One of the St. Louis Blues’ biggest downfalls in the past three post-seasons has been their goaltending. The Blues have had deep rosters, top-flight scoring and all the potential of a Stanley Cup contender, but their goaltending has failed them time and time again.
In the 2014-15 post-season, in a first round series against wild-card entrant Minnesota Wild, St. Louis was downed in six games in a shocking upset. Sure, the Wild were one of the hottest teams in the league, but the Blues were the top seed in the extremely tough Central Division. Some Blues fans considered a lack of goal scoring in the series what sent St. Louis packing in the opening round, but a combined .875 save percentage for goaltenders Jake Allen and Brian Elliott didn’t help matters.
It wasn’t much different in years prior, either. In 2013-14, the Blues went out and acquired Ryan Miller at the trade line. Miller proceeded to post a .897 SP as St. Louis was eliminated in six games. Elliott’s 2012-13 SP in the post-season was .919, which was 10th-best of the 13 netminders to play at least six games in the playoffs.
But Allen's play has improved big time in 2015-16, and things could change in the post-season for St. Louis if he keeps this up.
Through 10 games, Allen has himself among the league’s leaders for goaltenders, is playing the best hockey of his professional career and looks like every bit the goaltender the Blues were after when they drafted him 34th overall in the 2008 draft. St. Louis has long been looking for a permanent solution between the pipes, and if Allen’s play thus far in 2015-16 is any indication, St. Louis may have found their man.
His 7-3-0 record isn’t a revelation, but his other statistical numbers are worth high priase. Three of Allen’s wins have come via shutout, he has posted a 1.53 goals-against average and has a .950 SP at all strengths. League-wide, his GAA ranks second with only Colorado’s Reto Berra ahead of him. Same goes for SP, where Berra is a mere .002 ahead of Allen.
Allen’s numbers at 5-on-5, though, are even more impressive. Of the 30 netminders who have played at least 350 minutes at 5-on-5, only one has a better SP than Allen — New York Rangers superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Allen has posted an outstanding .958 SP, which put him just .003 back of ‘King Henrik.’ Roberto Luongo, Petr Mrazek, Pekka Rinne and Marc-Andre Fleury are among the goaltenders situated behind Allen when it comes to puck-stopping at 5-on-5.
Since the season began, only nine pucks have gotten by Allen when the Blues are playing five-a-side, which is the best mark of any goaltender to play roughly as much as Allen. And that’s not hard to believe when you consider the run the St. Louis starter has been on over his past seven games.
In his past seven outings — of which Allen has started six — he has won all but one contest. Of the 170 shots he has faced, only seven have gotten by him and he hasn’t been beaten in 166 consecutive minutes while making 96 straight saves. And that two and a half game shutout streak came at a huge moment for the Blues.
Allen’s current run of play began Nov. 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks. After Elliott had an awful outing and allowed four goals on 15 shots before being pulled from the game, Allen came into the game. Almost immediately, Allen surrendered a power play goal, but he settled in and over the next two-plus periods, Allen stopped every shot he faced. St. Louis was trailing 5-2 when Allen entered the game. The Blues won 6-5 in overtime.
For the Blues, the 2015-16 campaign is a huge one. After three straight first-round post-season exits, this is the last real chance this Blues roster has at making strides in the playoffs before it almost surely gets broken up. Already longtime Blue T.J. Oshie is gone — he was traded to the Washington Capitals in the off-season for veteran Troy Brouwer. Others could be next if the Blues don’t turn around their post-season play. That could start with coach Ken Hitchcock, who, after two Central Division titles in four years, found himself on the hot-seat in the off-season as the St. Louis interviewed now-Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
With the way Allen is playing, though, it seems like this could finally be a breakthrough year for the Blues. They’re not going to need him to be near perfect like he has been over his current shutout streak, but if he can play like the capable No. 1 he has been over his first 10 outings, the Blues could be a serious threat in the West.