On a night when the Colorado Avalanche honored their former president and general manager, the late Pierre Lacroix, hoisting his banner to join the Avalanche elite in the rafters of Ball Arena, little went right for the home team. The Avalanche lost to the St. Louis Blues 5-3.
MacKinnon, Landeskog, Other Key Players Out
The problems for Colorado started before the game began. Four Avalanche regulars, including three of their most important players, did not dress for the game. Jack Johnson, who scored a goal in the first game of the season, joined Nathan MacKinnon on the COVID protocol list. Gabe Landeskog sat for the first of his two-game suspension for boarding forward Kirby Dach in the team’s first game against the Chicago Blackhawks. And Valeri Nichushkin (upper-body injury) joins Devon Toews (recovering from off-season shoulder surgery) and Pavel Francouz (recovering from a lower-body injury sustained in the pre-season) on the injured list.
The Avalanche started with only 11 forwards on the bench, and it showed. St. Louis came out strong, dominating possession the first 10 minutes of the game. To add insult to injury, forward Stefan Matteau lost an edge and took an awkward fall backward into the boards partway through the first period; he left the ice and did not return, leaving Colorado with only ten forwards.
Despite a strong push late in the game, the Avalanche could never fully gain control of the game.
Blues Get Their Retribution Against Kadri
As soon as Kadri took to the ice with the first line change of the game, Blues center Brayden Schenn tapped him with his stick, the two exchanged a word and dropped their gloves. It was a short fight ending with the larger, heavier Schenn on top of Kadri.
Schenn was involved in his own skirmish in last year’s playoff series against Colorado. After Schenn collided with Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche’s leading scorer in the regular season, Landeskog bested the St. Louis center in a fight, energizing the crowd and setting the tone for the series.
Faulk, the recipient of Kadri’s hit, had his retribution when he scored the first goal of last night’s game with a low wrister from the high slot. Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper was partially screened by his own forward, Darren Helm. The early fight and early goal had the Blues skating with energy and enthusiasm.
Schenn took his revenge, too. Skating through Avalanche defender Kurtis MacDermid, acquired in the offseason to bring size and experience to the back of Colorado’s defense, Schenn fired a wrist shot that beat Kuemper on his glove side. The goal came midway through the second period on what was only St. Louis’s second shot on goal in the middle frame.
Binnington Bigger than Kuemper
Despite the slow start for the Avalanche, they came out with a strong attack in the second period. They outshot the Blues 16-5 in the middle frame, but two of the five shots on goal for St. Louis found the back of the net. While none of the goals were soft—the defense in front of Kuemper wasn’t especially sharp—in a game where the team needed something special, Kuemper never came up big. All four goals against Kuemper (the fifth goal was into an empty net) were on wrist shots that, on a better night, the veteran netminder might have had an opportunity to stop.
On the other end of the ice, Jordan Binnington was electric. After a very difficult series against the Avalanche in last year’s playoffs, losing four straight games, Binnington looked more like the goaltender who won the Stanley Cup in 2019.
His glove save against Rantanen partway through the third period was most impressive. Rantanen was set up in the right face-off circle, where he unloaded a one-timer. Binnington made an almost impossible glove save, moving from his right to left, robbing the Colorado forward of what should have been a certain goal. Binnington simply outplayed Kuemper on this night.
The Avalanche did make a late charge with two goals in the final six minutes. A third goal, which would have tied the game with 2:49 left, was disallowed, the video review showing it was kicked in by Avalanche forward Tyson Jost. Colorado will try to right the ship with their next start against the Washington Capitals Tuesday night in Washington, DC.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.