Trouble brewing in Blues' crease
Spring has come early in St. Louis.
Ugly goaltending usually waits until the postseason to rear its head in Missouri, but given the shaky play of Jake Allen, we haven't needed to wait that long.
Blues bench boss Ken Hitchcock needed just 25 minutes Thursday before giving Allen the hook after allowing three goals on 15 shots in the Blues' eventual 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
It marked the third time in five outings where Allen finished the game on the bench, a stretch that's seen him surrender nine goals on just 40 shots.
After a strong start to the year, things have gotten worse for Allen with each flip of the calendar:
Backup Carter Hutton hasn't done any better in relief, owning an .894 save percentage in 16 appearances. But if the Blues are to do anything this year, their success can't hinge on Hutton alone.
This year marks 50 years in the NHL for St. Louis. It also currently looks like a safe bet that it'll soon be 50 years without a Stanley Cup.
After advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs last year for the first time since 2001, the Blues are now at risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
St. Louis sits third in the Central, but just a single point above the final wild-card slot. Four teams are within three points or fewer of the Blues in the wild-card race, with Colorado and Arizona the only teams far out of the mix in the West.
For the Blues to keep their playoff hopes alive - as well as what little flicker remains of their Stanley Cup aspirations - their goaltending needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.
It's a delicate balance for the Blues, who have about $1.3 million in cap space. That's not a lot of room for pre-deadline creativity to fix their crease concerns, while the shaky confidence of a 26-year-old Allen still hangs in the balance.
St. Louis Reunion
Interestingly enough, among the top pending free agents and potential trade-deadline targets who could be moved are three individuals who have all manned the crease in St. Louis in the past:
|Goalie (Team)||Record||SV%||GAA||Cap Hit||Age|
|Ryan Miller (VAN)||12-10-3||.914||2.64||$6M||36|
|Ben Bishop (TB)||10-10-2||.908||2.75||$5.95M||30|
|Brian Elliott (CGY)||8-10-1||.889||2.95||$2.5M||31|
Salary cap aside, things become further complicated by two of the above netminders currently residing on teams competing for playoff positions in the West. The Flames own the top wild-card seed, while the Canucks are one point out of a playoff spot.
Given his more affordable deal, could the Blues reconsider Elliott? St. Louis dealt the veteran goaltender to Calgary in an draft-day deal last summer, but he's struggled in his first season in Alberta.
Calgary sits in a playoff position largely to the credit of Chad Johnson, who was brought in as the intended backup to Elliott. But Johnson has rolled with the top job, owning a winning record of 15-9-1 and a sparkling save percentage of .923 on the season.
In acquiring Elliott, the Flames sent two picks to St. Louis, with one conditional on Elliott re-signing in Calgary. That doesn't look to be in the cards, but could a virtual reversal of this deal - sending a pick back to Calgary for Elliott - be enough to save the season in St. Louis?
The trade deadline is set for March 1, so only time will tell.