the game, get back on the bus and get back to St. Louis. I think it’s a very difficult challenge, especially for an impact player on a good hockey club. I think it’s going to be really difficult for him.”
Stastny missed the previous meeting between the teams with a shoulder injury. He seems to be finding a rhythm now, scoring four goals and an assist in his last five games. He leads the team in goals for December.
“It’s been an up and down season. Sometimes bounces go your way, sometimes not,” Stastny said. “Things are going in, but at the same time, I’m starting to feel healthy again. I just have to keep playing, try to get more ice time and keep building the confidence.”
As a rookie in 2006-07, Stastny posted 78 points with the Avalanche and finished second in Calder Trophy voting. With 538 games in a Colorado jersey, Stastny is eighth all-time in franchise history in points with 458 (160 goals and 298 assists).
But the Denver roots don’t stop there. Stastny played for Denver University from 2004-06 and earned a national championship in 2005. He lists Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Matt Duchene among his closest friends.
“Whether I’m on a different team or not, they’re always going to be good friends of mine,” Stastny said. “We talk about more non-hockey stuff than hockey stuff. That’s how you know who your friends are.
“You play against other guys when it’s international or exhibition or college. I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to lace them up (and) when the game starts, you’re playing for the Blues on your chest. After the game, you’re friends again.”
The Blues are looking for their fourth straight win in tonight’s game against the Avalanche (9 p.m, FSMW, KMOX).
In the previous meeting between the clubs, Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and Joakim Lindstrom netted the deciding goal in the shootout to help the Blues to a 3-2 victory on Nov. 1.
The Avalanche are 10-13-6 this season and are coming off a 4-3 shootout victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. The win snapped a four-game losing streak. Goalie Calvin Pickard made 30 saves filling in for the injured Semyon Varlamov and is expected to start tonight.
“One team is built on speed and pressure, and one team is built on the grind,” Hitchcock said of the Blues / Avalanche matchup. “Whichever team seems to control that aspect of the game controls the tempo… Once we occupy the offensive zone and keep it in there, then we end up with a lot of scoring opportunities because of it, and that’s got to be our mindset.”
AN OUTDOOR CLASSIC
Fans are invited to the fourth annual St. Louis Classic in Forest Park tonight. Watch the game on two giant TV screens while skating on Steinberg Rink. FOX Sports Midwest will broadcast the pregame, postgame and intermission shows live from the rink. Bernie Federko, Terry Yake, Jim Hayes and Scott Warmann will host.
The live broadcast begins at 8 p.m.
The event is free, but skating, skate rentals and food and beverage will be sold by Steinberg Rink.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m., the first 50 fans to donate a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots will receive a puck autographed by Federko. All fans who donate at the event will receive a mini-puck keychain.
Vladimir Tarasenko is celebrating his 23rd birthday today. Tarasenko is on a four-game point streak (three goals, two assists).
Jake Allen starts in goal tonight. He leads all rookie goaltenders with nine wins this season.
It's a homecoming of sorts for Jaden Schwartz, too. Schwartz played his college hockey about an hour south of Denver at Colorado College. “A lot of good memories here and a lot of good buddies,” he said. “My class has moved on now, but I still know a lot of people here. I always look forward to it.”
The Blues have won two consecutive games at Pepsi Center and have won five of the last six overall against the Avs.