Avalanche at Blues preview: An opportunity to spark St. Louis’ offense

St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn (10)Mandatory Credit: Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn (10)Mandatory Credit: Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Blues have exactly one month remaining in the regular-season and sit one point out of the final playoff spot in the West Division heading into Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. After an uninspiring 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes last Saturday, the Blues are suiting up for their first game after a four-day break. On the other end, the Avalanche are hitting the ice for their first action since April 14 (a 4-3 win over the Blues) as the team deals with ongoing COVID-19 issues.

Colorado is missing three of its key players for Thursday’s matchup against the Blues: forwards Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi; and goaltender Philipp Grubauer. The three Avalanche stars are listed on the NHL’s COVID Protocols list and ineligible to play. Rantanen has 26 goals this season, good for second in the NHL behind Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (33 goals), while Donskoi ranks fourth on the team with 15 goals. Grubauer has started 33 of 43 games for Colorado this season and carries an impressive .920 save percentage (SV%) and 2.00 goals against average. Needless to say, St. Louis has a major opportunity to take advantage of a watered-down version of the Avalanche on Thursday.

The Blues’ offense has struggled as of late, and with 13 games remaining in the season, time is running out for them to find their game again. A formerly successful line for St. Louis, head coach Craig Berube was forced to break up the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line due to lack of production. In the 14 games since Jaden Schwartz’ return from a lower-body injury, Vladimir Tarasenko and Schwartz have two goals apiece, while Brayden Schenn has none. Clearly, that is not enough. Another key forward needing to find the back of the net again is David Perron, who despite being on a five-game point streak, has no goals in his last seven games. The Blues’ offense needs to wake up if they want a chance at playing postseason hockey this year. Facing off against a depleted Colorado team could provide a crucial turning point for some of St. Louis’ top players as the playoff race intensifies.

Expected to start in goal are Jordan Binnington for the Blues and Devan Dubnyk for the Avalanche. Binnington has two sub-.900 SV% starts in a row, so facing a softened Avalanche offense could help him get the “swagger” back that he was talking about just a few games ago. Dubnyk will make his second start in a Colorado uniform after posting a .912 SV% in a 4-3 Colorado win over St. Louis last Wednesday.

The puck drops at Enterprise Center on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. CT.

As per NHL.com, the Blues’ projected lineup against the Avalanche is as follows:

Sammy Blais – Ryan O’Reilly – David Perron

Mike Hoffman – Brayden Schenn – Jordan Kyrou

Jaden Schwartz – Tyler Bozak – Vladimir Tarasenko

Kyle Clifford – Ivan Barbashev – Zach Sanford

Marco Scandella – Colton Parayko

Torey Krug – Justin Faulk

Jake Walman – Vince Dunn

Jordan Binnington

Ville Husso

Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo, Niko Mikkola

Injured: Robert Thomas (shoulder), Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body)