Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.
There’s times when Jake Allen looks like a solid number one goaltender capable of leading his team to the playoffs. But there’s other times when he doesn’t even look like an NHL goalie. That’s the frustration that comes with having Allen on your team.
During the 2016-17 season, things got so bad that Ken Hitchcock, who was the head coach at the time, decided to leave Allen at home during a road trip. Things were falling apart. But a few weeks later, during the postseason, Allen was the biggest reason why the Blues were able to knock the Minnesota Wild out of the first round.
The Blues got off to a fantastic start last season, but things starting falling apart in early December and they were never able to get back on track. There was stretch where Carter Hutton took over the starting role from Allen. Even though Hutton played well at times, it still wasn’t enough to get the team into the playoffs.
[2017-18 review| Breakthrough: Dunn | 3 Questions]
GM Doug Armstrong made plenty of upgrades to his roster this summer. He added Ryan O'Reilly via trade and he signed Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon via free agency. The team also made a tweak in goal, as they replaced Hutton, who signed with Buffalo, with journeyman backup Chad Johnson.
All that means, is that Allen’s margin for error is even smaller now. He won’t be able to rely on solid backups like Brian Elliott or Hutton like he has in the past. Johnson is a capable number two netminder, but he’s not the type of guy that will be able to take over for long stretches.
If Allen can’t be consistent, there’s a good chance the Blues will have to scratch and claw their way to a playoff spot. If the 28-year-old can find a way to provide his team with steady goaltending throughout the year, they’ll probably have some more breathing room. Every goalie will go through a slump, but Allen’s seem to come more frequently and they seem to last a little longer than most.
The Blues probably aren’t good enough to compete with Winnipeg and Nashville but they’re definitely solid enough (on paper) to fight for that third seed in the Central. They just need their goalie to play up to his capabilities for that to happen.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.