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At the beginning of the season, the Blues’ goaltending was anything but an issue. The goaltenders were Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, and that wasn’t expected to change in the shortened season. But it did, and it leaves the Blues with a lot to consider this offseason.
Halak and Elliott were coming off a 2011-12 campaign in which the duo was awarded the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed in the National Hockey League. Halak was expected to be the Blues’ No. 1 goaltender when training camp ended. He got off to a good start with two shutouts in his first four starts. But he wasn’t quite as sound in net as it would appear. The Blues were winning, which masked the problems in net, but there were certainly some noticeable problems with both Halak and Elliott.
When Halak went down with a groin injury on February 1, the Blues didn’t know how long he would be sidelined. They handed the ball to Elliott and called up rookie Jake Allen as backup. The Blues’ hand was forced when Brian Elliott dropped five straight games, and Allen became the Blues’ go-to guy.
Allen won eight of his first 12 games in net, which included a stretch where Allen had five consecutive wins. Without a doubt, Allen turned the Blues’ season around and got them going in the right direction. He also showed the Blues’ brass that he deserves strong consideration for the team’s National Hockey League roster come training camp. Allen finished the season with a 9-4-0 record, including a 2.46 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.
“He’s certainly proven that, based on his work this year, that he is at the point now where I don’t think going back to the American Hockey League (is beneficial),” said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. “I don’t think he needs more seasoning. He’s proven to me that he deserves an opportunity to play in the NHL.”
The Blues’ season was a lot like the club’s goaltending; it had a lot of ups and downs. Now, the Blues must weigh their options, but it makes for a hard decision when training camp rolls around. It’s not beneficial for a team to carry three goaltenders on their roster, but how the team addresses this issue remains to be seen.
“Anything could happen,” admitted Armstrong. “It was a difficult year for both Jaro (Halak) and Brian (Elliott) and I think Jake (Allen) took great advantage of it. He’s proven to us now that he has to go into the equation. Brian got off to a slow start, resurrected himself and had a great finish. Jaro, unfortunately, had injuries. We were giving him the ball and then he got injured again.”
“It’s a cloudy issue right now to be honest because of how the season progressed. It’s a positive cloudy in one sense as Jake has given us something we have to look at.”
The situation became even more interesting on Sunday when the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran a story citing sources that claimed a “heated disagreement” had broken out between Halak and head coach Ken Hitchcock before Game 4 of the quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings. Halak, who was upset with the lack of playing time he had been given at the conclusion of the regular season, and in the playoffs, was reportedly late to a team meeting before Game 4. That is when he and Hitchcock engaged in the argument. Hitchcock simply shrugged off the encounter when asked about it on Sunday, but did admit he wasn’t sure how the goaltending situation will be handled.
“The stuff with Jaro that is an everyday occurrence like arguments and discussions that go on with players and playing time and all that stuff that was discussed in the media today, that’s the ongoing stuff,” he said. “If he wasn’t pissed and disappointed I’d be surprised. To me, if you are under contract, get ready to play.”
“We are in a tough position for three goalies but in a great position organizationally-wise. We’ve got three great goalies. I’m not sure what we do honestly from a play standpoint. All I know is if you are under contract, I’m assuming you are coming back and will be ready to go.”
The situation is guaranteed to be discussed some more among Armstrong and his colleagues. How it plays out remains to be seen. Halak was rumored to be on the trading block earlier in the season, but there was nothing confirmed. Expect Halak’s name to appear in more than a few trade rumors this summer as the Blues look to sort out their goaltending situation. If the situation isn’t addressed in the offseason, the logjam will make for an interesting training camp.