3 Keys: Blues vs. Avalanche, round-robin Cup Qualifiers

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Blues vs. Avalanche

6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS2, ALT

The defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche each play their first game of the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, on Sunday.

St. Louis and Colorado split four games in the regular season before it was paused on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Each team won twice on home ice.

“The Blues are the defending champs, they’re a real tough team, an experienced team, they make it tough on you in all areas,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.

The round-robin, which also included the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights, will set the top four seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the West.

Here are 3 keys to the start of the round-robin:

 

1. Can Tarasenko shake off rust?

Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko will play his first meaningful game since sustaining a dislocated left shoulder on Oct. 24. Tarasenko, who scored 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games this season, played 15:07 and had seven shot attempts, four on goal, in a 4-0 exhibition loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

“Everything’s fine,” said Tarasenko, who scored at least 33 goals in each of the past five seasons. “It’s a little weird when you don’t play for that long, but we didn’t play the way we wanted to play (against Chicago). Obviously we lost, but I feel fine and hopefully it’s going to be like this in the future.”

 

2. Containing MacKinnon line

The Blues will need to keep the Avalanche’s top line of center Nathan MacKinnon, left wing Andre Burakovsky and right wing Mikko Rantanen in check. MacKinnon, a Hart Trophy finalist as NHL MVP, had eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games against the Blues this season; Rantanen had four points (two goals, two assists) in four games, and Burakovsky had three points (two goals, one assist) in four games.

MacKinnon finished fifth in the League in scoring with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games. Rantanen, who missed 28 games this season, including the final 12 games with a shoulder injury, had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 42 games; Burakovsky, in his first season in Colorado after five seasons with the Washington Capitals, set an NHL career high with 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 58 games; he missed nine of the final 10 games with a lower-body injury.

Video: COL@MIN: MacKinnon picks the corner on the rush

 

3. Special teams play

The Blues had the third best power play in the League (24.3 percent) but ranked 18th on the penalty kill (79.3 percent). The Avalanche were 19th on the power play (19.1 percent) and tied for 13th on the penalty kill (81.4 percent). St. Louis went 0-for-4 with the man advantage in their exhibition game against Chicago and allowed two goals on four shorthanded situations. The Avalanche went 1-for-5 on the power play and 7-for-8 on the penalty kill in a 3-2 exhibition win against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and will need to play with more discipline.

 

Blues projected lineup

Jaden SchwartzBrayden Schenn — Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach SanfordRyan O’ReillyDavid Perron

Sammy BlaisRobert ThomasTyler Bozak

Mackenzie MacEachernOskar SundqvistAlexander Steen

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Marco ScandellaColton Parayko

Justin FaulkRobert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington

Jake Allen

Scratched: Ivan Barbashev, Troy Brouwer, Jacob de la Rose, Vince Dunn, Ville Husso, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Niko Mikkola, Austin Poganski, Derrick Pouliot, Jake Walman

Unfit to play: None

 

Avalanche projected lineup

Andre Burakovsky — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Gabriel LandeskogNazem KadriValeri Nichushkin

Vladislav NamestnikovJ.T. CompherJoonas Donskoi

Matt NietoPierre-Edouard BellemareMatt Calvert

Ryan GravesCale Makar

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Philipp Grubauer

Pavel Francouz

Scratched: Mark Barberio, Shane Bowers, Bowen Byram, Kevin Connauton, Sheldon Dries, Michael Hutchinson, Tyson Jost, Anton Lindholm, Logan O’Connor, Conor Timmins, T.J. Tynan

Unfit to play: Colin Wilson

Status report

Bednar declined to name a starting goalie. Grubauer played all four regular-season games against the Blues (2-2-0, .3.26 goals-against average, .882 save percentage).

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