The St. Louis Blues are in very real danger of going from first to worst in goaltending, as Jake Allen melted down again on Thursday night.
Then Jake Allen was pulled in a 7-3 loss to the Capitals. Twice.
And for the fourth time in his last six starts.
“I don’t know how far it sets him back. There’s a lot going on right now. A lot in his head. He’s locked up mentally, and he’s going to have to fight through this,” said coach Ken Hitchcock.
Allen was pulled after allowing two goals on three shots in the first period. Backup Carter Hutton came in for 2 minutes and 22 seconds, and then Allen returned. It’s something Hitchcock has done before to give him goalies a mental break.
But then he was forced to completely pull Allen after giving up a fourth goal, 7:33 into the second period. He’s now been pulled in three straight starts.
“It went south when it went to 4-1,” said Hitchcock.
Allen’s save percentage is .897 in 34 games, while Hutton is at .892 in 20 games, 12 of them starts.
The failure of the goaltending becomes a systemic problem for the rest of the team. “One of things that happens when you’re not trusting yourself defensively, is that you overwork from the redline in, you underwork from the redline back. We’re forcing a lot of things to keep it from coming back into our end. And then we don’t have the energy to play defense,” said Hitchcock.
It’s hard not to second-guess the decision the Blues made last summer to fix what wasn’t broken: Trading Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames, one year before unrestricted free agency. It was a move Elliott welcomed, but also a move designed to give Allen the ball … which he’s promptly fumbled on the kickoff.
Elliott has a sub-.900 save percentage with the Flames, too. But he was a stabilizing force on the Blues when Allen struggled, as well as a veteran voice in his head.
Now, according to Hitchcock, Allen is “all locked up” in the noggin.
“We gotta get him unlocked. He’s just locked up right now,” he said.
The Blues have been, under Hitchcock, one of the best defensive teams in hockey annually. As of Thursday night, they now have a minus-11 goal differential and are in significant danger of falling out of a playoff seed: They have 51 points, which is two better than Nashville Predators and three better than the Los Angeles Kings, who are chasing the final wild card slot.
Perhaps it’s time not only to keep our eyes on Allen, but also on Hitchcock, who is (allegedly) in his final season with the Blues and with assistant coach Mike Yeo being prepped to take over.
Stressful times when the goaltending fails you.
“Nobody anticipated this. Nobody on our team. Nobody in our city,” said Hitchcock.
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