For far too long Blues fans have been chastened by the team’s goaltending situation.
Whether it’s Grant Fuhr getting hurt during the 1995-96 campaign with Wayne Gretzky on their roster, or it’s Roman Turek turning into jello during 2000-01 postseason after winning the President’s Trophy; goalies can be trusted about as much as Stan Kroenke in St. Louis.
But on July 1, 2016 the franchise hoped they had turned their luck around when they signed Jake Allen to a four-year deal worth $17.4 million deal, which they hoped would turn into a bargain. Allen was coming off a career year with a 26-15-3 record, a 2.35 GAA, and .920 save percentage, and a cup of tea in the postseason, as he helped spell Brian Elliott on the way to a Western Conference Finals appearance.
The Blues had reason to feel confident, as Allen possessed a pretty good resume with 99 games under his belt, and a ton of minor league success. He was also turning 26-years old, and was ready to be handed the net full-time after sharing time with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak his first few years in the league.
Allen had International success with the under-18 Canadian club that won the Gold Medal in IIHF World U18 World Championships. He won tournament MVP with a .948 save percentage, and 2 shutouts in seven games. He followed that up with the “Jacques Plante Award” as goalie of the year in the QMJHL in 2009-10. Jake was even named the AHL “Outstanding Goalie of the Year” during the 2013-2014 season, the same year he made his NHL debut.
I remind you of all those accolades to prove that Doug Armstrong wasn’t an “idiot” for giving this goalie a four-year deal. Heck, Allen showed so much promise that he was named to the NHL All-Rookie team two different years, in 2012-13 and 2014-15.
However, Allen has struggled pretty much ever since being handed the reins as the team’s top netminder.
He endured one of the worst stretches of his NHL career during the 2016-17 season as he lost six straight starts and posting a 4.06 goals-against average in the month of January before being sent on a “mental break.”
Allen did find success to end that season with the help of Martin Brodeur, as he carried the Blues through a surprising first round defeat of the Minnesota Wild.
But 2017-18 was much of the same with Allen struggling from Dec. 12-Feb. 1st, posting a 3.28 GAA, .900 save percentage, and losing 9 of the 10 games he started. This, of course, was met with a little bit of a February resurgence, but it wasn’t quite to the previous season’s level and Allen headed into an offseason full of question marks.
Would he be traded? Had Doug Armstrong had enough of the mid-season swoons?
The answer was emphatically, “No.” So emphatic that the Blues opted to sign 30-year old journeyman backup goalie Chad Johnson to a one-year deal to show Jake that he was indeed the guy.
But just 11 games into the 2018-2019 season and it has been more of the same from the now 28-year old playing in his sixth NHL season.
Among the 39 goalies who have played in at least 6 games, Allen’s 3.99 GAA ranks 39th, and his .879 save percentage ranks 38th as he has allowed three goals or more in 10 of his 11 starts. He carries a .876 save percentage when the game is within one goal, either for or against the Blues. That’s bad, but it’s even worse when the Note carry a one goal lead, at .857.
Then there is @StlBluesHistory on Twitter with this unbelievable stat:
Since 1998-99 there have been 159 Goalies play 600 or more minutes in first 12 games of a season and Jake Allen’s season ranks 159th in even-strength goals against, 159th in goals against average, and 155th in save percentage.
Yes, there have been an in-ordinary amount of defensive breakdowns with Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko handing over pucks like Halloween candy, but Allen has been unable to come up with the big save when needed most.
As 101 ESPN insider and Athletic writer Jeremy Rutherford recently noted, “Allen’s average of 1.7 rush attempts and 10.3 high-danger chances per 60 minutes ranks 16th- and fifth-most, respectively, among goalies with five games, and yet his high-danger save percentage this season (.734) is 41st.”
The problem is that none of this is really new; As a matter of fact it’s been happening for almost a full calendar season.
If we go back to Dec. 12, 2017, Allen carries a 14-22-4 record with a 3.19 GAA and .895 save percentage. His save percentage ranks 47th out of the 50 goalies that have played at least 20 games, and his goals against average ranks 44th.
Meanwhile, his 105 high-danger goals against since the beginning of last year are the sixth-most among all goalies, and his .788 save percentage on high danger chances is the third highest among goalies with at 50 games played.
Needless to say, time is running out on the Blues and Jake Allen. ‘Jake the Snake’ is in the process of driving the final nail into his coffin, as his body is chilling and closer than ever to the Blue Note goaltender graveyard.
But what is the answer for these Blues?
Doug Armstrong, with Tom Stillman’s blessing, spent to the cap to improve an offense that ranked towards the bottom of the league last season. That has worked out swell with the team’s offense ranking fourth in the league with 3.5 goals per game. They’ve also corrected a power-play that ranked 30th last season, as it now ranks third in the league on the back of power-play goals in five straight games, and 10 of their 12 games this season.
So can Army strip the job from Allen and hand it to Chad Johnson, who carries a career .910 save percentage, including an .872 save percentage this season?
Or is the answer to give it to 25-year old Jordan Binnington, who is off to a good start in the AHL with a .935 save percentage in five games? Binnington is a former 3rd round pick, and has shared time with Blues top goalie prospect Ville Husso.
Husso was the one that all Blues fans hoped would displace Allen after posting a .922 save percentage last season in the AHL, and being ranked as one of the Blues top prospects. However, he is off to a brutal start at 1-7 with an Allen-esque .890 save percentage in his first 8 games.
Once again, we sit here in St. Louis wondering what the future holds between the pipes. And, unfortunately for manager Doug Armstrong, there is no rest for the weary even after putting together one of his best offseasons to date.