By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A Central Division showdown is set for a snowy Monday when the top two teams will collide.
The Blues (20-8-6, 46 points) host the Colorado Avalanche (21-8-3) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) in a matchup of not only the top teams in the division but also the top teams in the Western Conference.
The Blues, who are coming off an improbable 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks when they overcame a 3-0 third-period deficit to win for the first time in franchise history in regulation and second time ever, already own one win over Colorado, 3-1 on Oct. 21 here at Enterprise Center.
St. Louis has defeated Colorado five straight times dating to the final game of the 2017-18 regular season.
"There's a tendency for our group when we play against those high-level teams, we seem to just show up and be more consistent with it," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We know it's going to be a hard game and I think we're a little more prepared for it. ... I think we all to a man know we have to be on tonight or these guys will make us pay."
The Blues will have to play a tight-checking game, play more defensive-oriented and shut down Colorado's high-powered offense led by Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche come in riding a nine-game point streak (8-0-1), but when they came to St. Louis earlier this season, they were 7-0-1.
"I don't have an answer. I think we do a good job checking against these guys," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We know how skilled they are, their top guys. I think our guys get dialed in and do a good job without the puck for sure and checking, because you have to.
"It's important that we hang onto the puck tonight in the offensive zone and keep it, force them to play 200 feet, force them to play defense, frustrate them. That's how we've had success against them. We have to do the same. They're a very good team. Four lines deep in my opinion."
The Blues know they'll have to be defensive-minded, know they'll have to pick their chances to attack, but keeping the Avalanche and their goal-scoring prowess to a minimum will be key.
"They've got a lot of skill and a lot of speed," Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist said. "Obviously they've got some really good lines that we need to keep an eye on, but for us, it's more playing our game, finding our game and doing that for 60 minutes.
"Playing simple, playing our game, get the pucks deep and don't turn it over at the blue line. If you're turning it over tonight, it's going to be a long night. So you just have to get the pucks in and go to work. We know we're strong down low. That's what we need to do. It feel like we've been playing one of our better games every time we play against these guys. I think especially our D has been playing unreal against Colorado. We just need to keep doing the same thing tonight. They're going to get their chances. They're a really skilled team. We need to make sure we're playing tight in the defensive zone and attack as a five-man unit."
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Blues forward Ivan Barbashev joins the crowd among the injured and will miss tonight's game with an upper-body injury.
Barbashev missed the third period of Saturday's win against the Blackhawks after being checked in the offensive zone by Chicago's Dennis Gilbert. His head smacked the back glass and presumably, he could be in concussion protocol, but Berube said he is day-to-day.
"He's day-to-day right now. That's where it's at right now," Berube said.
Zach Sanford, who's missed the past three games, including the first two because of his own concussion protocol, will jump into his role with O'Reilly and David Perron.
"I feel good. We took care of everything, checked all the boxes and I'm ready to go tonight," Sanford said. "I think everybody knows how big tonight is. It's the middle of the season, but we're battling right there with them for the top of the West and they're a really god team and have been playing really well. We're going to have to bring our best and it should be a fun game. If we can just frustrate them on their chances, we're going to get our own and we'll be able to take advantage of those.
"We've had a lot of stuff like that happen this year, especially like you said where one guy's coming out and the other guy's coming back in. I think that just shows the depth of our team. The next guy who's coming in is always showing up doing his job. I'll have to stick to that plan, show up tonight and do my job."
In his past 11 games, Sanford had seven points (two goals, five assists) and was a plus-4.
"He was way more aggressive with and without the puck," Berube said. "I felt he was getting on the forecheck more and being physical and winning those puck battles. He's got good hands and good skill. I just thought he was doing that kind of stuff more than anything, managing the puck a lot better. Getting it in deep, making the right plays with the puck. He's got all those tools and he's big. He's a smart player. He's got to will himself a little bit more, and when that's what he's doing, he's getting results."
