NHL on NBCSN: Avs challenge Blues after narrow losses to St. Louis

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Colorado Avalanche host the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It’s not often a key player returning from an injury represents a potential downgrade, but that’s the situation the Colorado Avalanche might be facing. After all, rookie Calvin Pickard has been one of the league’s top goaltenders this season with a 2.06 GAA and .939 save percentage and he’s been particularly hot lately. However, Semyon Varlamov will get his old job back tonight, the team announced. Varlamov has not played since Dec. 5 with a groin injury.

“It’s not easy,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy admitted, per the Denver Post.

“But let’s not forget what Varly did for us last year. Varly played so well for us. He was the reason why we won our division.”

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That’s fair, but it’s also true that Varlamov hasn’t been nearly as effective this season, so while he still clearly has his coach’s backing, Varlamov will have something to prove when he faces the St. Louis Blues. After all, the Blues are both one of the best teams in the league and a key Central Division rival.

A strong showing from Varlamov tonight would go a long way towards easing the handing off of the baton, but if Varlamov struggles and the Avalanche consequently miss out on key points at a time when they’re trying to climb out of the Central Division basement, then that will only add fuel to the goaltending debate.

Not that having a hot goalie challenge the status quo is a bad thing from the team’s perspective. The St. Louis Blues can only hope that they have that problem by the time Brian Elliott is ready to return from his knee injury.

They set themselves up for a possible goaltending controversy when they signed future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur to help fill the void during Elliott’s absence and possibly even push 24-year-old backup Jake Allen out of the short-term picture once Elliott returns. Allen has responded decently to the challenge though by holding the competition to just 10 goals over his last four contests.

During that stretch, Allen stopped 23 of 25 shots in a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche to give St. Louis a 2-0-0 record in the season series. Although nothing is set in stone, it looks like Allen will get a chance to beat Colorado again tonight, per St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jeremy Rutherford.

The Blues certainly aren’t in as tough of a position as Colorado as far as the standings go, but there isn’t a lot of breathing room for any team in the battle for Western Conference playoff spots. On top of that St. Louis fell short in its last two contests, so losing again tonight would mean entering the holiday break on a particularly sour note.