For the second time in four outings, St. Louis netminder Jake Allen found himself hitting the showers early, and if there wasn’t already some concern about the struggles Allen has faced this season, his first as the starter for the Blues, there is now.
Some nights, a goaltender getting yanked out of action can simply be the result of a coach waving a white flag and trying to save their netminder from getting shelled when the team as a whole is having a nightmarish outing, but Allen didn’t do himself any favors Tuesday against the Bruins.
The first goal against came on a great shot by Frank Vatrano, and there’s not much to complain about there, but the second was the result of a bizarre bounce off the end boards Allen should have never slip by him and the third an off-wing shot from Brad Marchand that Allen likely wants back. By the time the second frame began, Allen’s night was over, and post-game Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was awfully honest in his assessment of Allen’s play of late.
“He’s not stopping the puck,” Hitchcock said. “He’s having a tough go of it. We can just jump all over him or we can rally around him...Thank God (backup goaltender Carter Hutton) is playing hard or we’d be in really tough shape. (Allen’s) having a really tough go, and I don’t think anybody anticipated this — him or us — but it is what it is and we’ve got to deal with it.”
Allen’s “tough go” hasn’t been contained to just one or two nights recently, either. Though he sits 10th in the league with 17 wins, Allen has allowed three or more goals against in nearly half of his starts this season, has one of the league’s worst save percentages for any starting netminder at .902 and his numbers at 5-on-5 aren’t much to write home about. Of the 39 goaltenders to play at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5, Allen ranks 33rd with a .912 SP.
Few would suggest that this type of play is indicative of where Allen will be for the rest of his career or go ahead and say the Blues are going to regret the four-year, $17.4-million deal Allen was handed the off-season. The evidence from his first two campaigns, where he was a .920 SP goaltender at 5-on-5 in 2014-15 and improved to a .929 SP in 2015-16, suggest he’ll actually be a far more serviceable starter than his current numbers have shown. Right now, though, times are tough.
“He’s deep in goal for whatever reason and there’s just too much to look at,” Hitchcock said. “Probably some of it is confidence, dealing with adversity, the first time things haven’t gone smoothly in his career, and he’s going to have to battle like the rest of us.”
Hitchcock added that he believed the team as a whole could help Allen out more, that there wasn’t enough commitment to defense during the games in which Allen has had some of his greatest struggles. But the truth is the Blues are, as they have often been under Hitchcock, one of the best possession teams in the league and a shot-suppressing monster.
St. Louis’ possession rate currently sits as the ninth-best in the league at 51.5 percent. That puts them in the same conversation as the Predators and Oilers, and ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins and Western Conference title holder Sharks, if only by the narrowest of margins. When it comes to making life easy on the goaltender, few teams hold a candle to St. Louis, who rank fourth in allowing a mere 26.6 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. On an all-strengths basis, only four teams — the Kings, Bruins, Sharks and Hurricanes — allow fewer shots against per game.
And even if one were to try to make the scoring chance argument, that’s hard to do. According to Corsica, the Blues rank fourth in smothering scoring chances, allowing a mere 6.9 quality opportunities per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play and just 8.1 against per 60 minutes of play at all strengths.
Given the Blues' play, it’s hard to see Allen's performance as anything other than disappointing. It’s not even beyond reason that his struggles have gotten to the point where St. Louis could consider making a stop-gap acquisition if he can’t right the ship before the trade deadline rolls around.
Some might scoff at the idea with how the Ryan Miller acquisition in 2014 ended up for the Blues and GM Doug Armstrong. Picked up in a blockbuster deadline deal, Miller vastly underperformed en route to St. Louis exiting the post-season in the first round. It was far from an ideal ending to a trade that looked to have the potential to boost the Blues into the winner’s circle. And using that as his most recent reference for a deadline goaltending acquisition, Armstrong would be right to have second thoughts about acquiring a netminder, especially if the price is steep.
But the fact of the matter is the Blues are in a win-now environment. Hitchcock is on his way out, top defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk could leave in the off-season and there are a few aging members in the core group. The hope was to build on the run to the Western Conference final this past season, not take another step back. With that in mind, maybe it wouldn’t be so shocking to see the Blues, at the very least, take a run at a goaltender who can push Allen to find his game before it’s too late.
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