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Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

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Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

***

Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him his job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Brossoit leads Jets; Palmieri’s historic double

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Three Stars

1. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets. While earning his first win as a Jet, Brossoit stopped 42 shots during a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. For the fifth time in seven games, the Hurricanes fired at least 40 shots on net, but the 25-year-old netminder stood tall to help Winnipeg to their second win in three games.

2. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils. Continuing his hot start to the season, Palmieri netted two goals during the Devils’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. His second period power-play goal was followed up by another tally early in the third period even the score at two. Palmieri now has six goals on the season, scoring twice in each of New Jersey’s three games this season. And per the NHL, Palmieri is the fourth NHL player to score multiple goals in three straight games to begin a season, joining Patrick Marleau (2012-13), Cy Denneny (1917-18) and Peter Stastny (1982-83).

3. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks. Miller made 29 saves, including 10 in the final period to help the Ducks to a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. Dating back to the end of last season, Anaheim has won its last four games Miller has started.

Highlights of the Night

Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on a 2-on-0 would result in a goal probably 99.9 percent of the time. Not this time, thanks to Petr Mrazek:

• Patrik Laine. From the circle. One-timer.

Bryan Little‘s first of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 2:09 to go to help the Jets to a victory. What a pass by Josh Morrissey:

Andrew Cogliano also picked the right time to score, breaking a 2-2 deadlock on the power play with 5:16 left in the third period:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Devils 3, Sharks 2
Ducks 3, Blues 2
Jets 3, Hurricanes 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers’ Matheson to have DoPS hearing for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers won’t see one another again until the middle of January, but there will still be plenty of hard feelings following their Saturday night encounter.

Canucks’ stud rookie Elias Pettersson is in concussion protocol, per Sportsnet, after he was body-slammed to the ice early in the third period of Vancouver’s 3-2 victory by Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson.

Pettersson is now in concussion protocol as the team travels to Pittsburgh for a game on Tuesday. Matheson, meanwhile, will have a phone hearing Monday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The Canucks weren’t thinking retribution following the hit. It was a 2-2 game and head coach Travis Green did not want his players running around and risking giving the Panthers power plays. After the game, though, they sounded off.

“That’s a dirty play,” said Green. “The league is trying to protect the good young players and that’s a dirty play.”

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” said Canucks forward Antoine Roussel.

The injury put a damper on an historic night for the 19-year-old Petterson. His goal made him the sixth player since 1997-98 to reach at least points in his first five NHL games. He currently has eight, which is one behind what Evgeni Malkin achieved during the 2006-07 NHL season. He also matched a Canucks record for most consecutive games (5) with a point. As of Sunday he leads all rookies in goals (5) and points (8).

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Fleury enters unconscious mode; Dahlin pots first

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Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: I mean, just look at this to see why. Fleury hasn’t started his season on the foot he would have wanted to, but he stopped all 26 shots on Saturday afternoon to perhaps get both of his feet back under him. The shutout was the 49th of his career, tying him for 29th all-time, and some of the saves he made were vintage Fleury. Seriously, check them out.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes: A four-point night for Aho saw the 20-year-old help set up the game-tying goal and then score the game-winner in overtime. Aho had five shots on goal in the game and the Hurricanes put up a whopping 57 as they continued their fine start to the season. Carolina has yet to lose in regulation thus far with a 4-0-1 record.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: Pastrnak scored his second-career hat trick as the Bruins mauled the Detroit Red Wings in an 8-2 win. It seems like every time the Bruins play, one of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron or Brad Marchand are putting up insane numbers. The trio is one of the best lines in the NHL — combining for eight points on Saturday — and they have the Bruins cruising to start the season.

Highlights of the Night

Fleury’s start to the season has been less than optimal. This save, however, insane.

Goalies were front and center of some of the best highlights from Saturday. This from Devan Dubnyk.

This isn’t even fair.

Factoids

Scores

Bruins 8, Red Wings 2

Senators 5, Kings 1

Golden Knights 1, Flyers 0

Oilers 2, Rangers 1

Hurricanes 5, Wild 4

Lightning 8, Blue Jackets 2

Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 2

Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (SO)

Canucks 3, Panthers 2

Predators 5, Islanders 2

Stars 5, Ducks 3

Blackhawks 4, Blues 3 (OT)

Sabres 3, Coyotes 0

Flames 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

‘Dirty play’ knocks Canucks’ Pettersson out of game

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(UPDATE: Matheson will have a Monday phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.)

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green didn’t need to mince words when he was asked about the controversial hit that knocked one of his star players out of Saturday’s game.

“It’s a dirty play,” Green said of the stinging hit by Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson on Elias Pettersson.

Pettersson, as you will see below, put a nice move on Matheson moments before the hit.

Matheson didn’t take too kindly getting beat by the skilled Swede, and on his next opportunity, hit Pettersson and then threw him viciously down onto the ice. It appeared that the 19-year-old’s head bounced off the ice shortly after getting thrown down.

As you can see, Pettersson struggled to get back to his feet, falling over on his first attempt. He was able to get to his feet after waiting a moment, but he definitely looked woozy.

The Canucks refrained from getting retribution on the night, but Antoine Roussel made it clear that they’ll see the Panthers again.

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” Roussel said after the game.

“Looked like WWE to me,” said Sven Baertschi.

Pettersson had already done what he does best earlier in the game, sniping a shot on the power play that James Reimer had zero chance at saving.

The goal matched a team record for longest point streak by a player to start his career at five games. Pettersson has been a godsend to the Canucks and has five goals and three assists during that span.

Green had no update on Pettersson’s status after the game.

The Canucks held on to win 3-2.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck