Avalanche loses to St. Louis Blues, drops first game of season at Ball Arena – The Denver Post

Opening its 25th-anniversary season at home with a new uniform ensemble didn’t go well for the Avalanche on Wednesday.

Those Stanley Cup expectations might have gone to Colorado’s collective heads.

“We just got outworked,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said.

The St. Louis Blues, those proud 2019 Stanley Cup champions, dominated the first period and scored twice in the third to skate away with a  relatively easy 4-1 victory at Ball Arena.

“We just didn’t have enough guys compete tonight,” Bednar said. “Right from the start, not ready to go. Lazy habits, hoping it was going to be easier than what it was. It showed.”

The Avs struggled at both ends of the ice, and goalie Philipp Grubauer — who missed the first three days of training camp because of COVID protocol — was not on his game in with his catching glove, where he was beaten twice.

The Blues, leading 2-1 early in the third period, saw fourth-line grinder Kyle Clifford beat Grubauer with a wrist shot before the goalie raised his glove, and Colorado’s attempted comeback turned into panic mode. St. Louis’ third goal was just the 62nd of Clifford’s penalty-filled 677-game NHL career, and Clifford finished with a team-low 8:10 of ice time.

Eight minutes after Clifford struck, Oskar Sundqvist added his second of the night and the rout was on.

Avs superstar center Nathan MacKinnon, meanwhile, was held pointless and his line did not score at even-strength.

“The first period, we didn’t have our legs,” said Mikko Rantanen, who is MacKinnon’s right winger and produced a team-high five shots. “We were not good enough in the battles, just losing too many battles and giving up too many chances and too much D-zone time for us. After that we found our legs, creating some chances, but still some sloppiness in the second and third periods.”

With only family members of Avalanche players in attendance, the team honored former general manager Pierre Lacroix, who died Dec. 13 of COVID-related issues, with a video tribute and moment of silence. And then he Avalanche scored first but otherwise had a poor first period.

St. Louis produced 18 of the 23 shots in the frame and got goals from Sundqvist at 9:29 and Jordan Kyrou at 13:15 to take the lead it would never relinquish.

The Avs, however, came out a different team in the second period, producing 15 of the first 18 shots and getting plenty of quality chances on St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington. But no pucks got behind the goalie, despite two Avalanche power plays, and it stood 2-1 entering the third.

But the Avs couldn’t get much going offensively in the final frame and were outshot 9-7.

Winger Andre Burakovsky got the game’s first goal on the Avs’ second power play, capping a broken play with a big slap shot from the right circle 4:55 into the game. J.T. Compher got the primary assist, but his intended one-touch pass to Nazem Kadri went through Kadri’s legs and slid to the right circle where Burakovsky slammed it in.

That summed up Colorado’s night. The only goal it could muster came on a broken play.

Bednar feared his team would play like it did.

“Everyone asked me what the key to the game was going to be … the biggest key I said was, ‘Are we ready to compete — compete against a live opponent, someone wearing a different jersey?’” he said. “As hard as you compete in camp, and as much I liked our camp, it’s a completely different level when you’re playing against another team.

He added: “Just got outworked all over the ice … (The Blues) deserve to win the game, no question. Hopefully, that’s a big wake-up call for our team.”

This was the first of eight games against the Blues, as all eight West Division opponents play each other eight times in the 56-game regular season. Game 2 against St. Louis is Friday when the teams complete a two-game series in Denver.

Tempers are bound to flair as the Avs and Blues already have a rivalry. Before COVID suspended play in March last season, the Avalanche stood second in the Central Division and the Western Conference with 92 points — two behind the Blues, who had played one additional game than the Avs.