Pepsi Center, Denver Colorado
Colorado’s J.T. Compher is challenged by Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak of St. Louis in Denver January 2nd. (Michael Martin/NHL via Getty Images)
St. Louis, 26-9-6, 1st in Central Division at Colorado, 23-13-4, 2nd in Central Division
The Blues come into tonight’s game against Colorado with the best record in the Western Conference, eight more points than the 2nd place Avalanche.
St. Louis had their eight-game winning streak snapped by the Coyotes on New Year’s Eve, but they look to start 2020 on the right foot against the Avalanche in Denver. The Avs have lost three straight, giving up 16 goals in the process.
The first period was pretty even. The Blues were unable to take advantage of their two power plays, and the Avalanche couldn’t cash in on their lone chance with the man advantage. The Avs were particularly effective on their two penalty kills, being very aggressive attacking the puck, not allowing the Blues to get comfortable.
The non-power play minutes were marked by each team getting short spurts of offensive zone time, but neither side able to generate sustained pressure.
It looked as if the first period would end in a scoreless tie, but with about 15 seconds left, Justin Faulk pinched into the offensive zone, trying to keep a play alive. Unfortunately, Faulk couldn’t corral the puck, and Nathan MacKinnon streaked off in the other direction. MacKinnon broke in all alone and beat Jordan Binnington with a hard wrist shot glove side. Colorado outshot the Blues 9-8 and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
If the 1st period was relatively tame, the 2nd more than made up for it. The Avalanche completely dominated the first 14 minutes of the period. Nazem Kadri scored on an impossible angle off a rebound 3:20 into the period, then Mikko Rantanen scored with 1 second left in a five on 3. Tyler Bozak had gone off for interference, and a minute later, Alex Pietrangelo joined Bozak in the box for tripping.
The Blues climb back in it
Although the Blues found themselves behind 3-0, they didn’t get down. After a solid shift from the Blues’ 4th line turned the momentum a bit, Pietrangelo just kept the puck in the zone and passed toward the net. Colorado defenseman Eric Johnson had lost his stick, and the puck bounced off his skate at the side of the net. Robert Thomas gathered the puck there and swept the puck around the other side to beat Philipp Grubauer with a wrap-around.
The Blues had life. And a lot of it. Moments after Thomas made it 3-1, Oskar Sundqvist rang one off the right post. Just after that, Bozak sent a shot toward Grubauer from the right boards, and the rebound went right out front to a waiting Alexander Steen. Grubauer was able to make a great save on Steen, however. Still, St. Louis continued to pressure, which led to Samuel Girard going to the penalty box for interfering with Zach Sanford. Sanford played a solid game in his return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for five games.
To open the power play, Ryan O’Reilly won the face-off cleanly back to Pietrangelo, who wasted no time sending a rocket through a screen past Grubauer stick side. It was 3-2 Avs, but the Blues had all the momentum.
Avs regain control
A fickle thing that momentum. The Blues had it, and after beating Colorado the first two times they’ve met this year and 6 in a row overall, there was sure to be some doubt starting to creep in on the Avs bench. That momentum swung back the other way, though, when Jay Bouwmeester tripped Tyson Jost with a minute left in the period. With just 16 seconds left in the 2nd, Cale Makar sent a hard wrist shot through a massive screen to give Colorado a little more breathing room.
4:15 into the 3rd, David Perron hit the left post, but after that, it was all Colorado. Nazem Kadri tallied his 2nd of the game, a wicked one-timer from the right circle set up by Samuel Girard. A little under 2 minutes later, Jaden Schwartz went to the box for hooking Ian Cole, and it didn’t take long for the Avs to take advantage. Gabriel Landeskog sent a shot toward goal from the right circle. Binnington made the save, but the juicy rebound sat right in the blue paint, waiting for J.T. Compher to poke it in.
Colorado continued to pour it on. With 5:45 left in the game, Nathan MacKinnon skated circles around the Blues’ defense, before sending a perfect pass to the left slot to Joonas Donskoi. Donskoi one-timed the puck past the Blues’ goalie, making the score 7-2 and ending Binnington’s night. Jake Allen came on to finish up.
With 3:45 left, Robert Thomas scored his 2nd of the night to make it 7-3. Thomas caused a turnover behind the Avs net, getting the puck to Schwartz along the boards who sent it right back to Thomas out front who quickly beat Grubauer short side.
Summary and Notes
The Avalanche gained some confidence with the decisive win over the Stanley Cup Champs, beating the Blues for the first time in their last seven meetings. Colorado exhibited the scoring prowess they are known for, but the Blues had been able to stifle in previous meetings. Not this time.
Zach Sanford played well in his return to the lineup, with multiple scoring chances and a couple of good setups.
Robert Thomas had two goals in the losing effort.
Colorado scored two times at the very end of a period, getting goals with 10 seconds left in the first and 16 seconds left in the 2nd. The 2nd-period goal loomed large, as St. Louis had battled back from a 3-0 deficit to make it 3-2. Cale Makar’s goal made it 4-2 and gave the momentum and confidence back to Colorado. The Blues never recovered.
Up next: Colorado travels to New Jersey Saturday night while the Blues travel to Vegas for an afternoon tilt with the Golden Knights.