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Blues at Avalanche preview: Hockey’s back

It’s about time

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NHL: St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There is always excitement at the start of a new season. Fans want to see how the newest additions to the Blues fit in - will the new guys work? What will special teams look like? How will the newest assistant coach run the power play? Will the team’s new leadership corps guide them through and out of rough patches? Is the question mark over goaltending warranted?

Will the Blues make it deep into the playoffs? Is another Stanley Cup in the near future?

These questions crop up annually - well, ok, the last question is a new one - but usually they happen in October. This shortened pandemic season is something like the Blues and their fans have never seen before. The schedule is almost baseball like, with little breathing room. The Blues are in a new division created out of necessity. They’re going to have to see Alex Pietrangelo eight times this season instead of three. The grind is going to be a short one, but it’s going to be more intense.

Tonight, the Blues begin the 2021 season against the Colorado Avalanche. The Post-Dispatch’s Joel Hochman says that this match-up should be the Blues’ new rivalry to watch, and I agree. It’s been trending that way for a while. As the Avalanche have improved steadily, they’ve been the Blues most consistent competition in the Central Division. Bad blood began when the Avs kept the Blues out of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs by just one point, and it hasn’t let up since then. Games are always chippy affairs, and the season series’ are tight. Last season, the Avs finished just two points behind the Blues in the standings. When the Blues started to stumble in late December and continued through the All-Star break, the Avalanche made up ground and kept pace until the season was called in March.

The Blues had to keep an eye on the rear view mirror, and this season they might have to keep their eyes ahead of them. The Avalanche are the early favorites to win the top-heavy Western Division; the Blues will, barring disaster, make the playoffs. If that’s the goal, they’re fine. If the Blues’ goal is to be dominant in the division like they were dominant in the Western Conference last season, they’re going to have to fight with Colorado the whole time.

To their credit, the Blues know that they have to get off to a quick start and not take their foot off of the gas:

“We feel as a group we’ve had guys here training, skating, ready for the start of the season. It can’t take us 5-10 games to get into it because it’s going to be a sprint right to the finish and it’s going to be tough playing division games every single night.”

The newest additions, especially new defenseman Torey Krug, are more than likely on the same page. Forward Mike Hoffman, who signed a contract on Monday with the team, will bolster the team’s offensive odds against teams like Colorado, who are already dangerous up front. The Avs’ top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen should keep the Blues’ head on a swivel, but if the Blues roll the assumed top line of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, and David Perron, that’s an effective counter and frankly, a top line that can be just as deadly on the scoresheet. David Perron was especially lethal against the Avalanche last year, scoring five goals in four games.

Tonight’s chance to say hello to old friends Erik Johnson and Ian Cole will be NBC Sports’ final game of their opening night triple-header, beginning at 9:30 Central.