Thursday, March 14, 2013

Blues continue to find ways to win with Allen in net

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: March 14, 2013| Contact  |

In another stellar effort on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks, Jake Allen once again played well enough for the Blues to sneak by with a win. The Blues nearly allowed the Sharks to come back late in Tuesday’s game, but Allen remained calm and composed in net and the Blues rewarded him. It’s not surprising, as Allen is now 6-1 this year with the Blues, and the team continues to support him when he is in net.

 “He’s been doing well,” said Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. “He is a good puck handler and he helps out the defensemen. I think our overall game is just getting better and we are finally helping out the goalies as well.”

It’s evident that the Blues play better with Allen in net, but why? Perhaps Allen’s composure is contagious. When Allen is between the pipes, the Blues play with a more togetherness. They stick to the system that has always worked brilliantly for them, and they simply find ways to win.

When the Blues decided to call up Allen for the third time this season, it was a situation unlike the previous. Both Jaroslav Halak and Elliott were shaky in net and the Blues needed some stability. Allen getting playing time with Halak and Elliott watching from the bench sends a message to the entire team, a message that results are expected from the Blues and that anyone is expendable. No one would have guessed that with both Halak and Elliott healthy Allen would be the go-to guy. However, that is the situation and it is working for the Blues.
Allen is now 6-1-0 this season, yet, his statistics look average. He has a .903 save percentage and a 2.63 goals against average. What sets him apart from the other two goaltenders this season is his ability to make saves at key points in a game. There have been few soft goals allowed by Allen in his six starts. Sometimes the simple stops are the ones that turn the tide of the game, but Allen’s ability to make key stops makes him extremely valuable because it sparks the Blues when nothing is going their way.

“He keeps it simple,” said Jackman. “He isn’t making any flashy saves and we are trying to keep the shots to the outside. Even when they get through Jake (Allen) is making the saves and covering up the rebounds.”

The Blues typically do a good job of giving Allen offensive support. The team has scored four or more goals in all of Allen’s starts, excluding his one loss against the San Jose Sharks. It’s hard to explain the difference, but there is certainly a different Blues’ team on the ice when Allen is in net.

During the lockout, Allen was playing with Peoria while Halak and Elliott were, at best, practicing with teammates. Allen was also being watched by Blues’ brass on a more consistent basis. When the season started, Halak and Elliott had to become reacclimated to playing consistent goaltending, something they still are struggling with. Allen’s offseason was really no different than normal and he has 35 starts under his belt in Peoria this season. Allen certainly has shown that he is a step ahead of the Blues’ two main goaltenders, and if his consistency continues, there is no reason to expect he will be back in Peoria anytime soon.

Allen’s National Hockey League (NHL)-readiness was in question when he received his first call up, and the critics had a case.  Allen had hardly been consistent in Peoria, so obviously there were reservations towards giving him a legitimate shot at the NHL level. Not to mention, the Blues currently have $5.55 million devoted to Halak and Elliott per year for the next two seasons. However, this didn’t stop general manager Doug Armstrong from making the call to Peoria after Tuesday’s heartbreaking loss. It also didn’t stop head coach Ken Hitchcock from starting Allen over both Halak and Elliott. Of course, in a shortened season, there are a couple of other teams that are using a third goalie. Perhaps the shortened season was a blessing in disguise for Allen.