DENVER — More than three months later than usual, hockey season began Wednesday night for the St. Louis Blues in the shadow of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. So late in fact, that the 2020 part of “2020-21” season can be scrapped.
Unlike last season, no banners were unfurled to honor a Blues’ Stanley Cup championship. There was no pomp and circumstance, not even any cardboard cutouts in a fan-free Ball Arena. That’s right, the home of Stan Kroenke’s Avalanche is no longer called Pepsi Center. Naming rights for the venue now belong to an aluminum packaging company. Pretty sexy, eh?
Be that as it may, the Blues began the new season on the right skate, defeating the Avalanche 4-1.
It snapped a three-game losing streak to the Colorado hockey team, the odds-on favorite to win the newly constituted West Division.
Things couldn’t have started worse for the Blues. The team was barely on the ice for the pregame skate when the team announced that Mike Hoffman was ineligible to play because of work visa issues. Yes, that Mike Hoffman, the sharp-shooting forward from Kitchener, Ontario.
Wait, it gets worse. If coach Craig Berube said once in recent days that the Blues had to stay out of the penalty box against the potent Avalanche. ... Well, he said it several times.
Apparently, Marco Scandella and Sammy Blais didn’t get the memo. Just 61 seconds into the game, Scandella went off for hooking. The Blues killed that penalty with ease — the Avalanche had only one shot on goal. But just 1 minute, 42 seconds after that penalty, the Blues were shorthanded once more.
Blais, who was activated in Hoffman’s absence, was sent off for elbowing Devon Toews at the 4:43 mark of the period. This time, Colorado wasted little time getting on the board. Just 12 seconds after Blais went off, Andre Burakovksy beat Jordan Binnington from the right circle for a 1-0 Avs lead.
Just 45 seconds after the goal, Matt Calvert hit the post for Colorado. The Blues were scrambling.
But not for long. A sharp lead pass from Robert Thomas sprung Jaden Schwartz down the ice. Schwartz skated in close to Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer, then dished to Oskar Sundqvist on his right. Sundqvist sent his shot over Grubauer’s blocker before crashing into the end boards. It was a 1-1 game midway through the period.