Blues contain MacKinnon, Avalanche in season-opener

Entering the 2020-21 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche stood as Stanley Cup favorites. The West Division lingers as a real challenge, though, and the 2019 champs reminded us why. The Blues put on a clinic in containing Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche as the two teams opened their seasons with St. Louis winning 4-1.

Blues look sharp against MacKinnon, Avalanche

It’s not as if MacKinnon and the Avalanche were sleepwalking against the Blues. MacKinnon showed his speed during stretches, as he’s likely to manage most nights. MacKinnon fired three shots on goal, and made plays including a beauty setup to Mikko Rantanen, but ended up pointless.

Even with Alex Pietrangelo out of town, the Blues rank as one of the few teams that can slow MacKinnon and the Avalanche down — at least on paper. It’s one thing to have that potential, but to actually contain star power that Colorado has? St. Louis should feel proud about the relatively light night they afforded Jordan Binnington.

The Avalanche scored first when Andre Burakovsky connected on the power play, but that was it.

From there, the Blues smothered their once-Central-now-West Division rivals.

Subdued debuts from new Avalanche and Blues

Both the Avalanche and Blues made significant changes during the offseason. For at least one night, the heroes mostly didn’t come from those we expected.

(Though it’s probably safe to assume that players like Ryan O'Reilly and Colton Parayko factored heavily into the Blues playing such a sound defensive game.)

Really, the most important thing is what didn’t seem to happen to a new face.

Early in the first period, the Avalanche got a scare. Devon Toews missed some time after a questionable hit by Sammy Blais, but Toews managed to return.

At the moment, it seems like Toews is OK. (Sometimes a potential head injury is only truly discovered with time, and without as much adrenaline pumping.)

Torey Krug experienced a fairly quiet Blues debut, although he did log 22:07 of ice time. Brandon Saad probably experienced the roughest introduction of any Blues or Avalanche player, slogging through a zero point, -4 rating night.

Instead of bigger names, Kyle Clifford was the newbie who found the net, scoring a goal off of an Avalanche miscue.

Depth made a difference for St. Louis

Ultimately, it was about mainstays more than new faces. Generally speaking, depth players gave the Blues the edge, at least on the scoreboard.

Oskar Lundqvist enjoyed the biggest night, scoring two goals for the Blues. Along with Sundqvist, Robert Thomas collected two assists in this victory.

(Granted, the evidence is mounting that Thomas, in particular, could become an increasingly important player for St. Louis. We may even get to the point where it’s not so tempting to make cheesy Matchbox Twenty jokes.)

One game will only tell you so much, especially during a shortened 56-contest campaign. Still, nights like these strengthen the argument that the West Division could be really tough. At least at the top.

Teams like the Blues figure to make it tough for the Avalanche to live up to expectations.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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