The St. Louis Blues appear set to run with a two-goaltender system again next season. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen both put up solid campaigns, and Blues GM Doug Armstrong said he’s willing to let his two netminders battle it out for the starting job in 2016-17.
In past seasons, one of the St. Louis Blues biggest hurdles was finding a goaltender — or goaltenders — who could steal some games. Since coach Ken Hitchcock came to St. Louis in 2011, the Blues have seen eight different goaltenders take the net, including Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller and a brief turn by legend Martin Brodeur.
But in the same season Hitchcock came aboard, Brian Elliott was entering his time with the Blues and Jake Allen saw his first call up to the big league. Over the past five seasons, both have fought their way up the depth chart and this past season the tandem paced the Blues to the second-best 5-on-5 goals against in the NHL and the fourth-best overall goals against. And at 5-on-5, both Elliott and Allen had save percentages in the top 25 of the 49 goaltenders to play at least 1,000 minutes. Elliott’s .938 mark was even good enough to put him fourth in the league.
After such an impressive season, there was the belief one goaltender could take over as the full-time Blues starter next season, but it appears St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong is confident in the way his netminding duo has operated and sees it as a real possibility that the Blues could continue with their 1A-1B system next season.
“I thought when I looked at it at the end of the season, we were very fortunate to have two goaltenders that were there to grab the ball when it hit the floor,” Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tom Timmermann. “We had those significant injuries to both guys, and both guys took the challenge and then ran with it and then didn’t let the other guy back in the net until an injury.”
Armstrong couldn’t be more right. In a season where the Blues were decimated by injuries — the only time all season they had a full roster was the opening game of the post-season — their goaltenders were no exception. Elliott, 31, was forced to miss 10 games this past season with a lower-body injury and Allen, 25, was sidelined for 20 games with lower-body ailments of his own. When either netminder went down, though, the other was there to pick up the slack.
The trouble started in January, when midway through a game against the Anaheim Ducks, Allen went down. Elliott stepped in and stopped 25 of 27 shots, and over the next 17 games, he posted an 11-3-2 record, one shutout and a league-best .948 SP and 1.62 goals-against average of the 30 goaltenders to play at least 10 games during that stretch.
As soon as Allen was healthy, it was Elliott who went down with injury, because that’s exactly how the Blues’ season went. Allen came in, stopped 15 of 17 shots in a loss and proceeded to drop his next two games, but he followed that up by rattling off six straight victories.
Upon Elliott’s return, he took the crease back, and posted three consecutive shutouts before finishing the season strong and taking the reins in the post-season. In the playoffs, Elliott was sound with a .921 SP and 2.44 GAA, but the Blues run would end at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final.
It’s not as if keeping the duo is exactly a financial strain, either. Per CapFriendly, Elliott is the 29th highest-paid goaltender at $2.5 million per season and Allen is 30th at $2.35 million. The combined $4.85 million cap hit ranks below that of 17 individual starting goaltenders, two of which, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, are arguably no longer the starters on their current clubs.
Elliott told Timmermann that the hope is his playoff performance was enough to win him the starting job next season, but Elliott added he’s prepared to continue to make his case — and push Allen — for the starting job. Allen added the Blues are simply fortunate to have two goaltenders who can be relied upon so heavily. And just because Elliott was the better goaltender this season doesn’t mean Armstrong thinks Allen can’t win the net back.
“I think Jake is still pushing towards being an upper-echelon goalie,” Armstrong told Timmermann. “He lost the net this year, Brian took it, Brian didn’t give it up. Kudos to Brian for that. I know what’s happening now Jake is preparing to wrestle it back in September, and we’re going to see how it goes down. But I would have zero issue if both of these guys came back and were asked to compete and fight.”