Jake Allen

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Binnington, Blues show how far you can come in one year

The year 2020 remains brand-spanking new, even if world events made the first week feel much longer. With the year’s new-car smell still wafting in the air, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how much can change in 12 months. St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington can attest to how someone’s life can pull a 180 in 365 days (or, in 2020, 366).

While Binnington made his first NHL start on Jan. 7, 2019, Binnington told The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (sub required) that it also felt, to him, like one of his last opportunities to prove himself.

It sounds like Binnington arrived with the sort of motivation that would inspire you to punch large slabs of meat and run laps on the beach.

(Aside: Binnington probably means “Eye of the Tiger,” yet that unintentionally open-ended comment actually points to the glut of outstanding inspirational, montage-worthy tunes in “Rocky” movies. There’s the just-as-rad theme, cheesier option “Hearts on Fire,” and even the remote possibility that Binnington was merely listening to Rocky mutter various lines. Lots of possibilities, honestly.)

Binnington starts hot, rarely slows down for Blues

Binnington began his underdog story with quite the haymaker. He pitched a 25-save shutout in that first NHL start after only seeing paltry relief appearances before.

Rather than being a fluke victory, that debut shutout portended big things for Binnington and the Blues. The team caught fire, and while Binnington wasn’t the only key, he saved their season.

Binnington managed an astounding 24 wins in just 30 games played, generating a fantastic .927 save percentage during a rookie season that helped him finish second in the Calder voting. Binnington could’ve hung his hat on that great regular season, alone.

Yet, well … you probably know what happened.

While Binnington struggled at times during the postseason (.914 save percentage during that 26-game run), he frequently earned praise for being “unflappable.” You’d expect “steady as a rock” from a veteran, not a goalie who wondered where his career was heading as 2019 began.

Binnington delivered in the clutch, in particular, cementing that thought with a stellar championship-winning performance in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Binnington, Blues putting out a strong sequel so far

Marking Jan. 2, 2019 as a line in the sand makes a lot of sense for Blues historians — and maybe other teams firing their coaches mid-season. After all, that’s when the Blues ranked last in the NHL, only to turn around their 2018-19 season and win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.

That Binnington start on Jan. 7, 2019 works well, too, though.

Either way, it’s truly remarkable to see how much Binnington’s life changed, and how he skyrocketed up the ranks of top goalies. Consider a few facts:

  • Binnington’s 43 wins (43-12-5 record) leads all goalies since he made that first start. His .923 save percentage would hover around the top 10 during that time, too, if you exclude goalies who barely played.
  • Fascinatingly, a resurgent Jake Allen now ties Binnington’s .923 during that time (Allen in 28 games, Binnington in 60). The two can conceivably push each other to help boost the Blues overall.
  • The Blues topped all NHL teams for the calendar year of 2019 with 56 wins and 123 standings points. (Again, Binnington won 43 of those 56.)
  • Binnington went from a goalie bouncing around various levels of hockey to a player who received a two-year, $8.8 million contract. And you could make a sound argument the Blues got a bit of a bargain.
  • Yes, Binnington tapered off a bit compared to last season’s lofty hot streak. He still seems like a viable starter, however, with a solid .914 save percentage, and 7.26 Goals Saved Against Average that is more than respectable.
  • Binnington played a large role in the resurgence of “Gloria.”

Binnington really stacked his resume so far, huh? Now the key is to avoid making sequels on the level of “Rocky V.”

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.

Blues keep getting better, extend winning streak to 8 games

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Exactly one year ago the St. Louis Blues were sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and seemed to be on their way to a lost season. Thanks to the call-up of goalie Jordan Binnington and the changes made by new coach Craig Berube they went on one of the best second half runs in recent NHL history and rode it to their first ever Stanley Cup.

They will not need that sort of second half to make the playoffs this season. They look like one of the league’s best teams — if not the best team — from the very start.

Thanks to their 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, the Blues are just one point back of the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the NHL, have an eight-point lead for the top spot in the Western Conference, and have now won eight games in a row.

It is already their second winning streak of at least seven games this season.

No Tarasenko? No problem

This is probably the most incredible part of the Blues’ run. Tarasenko, their most dynamic and impactful forward from an offensive standpoint, has appeared in just 10 games and has not played since Oct. 24.

All they have done since then is go 21-6-3 in 30 games. That is a 123-point pace over 82 games. And it’s not like 30 games is a small sample size, either. That is nearly half a season that they have played at this level.

Ryan O'Reilly has continued to be a two-way force in the middle, but one of the biggest difference-makers has been veteran winger David Perron. Since re-joining the Blues last year he has played some of the most productive hockey of his career. As of Sunday he is averaging a point-per-game and has a league-leading six game-winning goals, including four in overtime.

The defense and goaltending remains championship caliber

Even with Tarasenko the Blues never were — and never will be — a team that wins with offense.

They are a defense first team, and when combined with quality goaltending are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against. And that is still driving their success this season.

They allow just 51 total shot attempts per 60 minutes, the third best mark in the league behind only Carolina and Pittsburgh. They also have a top-five penalty killing unit.

When you combine all of that with the fact Binnington and Jake Allen have combined for a .924 save percentage and they are allowing just 2.52 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL. They allowed 2.68 goals per game during the regular season a year ago and 2.69 in the playoffs. Yes, they are doing a better job preventing goals this season than they did during their Stanley Cup-winning season.

