Through 22 games this season, the Blues’ goaltending was a “perfect situation,” according to netminder Jake Allen.
Brian Elliott made 14 appearances and Allen chipped in eight. They combined for a .928 save percentage, and the Blues won 14 of those games.
“You’ve got a veteran guy and me who was trying to give the guys a chance to win,” Allen said. “I think everything was just rolling nice. Unfortunately the injury happened ...”
On Nov. 25, Elliott left a game against Ottawa with a sprained right knee, and the club’s goaltending hasn’t been the same since. In the 13 games Elliott has been absent, the Blues’ save percentage is .889 and overall has slipped to .909, which ranks No. 18 in the NHL.
Allen is 6-3-2 since taking the reins from Elliott, but his save percentage has dropped to .880 from .923. Martin Brodeur, who was signed as support, is 2-2 with a 3.29 GAA and an .892 save percentage.
From the onset, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock acknowledged that the situation would be new to Allen, who is in his first full season in the NHL. The young netminder had stressed that nothing would change from his perspective in a starting role, but he admitted after Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Dallas that it has been an adjustment.
“A little bit, definitely, because me and ‘Ells’ get along so well and we’re so comfortable together,” Allen said. “It’s definitely different around the room without him ... he’s a big part of our team.
“But he’s close to coming back, so it’s going to be big for us. I know he’s worked hard over the last month to get back. I’m sure once he gets back, hopefully we can get back to the situation we were in.”
The Blues could be back in that situation sooner than recently expected. In announcing Sunday that Brodeur would be the starter for tonight’s game against Colorado, Hitchcock did not rule out Elliott for Tuesday’s game in Nashville.
Elliott, who has been cleared by Blues doctors to return, went through a full practice Sunday. In fact, he had his own net, while Allen and Brodeur split time at the other end of the ice.
“We’re going to start Marty (Monday), but our hope is that (Elliott) is ready here in the next couple of days,” Hitchcock said. “We’re hopeful that after (Blues goalie coach Jim Corsi) works with him today, he feels good and he’s up and running and ready to go.”
Elliott, who the Blues said last week could be ready after New Year’s, admitted that he’s close. Even if he isn’t ready to play Tuesday, it seems probable that he’ll be back sometime on the upcoming road trip, which includes stops in Anaheim, San Jose and Arizona.
“I don’t know what our protocol is going to be,” Elliott said. “It’s just going to be a discussion between how I’m feeling, how the trainer’s feeling and how the coaches feel. I just want to be able to give my all out there for the guys and not be any kind of liability.”
Elliott says he isn’t rushing back, despite the fact that the Blues have dropped four consecutive games for the first time this season.
“You hate to see a little bit of a struggle here, a bump in the road,” Elliott said. “I know we have the team to get out of it. It’s just about trusting your teammates, everybody doing their own job, coming together.”
Allen admitted that he has been trying to do too much at times, saying that trust has been an issue personally.
“Yeah, sometimes, but I think that’s natural,” Allen said. “I’ve just got to trust myself. I just need to go back to my basics, and like I said, just trust myself. That’s what Jim (Corsi) always preaches to me: I’m able to play at this level, I’m able to be one of the best.
“I think collectively we need to clean up a lot of things, especially in our ‘D’ zone, myself included. But for me, I still feel good even though the losses are coming.”
Some have suggested that Allen, who has given up 24 even-strength goals among the 33 he’s allowed since Elliott left the lineup, could use a breather, but he disagreed.
“I don’t need a break, I never need a break, I’m 24 years old,” he said. “I want as many opportunities as I can. We’re just in a patch right now and we’ve got to find a way out. Once we do, there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel, so we’ve got a good group in here. We all still believe, it’s just a tough spot right now.”
Hitchcock has been very careful not to fault Allen lately.
“He’s had some very emotional games, but that’s the NHL,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a good, young goalie. He’s on the job learning. We didn’t expect him to have to carry this type of load, but that’s the cards we’re dealt. He’s got to get in and get playing and see what he does. This experience, as hard as it is going through it right now, it’s going to be good for him in his career.”
The Blues aren’t considering sending Allen, who is on a one-way NHL contract, back to the American Hockey League.
The club has indicated that once Elliott is activated from the injured reserve list, it will keep all three goalies, including Brodeur, on the roster until Elliott proves that he is 100 percent recovered from his knee injury.