Blues fans should feel a little better after the team’s 4-0 loss to the Blackhawks last week in exhibition play. Why? Because the Blackhawks put up six goals on an Edmonton team that spent two thirds of the game scrambling to contain Dominik Kubalik. Granted, the Hawks also allowed four goals, so there’s some room for improvement on their side, but their “why not us?” mindset has emboldened them and they may already have Edmonton on the ropes if the Oilers don’t bounce back in the next game.
The Blues have a different situation going into today - they’re locks for the quarterfinals. They’re playing the other top teams in the Western Conference - the Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars - for playoff seeding. Does playoff seeding matter when you don’t know who you could be seeded against?
It can matter, but only if you wind up playing a team that your team had an issue with during the regular season. But that’s determined when all is said and done with the play-in round, so the true pressure for the teams in the round-robin is to get their game focus back. These games count, so don’t expect the level of play that we saw last Wednesday from the Blues. But are they life and death like the play-in games? Not particularly.
As a fan having that mindset might be helpful today, because the Blues start off the round-robin playing their closest regular-season competition. The Colorado Avalanche were challenging the Blues every step of the way for the top spot in the Western Conference. When the Blues faltered in January leading into the All-Star Game, the Avalanche made any points gap disappear, and never stopped matching the Blues win for win.
Regular season head-to-head, the Blues were 2-2-0 against the Avalanche, with an average goals against per game of 3.75. In the opposite direction, they also scored, on average, 3.5 goals a game. The Avs are an opponent where the matchup may truly be even, which is why Colorado is such a tough team for the Blues to play.
Heading into today’s game, Blues coach Craig Berube summarized the Avalanche and the Blues’ strategy for winning:
“They’ve got high end players and if you don’t do a good job against them, they’re going to make you pay, especially on the power play,” Blues Head Coach Craig Berube said. “We’ve got to be disciplined, we can’t go into these games and go into the penalty box. That’s not going to help us at all.”
Those “high end players?” Hart Trophy nominee Nathan MacKinnon is far and away who the Blues need to keep tabs on the most. During the regular season, MacKinnon led the Avalanche with 35 goals and 58 assists, and he had a goal against Minnesota in the Avs’ exhibition game against the Wild last week. Colorado’s top line of Mikko Rantanen, MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog didn’t look like they were taking it easy, against the Wild and they certainly didn’t look like a line that just had four months to rest and rehab.
Vladimir Tarasenko had four months, though, to recover even more from his shoulder surgery. Alexander Steen’s good to go, and after an extended absence, Vince Dunn is also getting closer to playing. The team knows what they need to do to be successful today and through the playoffs. David Perron mentioned that the Blues have picked up the pace during practice, and smarter play will go a long way to getting the Blues that first win in this postseason.