They could still probably use another scorer up front, but with the way this team is going they not only look like Stanley Cup contenders once again, they seem to keep getting better.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

The Buzzer: Blues, Avalanche continue to be class of West

Jake Allen of St. Louis Blues
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Three Stars

1) Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues

Allen lost his starting job to Jordan Binnington last season, but the backup goaltender has become a critical position as load management continues to be a hot topic. Binnington took over the starting role in January and has never gone through the rigors of a full NHL season. Allen made 35 saves Wednesday as the Blues defeated the Oilers 2-1 and picked up their fourth straight victory.

2) Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are the hottest team in the NHL and might have a goalie controversy on their hands. Francouz has been stellar between the pipes while Grubauer missed a few games with a lower-body injury. The Czech netminder made 31 saves as the Avalanche rebounded from their first regulation loss in 10 games earlier this week. With a 9-1-1 record in the past 11 games, the Avalanche appear to be ready to fight the Blues for the Central Division title.

3) Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils

With Taylor Hall gone, Palmieri has risen to the top of the Devils depth chart as their go-to scoring forward. He might be a prime chip at this year’s trade deadline with another year remaining at a manageable $4.65 million AAV. Cam Fowler refused to challenge Palmieri before the alternate captain wired a wrist shot to give the Devils a one-goal lead in their 3-1 victory over the Ducks.

Highlights of the Night

MacKinnon had two must-see moments on one goal in the second period against the Blackhawks. The way he collected the puck just outside the blueline, and then the wicked wrister that bounced off the cross-bar and in.

Brayden Schenn didn’t waste much time on this breakaway

Stat of the Night

Scores

New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Chicago Blackhawks 1
St. Louis Blues 2, Edmonton Oilers 1

Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues finding ways to overcome key injuries

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Stanley Cup hangover can be a real thing. It’s come back to bite several defending champions over the years. The St. Louis Blues had every reason to fall apart early on this season for a number of reasons, but to their credit they’ve been able to stand at the top of the Central Division.

Before we jump into the Blues, we have to point out that their opponent tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have also been decimated by injuries lately. They’re currently without Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Nick Bjugstad.

But St. Louis is missing some firepower of their own, too.

Sniper Vladimir Tarasenko has been out of the lineup since Oct. 26. He underwent shoulder surgery and he’ll be re-evaluated sometime in March. The 27-year-old had 10 points in 10 games when he came out of the lineup.

“History has shown to me, losing Vladi, it’s a big loss to a team, but you can overcome these ones — you hope to be able to overcome it,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “(But) it’s the next one and the one after that is where everything starts to get really tested.”

In their first game without Tarasenko, they dropped a 3-0 decision to the Boston Bruins in a Stanley Cup rematch. Since then, they’ve found a way to go 13-2-3, which is very impressive.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Like Armstrong mentioned, good teams can absorb one big loss, but it’s the other injuries that really test your squads depth. The Blues have also been without Alexander Steen (12 games), Sammy Blais (nine games), Robert Thomas (five games) and Oskar Sundqvist (three games). How they continue to get the job done is pretty amazing.

“Our organization (has) done a great job of finding players that can come up and do the job up here,” head coach Craig Berube explained. “We’ve got a deep farm team, and whether it’s from drafting and free-agent signings, like (Nathan) Walker and (Derrick) Pouliot, they came up and filled in real nice.”

Having depth in the minors is nice, but there’s no way they’d be able to overcome these injuries without added contributions from their top players. The defending champs have received some solid production from David Perron, who leads them in scoring with 28 points in 29 games. Ryan O'Reilly has just one goal in his last 11 games, but he’s found a way to chip in with 26 points in 29 outings. And Brayden Schenn (team-high 14 goals), Jaden Schwartz (22 points) and Alex Pietrangelo (20 points) have all done their part. Even a depth player like Ivan Barbashev has done his part by picking up six points in his last four games.

The other big reason they’ve been able to fight through all this adversity is because of the solid goaltending their receiving, and it’s not just Jordan Binnington. Yes, Binnington has been terrific this year, as he’s posted a 13-4-4 record with a 2.26 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage. He’s showing that last year’s run was no fluke.

Backup netminder Jake Allen has also done his part. Allen and Binnington have split starts with an even rotation over the last few weeks. The veteran owns a 5-1-2 record with a 2.35 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage this season. That only regulation loss came at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 19. He allowed a horrendous goal to Habs forward Brendan Gallagher in that one, but he’s found a way to bounce back since then.

The Blues will hit a rough patch at some point, but there’s no reason to believe they’ll fall apart completely because they’re showing they have the talent and mental ability to face adversity head on.

They’ll probably be really sad to see the 2019 calendar year end in a few weeks though. It’s been a really good year for them.

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Blues-Penguins from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Blues’ goaltending duo; Flyers have issue on defense

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

David Pastrnak has to be ready when teams start targeting him physically. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Cayden Primeau made it to the NHL a lot quicker than many people anticipated. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Capitals are so tight up against the salary cap that even simple moves are painful. (Washington Post)

• Getting rid of John Hynes was the right move for the New Jersey Devils. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• What’s next for the Devils now that Hynes is no longer in the picture? (ESPN)

• The Flyers have stabilized their top-four defensemen, but they need to figure out their third pairing. (Broad Street Hockey)

Jordan Martinook is an important part of the Carolina Hurricanes. (Cardiac Canes)

Kaapo Kakko may be able to help the Rangers’ power play. (New York Post)

Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington have been an important part of St. Louis’ success. (St. Louis Game-Time)

Connor Hellebuyck should be considered the favorite for the Vezina Trophy. (The Hockey News)

• The Seattle expansion franchise is already celebrating their one-year anniversary. (NHL.com)

• We might see a European coach make the leap to the NHL soon. (Sportsnet)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.