Last year’s Stanley Cup champion is getting ready to host this year’s favorite to hoist the Cup on Monday night. The Colorado Avalanche (7-0-1, 1st Central) are visiting the St. Louis Blues (3-2-3, 4th Central) in a Western Conference showdown.
The Avs have lost just one game all season — in overtime against the Penguins — and are coming off a 6-2 shellacking of Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the Blues are on a four-game losing streak, their latest a 5-2 loss at home to the Canadiens. Despite these clubs going in opposite directions, St. Louis is favored to win at -135.
Here is a preview for Monday night’s game, along with a prediction.
By The Numbers
We’ll start with Colorado, which is the best goal-scoring team in the league. Through eight games, the Avalanche are averaging 4.38 goals per game, only scoring fewer than three goals in a game once this season. They’re doing so by having a league-best .140 shooting percentage, though they have just the 17th-most shots on goal per game.
Defensively, the Avs are 10th in goals allowed with 2.63 per game, but their up-tempo, high-energy pace allows a lot of shots as well. Colorado gives up 36.5 shots per game, the second-most in the NHL.
For St. Louis, the defending champions are struggling to hit their full stride on offense. While ranking 13th in the league with an average of three goals per game, the Blues have scored more than three goals just once this season, in a 6-4 win against the lowly Senators.
The Blues average just over 30 shots a game, tied for 22nd in hockey, but are pretty solid when they do shoot, scoring on 9.9 percent of their shots (10th in NHL).
The Blues thrived last year with a defensive brand of hockey, and while the penalty kill is once again a top-10 unit, St. Louis is just 22nd in goals allowed, averaging nearly 3.5 tallies a game.
Who To Watch
The Avs are a team built around their stars, and once again, those stars are delivering impressive results. Nathan MacKinnon is in the MVP conversation, with four goals and seven assists for a team-high 11 points.
Linemate Mikko Rantanen also has 11 points with a team-leading five goals. This team is also improved from last year, with additions like Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar.
The veteran winger Burakovsky has four goals and four assists while skating primarily on the second line, and the rookie defenseman Makar has seven assists while still searching of his first career regular-season goal.
The Blues are once again a balanced bunch but certainly have a handful of players that drive their team. This season, the offensive standout has been Brayden Schenn, who has a team-high five goals and eight points.
Last year’s Conn Smyth winner Ryan O’Reilly and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko each have seven points, while veteran David Perron and youngster Sammy Blais have four and three goals, respectively.
St. Louis’ biggest acquisition in the offseason was defenseman Justin Faulk, who so far has three assists while skating a little over 20 minutes a night.
For Colorado, the veteran Philipp Grubauer will start in goal. In his first year as the unquestioned starting goaltender, Grubauer is 5-0-1 with a 2.79 GAA and .919 save percentage.
St. Louis will counter with second-year goaltender Jordan Binnington. Binnington is 2-1-3 with a 2.93 GAA and .909 save percentage.
The Avalanche have been lethal this season on offense, but the Blues have the recipe to beat them. St Louis is great at slowing games down and forcing fast-paced teams to come to their slow, brooding style.
As Colorado continues its long road trip and St. Louis still at home and rested, I think the Blues are able to contain the MacKinnon and Rantanen line well enough and get just enough scoring to win. Give me the Blues -135 to hand the Avs their second loss overall.