Avalanche-Blues Preview

It's difficult to consider any homestand featuring losses to Toronto and Philadelphia a success, but St. Louis can at least break even if it wraps things up on a positive note.

The Blues conclude a five-game stay Sunday night against the Colorado Avalanche, one night after taking care of business in the homestand's most important contest.

St. Louis (17-9-4) had no trouble with NHL-leading Dallas on Saturday, winning 3-0 to hand hockey's top-scoring team its first shutout. More importantly, the Blues gained a few points on a club that had been running away with the difficult Central Division. The gap still stands at eight, but that's partly St. Louis' fault with a 2-3-1 record this month.

Part of the defensive success versus the high-powered Stars hinged on a 4-for-4 effort on the penalty kill that improved the Blues to 17 of 17 over a seven-game span.

That run is in little danger against a Colorado power play that's 1 for 18 in its last seven games, but the Avalanche have balanced that with an 18-for-19 mark on the PK in the same span, including 16 for 16 in six games this month.

The Blues, meanwhile, have received power-play goals from David Backes in the last two games. The center got the scoring going two minutes in against Dallas and added an assist. He's scored in three straight and can match a career-best four-game run in December 2008.

"It's one of the better efforts we've had as a group and when you've got the team with the best record in the league, you know you're going to need it," Backes said.

The Blues have won seven of nine in the series over the last two seasons, including the last three in St. Louis while limiting the Avalanche to three goals.

Colorado (12-16-1) is also coming off a win within the division, topping Nashville 3-2 to open a three-game trip against the Predators, Blues and Chicago in a four-day span. The Avalanche have won four of six despite scoring 11 goals.

"We've got a lot of character on that team," Francois Beauchemin told the team's official website after notching a goal and an assist. "We lost some big games early, but we know the situation we're in and who we're playing against in the next few games. Those are games we'll have to win if we want to keep getting in the race."

Semyon Varlamov remained hot with 34 saves, giving him a 1.48 goals-against average and .952 save percentage over a 3-1-0 span.

"(Varlamov) was really good," coach Patrick Roy said. "He made some really good saves, especially in those (penalty kills) as well, but overall, yes he was very solid. I like to say that our guys played well in front of him. Our (defensemen) were sharp with the breakout. I thought we did a good job."

He's 6-6-2 with a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage in his career against the Blues, and he has two shutouts in his last five games in the series.

Should Colorado rest him in the second of back-to-back games, Reto Berra will try to improve on a 1-5-0 slide during which he's posted a 3.84 GAA and .872 save percentage.

St. Louis' Jake Allen beat the Stars and has allowed a goal on 49 shots in consecutive wins, but he's 1-1-0 with a 3.88 GAA and .882 save percentage in three versus Colorado.

Blues No. 2 Brian Elliott hasn't won since Oct. 18, going 0-3-2 with a 2.76 GAA and .901 save percentage in eight games.