The top of the Western Conference is a close head-to-head-to-head race between the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Injuries, inconsistency and scheduling could factor into the competition down the stretch. The Avalanche are at a disadvantage with injuries, but they have won games in similar situations in the past and may do so again.
Cold Front in the Mile-High City
The Avalanche have lost three of their last five but are 6-3-1 for the month with only two home wins. Injuries are the obvious reason for their struggle to earn points. Nazem Kadri suffered a lower-body injury on Feb. 9 vs. the Minnesota Wild and was officially put on IR after missing two games. He’s out 4-6 weeks.
Forward Matt Calvert and goaltender Philipp Grubauer were sidelined during the outdoor game against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, Feb. 15. Both suffered lower-body injuries and are expected to miss at least a few games, if not significant time.
Adding insult to injury (quite literally), Mikko Rantanen sustained an upper-body injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 17. He’s listed to miss several weeks.
“You’re losing key players that play key situations. It changes everything. It changes our power play, it changes almost every line on our team,”Head coach Jared Bednar said before the New York Islanders matchup on Feb. 19.
“On the bright side of that, is you have a bunch of guys that have been kind of waiting and working for a bigger opportunity and here it is. The most important time of the year down the stretch they’re getting opportunities on special teams now playing in different situations, elevated roles, five-on-five. It’s going to be some fun.”
The Avs persevered through injuries earlier in the season and are doing so again. The electrifying OT loss to the Lightning proved goalie Pavel Francouz can handle the heavy shooters. His near shutout vs. the Islanders, also showcased his impressive ability.
The Avalanche will determine after the weekend of back-to-back games if they need to acquire a goalie before the trade deadline. Current backup to Francouz is Hunter Miska and he’s only played in one NHL game. It all depends on his play and the status of Grubauer’s injury. General manager Joe Sakic discussed possible moves and contingencies before the game against the Islanders:
Following their back-to-back on the road, the Avalanche return home for a short three-day break and face the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 26. They hit the road again for another back-to-back against the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators to end the month.
In addition to a tough finish in February, they will play 16 games in March with one back-to-back series. It’s going to be a busy and straining stretch for a team battling the injury bug.
How the Big ‘D’ is Doing
The month of February has favored the Stars. With a 7-1-2 record, this group has managed to turn their slow start into an energetic sprint towards the playoffs. They have battled through a coaching change and injuries to heat up in the second half of the season.
“Since the break, we’ve used each other a lot better and our game seems like it’s sped up and the execution has been there,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’re on a good little run right now. Everything is starting to turn around a little bit.”
Although the Dallas’ schedule is evenly spread to close out the month, their opponents aren’t easy. They face the Blues twice, the Boston Bruins and the Hurricanes. If they keep playing as hot as they have been this month, they’ll secure that second-place spot and maybe even vie to knock out the Blues in the first round.
Battling the Blues
Following the Jay Bouwmeester incident, the Blues have hit a slide. As to be expected, the tight-knit locker room was shaken up with concern for their teammate. Aside from that, they’re trying to regroup and move forward.
With a 2-4-2 record in February, the Blues are experiencing their worst month of the season. Their latest shutout against the New Jersey Devils sparked a fire and they may continue to play hard and with the passion to win for their fallen teammate.
The club acquired Marco Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens to fill Bouwmeester’s spot and are hopeful about his contribution to the team. “We view him to be the type of player that we lost. Bo was a rangy player, had a great stick, kill(ed) plays down low, simple first pass player,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Marco is a good skater. I don’t think he’s an elite skater like Bo was in his prime, but he has a powerful shot.”
The Blues, like the Avalanche, are facing a tough schedule to finish out the month. They have a back-to-back, home-and-away series against the Arizona Coyotes and Stars (respectively) then a four-game week with one away, finishing the month against the Stars at home.
With the addition of Scandella and news that Vladimir Tarasenko is skating and progressing well, the Blues will continue to stay atop the Western Conference. For a team that battled through adversity last season to win the Stanley Cup, their latest feat may be minuscule in comparison.
Onward and Upward for Colorado
Consistency has been an issue for the Avalanche as they play disciplined and tight one game and not so much another. The chaos of line changes and figuring out chemistry while players are lost and return from injury has been a factor, but if they continue to find ways to win games, they’ll stay in contention for that top spot.
With a Mass Communications and Journalism degree from Florida International University, I completed internships with the Florida Panthers Hockey Club and Sports Illustrated. I’ve published several articles for various outlets, including one in ESPN Magazine and one on espn.com.