By LOU KORAC
DENVER -- Prior to the Blues' trade of Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals, it was a bit of a tough situation for defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarsson.
Both Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson spent eight straight games alternating in and out of the Blues' lineup playing with Shattenkirk.
But after the trade of Shattenkirk on Feb. 27, it's been a pair the Blues have had to rely on to fill out their defensive unit.
When the Blues (38-28-5) close out a five-game, 10-day road trip against the Colorado Avalanche (20-48-3) today at 8 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be the eighth straight game and 10th in 11 games Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson will form the third d-pair.
"Every night, it's getting a little easier," Bortuzzo said. "I feel like since we've been together, we've been able to do some good things, but like you said, the more you play together, there's little intricacies in both people's games that you get used to. I like what we're doing right now. We're just trying to keep it simple and move pucks up to our high-end forwards.
"It's definitely nice to get into a rhythm. That was a different situation for both of us I'm sure, but we were both very professional about it. That's part of sports. You just kind of have to be able to prove it every night and we were both doing that at the time. Now it's nice to have the both of us going and doing some good things. We're looking to build in the right direction every night."
Bortuzzo will play in his eighth straight game and for Gunnarsson, it will be his 11th consecutive game. Only Jordan Schmaltz's NHL debut in this building on March 5 disrupted the pair's stretch of playing together.
"I don't think anyone wants that situation (of alternating games)," Gunnarsson said. "Even for a guy like 'Shatty' playing every game, he's got a new partner every other game and it's tough for a guy like that, too. We're both happy being on the ice and playing and hopefully just keep going here and building our game and helping the team.
"It's been up and down but we're building and it feels good. Some games have been really good. It's easy to play with 'Borts.' He's doing the simple stuff and playing hard, he's got a good shot out there, too, and we're talking about plays. We're just trying to improve every game."
Bortuzzo hit a season-high 19 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time against the New York Islanders, and Gunnarsson also hit his season-high in that game (19:27).
Both are giving coach Mike Yeo reason for optimism moving forward.
"It's one thing for a defenseman to bounce in and out of the lineup or for any player that that matter, but if you start giving them honest minutes and you start giving them game after game, roles and responsibilities and you find that the more you trust players, the more they reward you," Yeo said. "They're both really good players for us and they're showing it right now."
The Blues aren't asking Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson to carry the load. All they need are good, reliable minutes on a nightly basis.
"Coming out of our own end is probably the biggest thing we've done a good job of," Bortuzzo said. "We don't want to spend time in our 'D' zone. We want to get in, get out as quick as possible. He goes back for pucks quick and hard. I just want to be there to support him."
- - -
Tonight will mark the second of three games here at Pepsi Center for the Blues, who won 3-0 on March 5 and will play here again on March 31.
The Blues' victory here 16 days ago snapped a season-long five-game losing streak, but it was a game Yeo wasn't all too thrilled with.
"So-so," Yeo said of the performance. "I think that we looked nervous. We knew that that was as much of a must-win as there was that we were going to face at any point in the season. That was an opportunity for us to break the losing skid we were on. We had a strong team meeting and I thought the guys looked a little nervous. I thought we got a pretty decent start in the game, but I didn't think that we had the killer instinct to really put them away. It was a 3-0 win like you said, but it was a fairly even game. Only one 5-on-5 goal and I don't think we were that strong offensively either.
"Regardless of the opponent, I wasn't particularly thrilled with our game in Arizona. We obviously got off to a tremendous start, but I thought as the game wore on, we got away from our game a little bit; we opened things up and really from the second period on, they had better chances than we did in that game. For me, it's much more about us regrouping and getting back to our game as far as how we attack, how we play with the puck and sort of the purpose with how we play without the puck as well."
- - -
Jake Allen, who will get the start tonight, is 3-0-0 with a 0.43 goals-against average and .984 save percentage in his past three starts against the Avalanche. Since Yeo took over on Feb. 1, Allen has the NHL's best road GAA (1.31) and save percentage (.958) for those with a minimum of five road starts and is second in even-strength save percentage (.946). A win tonight will tie Allen for fifth with Greg Millen (85) for most regular season wins in franchise history. His next shutout will tie him for second in franchise history with Glenn Hall (16).
The Blues are 2-0-0 against the Avalanche this season, outscoring Colorado 8-1.
Blues right wing David Perron is in the lineup after missing Monday's practice with a maintenance day. Perron skated Tuesday morning.
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup
Scratches include Nail Yakupov and Jordan Schmaltz. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season and Jori Lehtera (upper body) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are day to day. Jaskin skated for a second day Tuesday.
- - -
The Avalanche's projected lineup:
Sven Andrighetto-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog-Matt Duchene-Matt Nieto
Mikhail Grigorenko-J.T. Compher-Rene Bourque
John Mitchell-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau
Mark Barberio-Erik Johnson
Fedor Tyutin-Tyson Barrie
Francois Beauchemin-Anton Lindholm
Calvin Pickard will get the start in goal; Jeremy Smith will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joe Colborne, Cody Goloubef and Patrick Wiercioch. Semyon Varlamov (hip) and Nikita Zadorov (ankle) are out for the season.