Jake Allen’s redemption ended in disappointment, but it’s still redemption

4 Comments

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.

Swedish League champ sees another sign in NHL

Leave a comment

It’s an offseason of change for SHL champion HV71.

In the days following the league title, HV71 saw No. 1 goalie Linus Soderstrom sign his ELC with the Isles and d-man Andreas Borgman — the league’s rookie of the year — ink with the Leafs.

Earlier today, HV71 winger Filip Sandberg signed a two-year deal with San Jose. Shortly after that, Columbus announced it inked Sandberg’s running mate up front, Kevin Stenlund, to a three-year, entry-level deal.

Stenlund, 20, was the Blue Jackets’ second-round pick (58th overall) at the 2015 draft. He’s coming off a good year, setting career highs in goals, assists, points and games played during the regular season, then adding 10 points in 16 playoff appearances.

And he might have a chance to build on that campaign.

Per the Dispatch, the Blue Jackets expect Stenlund to play next year in Sweden, rather than try to make the move overseas. It’s possible the Isles could make the same decision with Soderstrom — meaning it’s not all bad for HV71.

 

Oilers re-sign Pakarinen for one year

Getty
1 Comment

The Edmonton Oilers have given winger Iiro Pakarinen a one-year contract extension.

From the release:

Pakarinen just finished his third season with the Oilers organization, appearing in 14 regular season games in 2016-17, posting four points (2 goals, 2 assists).  The 25 year old forward missed 53 games due to an injury suffered during the pre-season. He appeared in one playoff game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers brought Pakarinen over from Finland in 2014. Since then, he’s split his North American career between the AHL and NHL while drawing praise for his versatility and hard-nosed style.

Per CapFriendly, Pakarinen’s cap hit will be $750,000 in 2017-18. It’s a one-way deal.

Market heating up for prized Czech d-man Rutta

2 Comments

Coming off an impressive performance for the Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, Jan Rutta is now being courted by a number of NHL clubs.

Per The Athletic, the Blackhawks are in contention for securing Rutta’s services. That comes on the heels of earlier reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said there are “multiple” offers for the 26-year-old, including ones from Edmonton and Calgary.

“He’s a steady defenseman with size, and he had a strong finish of the season,” an NHL scout told The Athletic. “He was very good in the playoffs and played his best at the Worlds.”

Rutta, who was never drafted by an NHL club, has spent his professional career with Czech League outfit Pirati Chomutov. He’s blossomed into a talented offensive defenseman — finishing second among Czech League d-men with 32 points in 46 games this year — and, as mentioned above, has good size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

Last week, Rutta’s agent — longtime Octagon Hockey representative Allan Walsh — tweeted that his client would make a decision on NHL offers soon.

 

Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

Getty
Leave a comment

Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.