St. Louis’ season didn’t end with them hoisting the Stanley Cup, but no one would call it an unsuccessful year. The Blues got over the difficulties they’ve had with the first round of the post-season and broke through to the Western Conference final, where their playoff run ended at the hands of the San Jose Sharks.
During the Blues’ run, they were backstopped by Brian Elliott, who was arguably the MVP of St. Louis’ season. But an off-season of change saw Elliott shipped to the Calgary Flames, which means the Blues chances of replicating the past season’s success will now be up to Jake Allen.
And though Allen has spent the past two seasons as a full-time NHL netminder splitting the crease with Elliott, the 25-year-old netminder has got a lot to prove in his first year as a true No. 1 netminder. In all likelihood, Allen’s season will be the most important individual season for anyone on the Blues roster.
Being handed the starting reins after the most successful Blues season of the current era means the expectation will be that St. Louis not only returns to the post-season, but makes another deep run. The losses of David Backes and Troy Brouwer no doubt hurt the Blues’ depth, but Allen’s play in place of Elliott could very well be the deciding factor between another successful campaign or a step backwards in the final year of coach Ken Hitchcock’s career behind the bench. Allen seems well aware, too.
“It was tough to make mistakes when Brian was around because if one game you had a bad game, he was right back in the net. Vice-versa with him and me,” Allen told Blues Radio's Chris Kerber in a recent interview. “I think you get a little bit more leeway now, but not a whole lot…I felt like I had to edge myself into the league consistently, but now that I’ve done that I’ve got to prove that I’m a legit No. 1 guy.”
Doing so will mean stepping up and making sure Blues fans aren’t wishing the club had held onto Elliott. That won’t be easy, as Elliott was nothing short of outstanding this past season.
In 2015-16, Elliott posted the second-best 5-on-5 save percentage of any netminder to man the net for 1,500-plus minutes, and of goaltenders to play at least 20 games, Elliott had the best overall SP, second-best goals-against average (2.07), eighth-most shutouts and he only lost eight games in regulation all season. None of this is to mention the post-season, where Elliott continued his stellar campaign.
Allen’s not incapable of putting up numbers similar to Elliott’s from the past season, but it will be up to him to show that he can be as good or better than his former goaltending partner. Allen hasn’t shown that form quite yet, but he’s realistically not all that far off.
Over the past two seasons combined, Elliott ranks eighth in 5-on-5 SP among the 3,000-plus minute netminders with a .932 SP. Allen ranks 19th, posting a .925 SP under a similar workload and behind the exact same team. That may not seem like a gargantuan drop-off, but Elliott’s numbers have him sandwiched between Cory Schneider, Corey Crawford, Petr Mrazek and Braden Holtby. Allen’s numbers put him in the company of Ben Bishop, Ondrej Pavelec, Cam Talbot and Frederik Andersen.
One big reason to be hopeful about Allen is that the entire defense that played in front of Elliott will return, and they’ll be playing in the same system once again under Hitchcock. Elliott’s numbers were absolutely helped by the stellar defense, and another season with the same faces on the blueline should provide Allen ample coverage to get comfortable quickly as an every-game starting netminder.
That Allen will be playing every night might be the best thing for him, too. He told Kerber that he’s the type of netminder who plays best when he’s got consistent action and knows he’s going to be in goal game in and game out, and there was one time in particular this past season where Allen backed that up.
Early in the campaign, Allen snatched the net from Elliott — the two were set to be a 1A/1B all season — and ran with it. From Oct. 27 to Nov. 16, Allen made 10-consecutive appearances. He won seven of those outings, and excluding a game against the New York Rangers in which Allen was yanked after allowing three goals on five shots, Allen allowed only 11 goals on 254 shots. He posted three shutouts over the course of those nine games.
Stretches identical to that one weren’t common last season, especially not ones that successful, but that was in large part because of injuries that limited Allen and his role as a split-starter with Elliott. However, Allen did also turn in a stretch of 11-straight appearances which included six-straight victories, as well as three wins in four nights. That’s the Allen the Blues are hoping they get when he steps in goal as a full-time No. 1 goaltender.
It won’t be easy to match what Elliott did this past season and Allen’s right that he has to prove he can be the go-to guy for the Blues. But if he can be the netminder St. Louis believes he can be, there’s no reason the Blues can’t make some noise again in 2016-17.
(All advanced statistics via Puckalytics)
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