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The Blues used Justin Faulk and Alex Pietrangelo in the third period of Saturday's win and will go back to that pairing to at least start tonight.
It also means the Colton Parayko-Jay Bouwmeester shutdown pairing will be back together to go against Colorado's top dogs.
"They've been a very good pair for a long time, but with the addition of Faulk, we've got to move guys around, and depending with [Carl] Gunnarsson, [Robert] Bortuzzo, lefty-right combos and things like that," Berube said. "The other night, third period, Petro and Faulk played together and were part of three goals for us. We'll see how it goes. We don't like it any more than they do, mixing and matching all the time, but it's just what it is. So we've got to make it work."
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O'Reilly took time away from the game Friday to do a rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' for the kids on Friday after an autograph signing at Fan Cave Sports in Chesterfield.
O'Reilly, who signed and posed for pictures with a few hundred fans, then read to the kids in a packed room surrounded by none other than Santa Claus.
And how did he do?
"Ooh, I'd say B-plus," O'Reilly said. "I jumbled a few words, but the crowd was pretty energetic. It was packed with kids. They had a blast. It was kind of fun to feed off of them.
"I read it to my little guy a couple nights before just to kind of make sure. It's a little tough, but I got through it. ... It's easier to answer questions than it is to read. I'm not too good at it, but I just had to pace myself a little bit."
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MacKinnon, who is third in the NHL with 50 points in 32 games, fifth in assists (30) and tied for fourth in goals (20), has high praise for the Blues and knows Colorado's recent futility against them.
"Not that fun, no," MacKinnon said. "These guys are such a good team and they're so hard to play against. There's a reason why they're the defending champions and they have a good chance of winning again. They're a deep team. Their top four d-men are the toughest to play against, I think. This game is for first in our division and the West so it's going to be a big one for the both of us.
"They're so big down low and they cycle the puck real well, they create a lot of o-zone time for themselves. Just got to try to keep them to the outside. They've got big bodies and good d-men. We've got to play our game at the end of the day and hopefully that's good enough to beat them."
Colorado, which leads the NHL in goals per game at 3.66, is used to the high-flying style and imposing their speed and skill on the opposition. But the Avalanche know that playing a grind game against the Blues is in the cards.
"I think I'm pretty versatile. I can play a grind type of game," MacKinnon said. "I think the key is just to stay patient. You're not going to get a ton of chances tonight. Just got to be ready when you get one or two and just try not to get frustrated against these guys, they're so good and try to win a 1-0 game tonight.
"That's the biggest challenge is to stay patient. You expect to not to dominate, but you expect to have a big influence on the game and some nights you don't have it against good teams like this. When I get my chances, I know I'll get a few tonight, I've got to be ready for them.
"When you get a guy like Parayko, who's 6-6 and can skate like the wind, I don't know if there's anybody else like him in the league. He's a horse and I played with him at World Championships as well. He's always such a nice guy and great player, and Bouwmeester with Pietrangelo, Faulk, [Vince] Dunn, all those guys can move and are tough to play against."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Alexander Steen-Robert Thomas-Tyler Bozak
Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Oskar Sundqvist
Justin Faulk-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Troy Brouwer and Niko Mikkola. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Sammy Blais (wrist), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Ivan Barbashev (upper body) are out.
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The Avalanche's projected lineup:
Andre Burakovsky-Nathan MacKinnon-Joonas Donskoi
Gabriel Landeskog-Nazem Kadri-Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Calvert
Matt Nieto-Tyson Jost-J.T. Compher
Nikita Zadorov-Samuel Girard
Ryan Graves-Ian Cole
Calle Rosen-Mark Barberio
Philipp Grubauer will start in goal; Pavel Francouz will be the backup.
The healthy scratches are Vladislav Kamenev and Anton Lindholm. Erik Johnson (lower body), Cale Makar (upper body) and Colin Wilson (lower body) are out.