Jake Allen was upset following St. Louis’ season-ending loss to Nashville on Sunday.
To nobody’s surprise.
“We didn’t advance far enough,” he said, per the Post-Dispatch. “[I’m] disappointed. We had an opportunity this year that not many people thought we’d even get to the playoffs, or win a round.
“But I feel like we could have easily went to the next round. It’s frustrating that way.”
Allen’s got a point. When the Blues were at their lowest this year — 25-22-5 on Feb. 4, ninth in the Western Conference — many thought the playoffs were out of reach.
But the Blues made it.
Many of those same people didn’t pick St. Louis to beat Minnesota in Round 1.
But the Blues beat ’em.
And Allen was the reason why.
It was, and we can say this without hyperbole, one of the more remarkable in-season turnarounds in recent memory. Allen couldn’t have been any lower in early February. He, along with Carter Hutton and Pheonix Copley, had up to that point combined for an NHL-worst .887 save percentage. The trio was collectively bad, but the pressure was entirely on Allen.
That pressure began last summer, when Allen signed to a four-year, $17.4 million extension just days after longtime battery mate Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Blues GM Doug Armstrong said the transactions were symbolic of “turning the keys over to Jake,” acknowledging St. Louis was ready for him to be the club’s unquestioned No. 1.
Allen didn’t just struggle with the newfound responsibilities. He bombed. His struggles were seen by many as the reason Ken Hitchcock was handed his walking papers on Feb. 1, this after Hitchcock said Allen needed to “man up, and get better” before suggesting he was “locked up mentally.”
Then, the club took an unprecedented step in trying to unlock him.
Allen was given what amounted to a leave of absence to get things right. Calling it an opportunity to mentally “reset,” Armstrong decided to keep the 26-year-old home from a road trip (partly so Allen could spend time with his wife and newborn daughter, who arrived in January).
It’s easy to ID that as the turning point, and in some ways it was. But it was also much more complex.
The coaching change from Hitchcock to Yeo paid dividends. Hitch is notoriously tough on goalies, constantly tinkering with changes, and it certainly it seemed like he’d ground Allen down. The switch from Jim Corsi to Martin Brodeur as the Blues full-time goalie coach was also vital, something Yeo alluded to during the Minnesota series.
“One of the biggest areas is how he handles the days in between, what he can draw upon from his own experience as arguably the best goaltender of all time,” Yeo said. “How do you play at that level all the time? Obviously you learn very quickly to put the past behind you, you learn from it whatever, but you find a way to get focused, feel good, and confident going into the next one and I think that’s what we’re seeing with Marty.”
The biggest surprise was the speed in which Allen turned it around. He caught fire in February, finishing with a .933 save percentage, then put forth an even better March as he vaulted the Blues back into playoff contention. He went 8-1-2 that month with two shutouts and an eye-popping .953 save percentage, form which he carried over to his now-unforgettable opening round performance against the Wild.
“We averaged 40 shots on goal per game,” Minnesota bench boss Bruce Boudreau lamented in the aftermath. “The goalie was obviously pretty good.”
Still, it’s easy to see why Allen was so disappointed following yesterday’s defeat. His numbers for the series did end up dipping (just a .909 save percentage against the Preds), and given the two teams virtually played each other even at 5-on-5, Allen was right in suggesting the whole thing was up for grabs.
But there’s also a very strong case to be made St. Louis wouldn’t have even been in the second round — heck, maybe not the playoffs entirely — if it wasn’t for Allen.
And for that, he deserves a ton of praise.