BLUES (21-9-3) at AVALANCHE (12-13-8)
DENVER -- Rookie Calvin Pickard has been playing as well as any goalie in the NHL, but Semyon Varlamov will start for the Colorado Avalanche against the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
A Vezina Trophy finalist last season, Varlamov has missed 17 of the Avalanche's first 33 games because of groin injuries, including the past six. He hasn't played since leaving in the third period of a Dec. 5 game against the Winnipeg Jets.
"He was very excited to play," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "He looked very sharp in the practice this morning and in the other practices and worked hard with [goalie coach] Francois [Allaire]. It's a good situation for us. Calvin's played really well and we hope that [Varlamov] will be sharp tonight."
The Avalanche (12-13-8) went 3-0-2 in their past five games with Pickard in goal. His .939 save percentage is second in the League and his 2.06 goals-against average ranks seventh.
Roy said Pickard would start Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It's a good situation to have for a coach," Roy said. "[Varlamov] is our No. 1 goalie. He played so well for us last year and he's having a good year so far. It's a matter of we'll see how he's going to play tonight with his timing. He needs to play and tonight is a good test for him."
Varlamov led the League with 41 wins last season, a franchise record, and had a 2.41 goals-against average and .927 save percentage when the Avalanche finished first in the Central Division. He is 4-6-5 this season with a 3.22 GAA and .909 save percentage. The Avalanche are last in the division and have yet to reach the .500 mark.
Colorado is carrying three goalies and eventually will have to make a decision between Pickard, who is on his third recall from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League, and Reto Berra, who hasn't started since being pulled in the first period Nov. 25 against the Arizona Coyotes.
"[Pickard] has given us a chance to win every night, but we know that [Varlamov] is our starting goalie," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "He's been the backbone of our defense since he came here, especially the last couple years. I think he's earned the respect of being one of the top goaltenders in the League. Any time you have a chance to put one of those guys in the net I'm sure you're going to want to and give [Pickard] some rest because he played a lot lately."
The Blues (21-9-3) have gone 0-1-1 in the first two games of a three-game road trip. They've defeated the Avalanche twice this season, 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 1 and 3-2 in overtime Dec. 13.
"Every game is like a playoff game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They're fun."
Hitchcock said the Blues would have a difficult challenge whether they faced Varlamov or Pickard.
"They both look the same to me," he said. "They're both good. [Pickard's save percentage] is an unworldly number. And the other guy is just as good. It's pick your poison. Those are two guys that never quit on the puck. You have to outwork them. It doesn't matter who plays in goal for them. Every game is so close."
Here are the projected lineups:
Joakim Lindstrom - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund - Paul Stastny - Dmitrij Jaskin
Steve Ott - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk
Chris Butler - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Ian Cole
Scratched: Magnus Paajarvi, Chris Porter
Injured: Brian Elliott (knee), Carl Gunnarsson (concussion), Jaden Schwartz (foot)
Maxime Talbot - Matt Duchene - Nathan MacKinnon
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Daniel Briere
Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Dennis Everberg
Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson
Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie
Brad Stuart - Zach Redmond
Scratched: Reto Berra, Nick Holden
Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Ben Street (hand), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)
Status report: Elliott will miss his 12th consecutive game, but he's resumed practicing. He will be re-evaluated after New Year's ... Bordeleau sustained a fractured kneecap in the third period Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres in his season debut after recovering from back surgery. He's expected to miss 8-10 weeks.
Who's hot: Pietrangelo has one goal and six assists in a seven-game scoring streak ... Tarasenko has six goals and five assists in the past eight games ... Shattenkirk has three goals and seven assists in the past eight games.