Contributed by resident prognosticator, Tilt’d Toledo
Previewing tonight’s bout with the Blues, one should be a little apprehensive about the Avs’ chances.
Making his fourth straight start in net, Peter Budaj will look to redeem his January 15th performance at Scottrade Center (4 GA on 25 shots in the 5-2 loss). Milan Hejduk hopes to continue his recent hot streak (4-game scoring streak) and Marek Svatos would also like to keep the ball rolling (4 points in his last 2 games).
Since his unfortunate last visit to St. Louis, Budaj has gone on to collect three victories against the hottest teams in the Conference (Cal, Cal, Dal). Curiously, he has dropped all six of his starts since December 29th against the less elite opponents in the West (@Pho, Cls, Min, @StL, LA, Anh). Sitting dead last in the Conference, one would have to describe the Blues as less-than-elite. Budaj will have to build on the confidence he showed this week in turning away 36 shots against Calgary and then holding the high-octane Stars to only two goals. Both one-goal games ended on high notes, with the Slovak keeper saving his best stops for the 6-on-5 end-game attacks, in the dying seconds.
After suffering through a season-high four game scoring drought around the New Year, where he recorded only 6 shots while going –5 in the four contests, Hejduk has found his touch once more. In his last 13 games, Milan is scoring at a point per game clip, including six points in his last four games. The difference is reflective of his willingness to shoot the puck more often. In 10 of those 13 games, Hejduk has registered at least 3 SOGs, including 7 shots against Dallas on Thursday. He’ll need to test the new St. Louis starter Chris Mason often, if he wants to extend his points streak to five games against a guy who sports a .947 Save % since the calendar flipped over.
Playing on Line 2 with a couple of transplanted fourth-liners has worked wonders for Svatos. The Slovak winger has 6 of this season’s 12 goals, in the past three weeks alone, as he looks to re-establish himself as the team’s top sniper. His five goals in the past seven games represent the secondary scoring threat that Colorado has craved, ever since Paul Stastny went down with an injury. Teams who focus all of their shut-down men against the Avs top unit have opened up opportunities for Marek to get free, where he has historically been tough to stop. With Erik Johnson and especially Eric Brewer out of action, the St. Louis blue line has been stretched for most of the year, so look for Svatos to get even more action against another second-tier defensive unit.
OK, so I’m not exactly going out on a limb when predicting tonight’s three difference makers. Hey, I can’t always be forecasting the unsung heroes. Often, I’ll go for the humble burger, but other times I order the steak. That’s not to say that the Avs’ bangers won’t contribute to tonight’s mash, but … pardon me, I need a bite to eat.
Back, now. Colorado has begun playing a very physical style of late and it is starting to pay off. After netting 36 total Hits against Calgary, the Avs once again more than doubled their opponent with a 23-11 edge over Dallas. It would surprise me to see them do that again, against a bigger St. Louis squad, most of whose small men are on the shelf (Kariya, MacDonald and Paul’s brother Yan Stastny). Fortunately, St. Louis’ injury woes also include their three biggest defensemen (Johnson, Brewer and Polak), so the size advantage is somewhat muted.
“When I was a young boy
‘Bout the age of five
My mama told me
Peter Stastny was the greatest man alive”
Sorry, but eating poutine (the fries and cheese and gravy, not the, um…oh never mind) always gives me the Wish-I-still-lived-in-Quebec-blues.
I mentioned off the top that the Blues were far from elite and implied that Budaj and the Avs have struggled against such opponents. I rightfully included St. Louis in that group, but I should have also included them among the hottest teams in the West, with a 5-1-3 record over the past three weeks. It wasn’t that long ago that Dallas was on the outside looking in, before they put together a string that propelled them into semi-elite status. With that in mind, the Colorado Giant-Killers might just be motivated enough to keep Old Man River, Keith Tkachuk, and the rest of them Blues at bay. A win tonight puts our boys only two points out of the playoffs. Two points! Pretty conceivable that we’re still playing in May, I’d say. Just beat the last place team and hope the *ahem* mighty, mighty Oil lose at the Joe, and all of a sudden, we’re a game out of 7th.
[Editor’s note: The Oil currently trail by a score of 5-0, so seventh place it is, then]
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