Not even in Jake Allen’s own script was he flying back to St. Louis on Monday, toting three victories with his luggage.
But after a 4-3 shootout win Sunday over Vancouver, stoning the Canucks on an overtime breakaway and turning aside two shootout attempts, the Blues’ rookie goaltender surprised even himself.
“I don’t think you really think you’re going to win three straight to start your career, to be honest,” Allen said. “I don’t think many guys would, but fortunately for me I have and now ... just come back to work when we get back to St. Louis and start preparing for San Jose.”
The Blues answered their five-game losing streak with a sweep of their three-game road trip, improving to 9-5-1 as they host San Jose at Scottrade Center tonight.
Allen will be back in net against the Sharks, his fourth straight start for the club. He stopped 73 of 81 shots on the trip, and three of the last five goals against were scored on the power play.
“I mean there’s no holes in his game,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I mean that stabilizes us right now.”
The question now is how long the Blues will keep Allen around after tonight’s start.
Jaroslav Halak dressed as the backup Sunday, after missing six games with a groin injury, and is expected to get Wednesday’s start in Colorado. Hitchcock has also said that Brian Elliott may need a chance soon to apply what he’s learned through watching video of himself last season.
The Blues currently have the maximum 23 players on their roster and could carry three goalies as long as they desired. But with the compressed schedule and only two nets in practice, having three netminders is not an ideal situation, so the Blues will probably trim one soon. Allen is the only one of the three who would not need to clear waivers to be sent to Peoria.
Asked about the Blues’ plans, Hitchcock deferred to general manager Doug Armstrong.
“I don’t know ... this is going to end up in Army’s backyard,” Hitchcock said. “As long as I get the choice of who plays, that’s all I want. But we’ve got to get Jaro going ... that’s No. 1. He’s a heck of a goalie for us, so we’ve got to get him going again.”
Armstrong is completely aware of the boost Allen gave the Blues, saying, “I thought he was outstanding. He had a really good road trip for us at the right time for what we were experiencing prior to it.”
If the Blues weren’t sure what they had in their second-round pick from 2008, the team at least has a sense now, albeit in a small sample size.
“It confirms his draft status, it confirms his pedigree, and we certainly understand now that we have a legitimate National Hockey League goaltender,” Armstrong said. “It’s a nice situation to know that you have someone you believe can mature and be a regular player in this league at some point.”
But what about the time being?
“Ultimately, Jaro and Brian deserve the opportunity to get back in the net,” Armstrong said. “But also I understand the momentum in sports and you play the hot hand. But we have a 23-man roster, we’re at 23, so we don’t have to make any decisions. It’s not something that we’ve decided on yet, quite honestly. We have three games this week and then a break, so we’ll have to make some decisions.
“But as an organization, we owe it to all the players to put the players on the ice that give us the chance to win, and if we believe that Jake gives us that best opportunity right away, then he’ll play.”
The players aren’t picking sides of course, but in just three games, their belief in Allen is evident.
“What a pleasant surprise ... just outstanding,” forward Andy McDonald said. “For a kid coming in, he’s certainly pretty relaxed back there, composed. And he’s given us big saves. It’s pretty neat to see a young goaltender be able to do that. We’re kind of riding his momentum right now, so it’s good.”
From minor-leaguer to hot hand in the NHL in just a week, Allen says he’s simply going with the flow.
“A lot of people like to use that term ‘hot hand.’ ... I just want to keep playing,” Allen said. “I just feel more and more comfortable. I try to get more confidence each day and do my thing. Guys are helping me out a lot here. They’ve been great for me, especially easing my transition in the first three games. People can talk about the hot hand and stuff like that, but to me I’m trying to do my job.
“You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You just try to stay even keel. It’s your job, you’re fighting for your job. It’s almost like an audition, but you’re just trying to prove a point. I know in my head that I can play at this level, but you just want to prove it to some other people. This is a good chance for me.”