After Jake Allen started and played well in consecutive games two weeks ago, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock threw his support behind No. 1 netminder Brian Elliott, saying that Elliott would be St. Louis’ starter come playoff time.
But what about now?
Today, the Blues announced that Allen would start Tuesday’s tilt against Winnipeg, his second straight nod and third in the last four games. And make no mistake, Tuesday’s game is an important one for St. Louis as it looks to tighten its grip on the Central Division lead.
“We see a guy that is hot, that’s feeling it, so you ride it out,” Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Whenever that runs out, then you go a different direction. You’re looking to get points at this time of year.
“I think during the season there’s more of a long-term plan. But when you get into that 30-day mode, when there’s 30 days left, it’s whatever is going. It’s nice to have options. That’s what we’ve got right now — we’ve got options — so let’s use them.”
Since Hitch’s announcement two weeks ago, his goalies have responded in dramatically different ways. Elliott’s gone 1-2-0 with a .841 save percentage and, in his lone victory, allowed five goals on 32 shots to Dallas; Allen, meanwhile, has allowed just two goals on his last 57 shots faced and was magnificent in Sunday’s crucial win over Chicago, finishing with a .974 save percentage.
Hitchcock now admits plans could change with regards to Elliott being the No. 1 in the playoffs, suggesting Allen could wrestle that gig away. That, along with these recent starting decisions, seems to have rattled Elliott a bit.
With everyone on the outside reading into which goalie is getting each start, Elliott chose not to say whether he’s also reading into it.
“There’s an inside voice and an outside voice, so …” Elliott said. “I have my own feelings, so I’ll keep them to myself.”
Hitchcock was asked if it’s difficult telling Elliott that the Blues are going with Allen for now.
“Maybe for him, but not for me,” Hitchcock said. “I’ve got to do what’s best for the hockey club. And what’s best for the hockey club is whoever’s playing the best gets to play. That’s just the way it is.”
After Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, the Blues have two games left: Thursday at home versus Chicago, then Saturday at home against Minnesota. The Chicago game could very well decide the Central, and quite possibly the Western Conference; St. Louis heads into tonight’s action just two points back of Anaheim for top spot, but with a game in hand.
In short, the Blues have everything to play for this week. Which is why Hitchcock’s goaltending decisions will be quite telling.