OTTAWA — As the kids say, it’s been a minute since Jake Allen started a hockey game. Lots of minutes, actually. Allen last started a regular-season game on April 3 in Chicago, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks.
That was more than six months ago, and the Blues have played 31 regular-season and playoff games since then. But that changes tonight when Allen starts against the Ottawa Senators in a 6:30 p.m. (St. Louis time) contest at Canadian Tire Centre.
“It’s been a long time coming for me, especially not getting that last preseason game in,” Allen said. “It’ll be good to get back in a game rhythm again. It’s been fun to cheer the boys on so far, but I’ve been looking forward to getting my first go.”
During the preseason, Allen played the first two periods Sept. 20 at Winnipeg, allowing two goals on 20 shots. Four days later, he played all three periods against Dallas, allowing two goals on 18 shots.
He was scheduled to start the preseason finale Sept. 29 in Columbus, but that game was canceled because of mechanical issues with the team’s charter plane.
Other than those two preseason contests, Allen has played only 24 minutes 8 seconds of mop-up duty in relief of Jordan Binnington in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 1 against Boston.
In terms of trying to stay sharp, Allen said: “Nothing really changes. It’s a really similar mindset to the last half of last year. Just treating my practices like my games, trying to be relaxed but focused at the same time. . . .I’m looking forward to getting my feet wet and jumping back in there.”
Allen said he has known he was starting against Ottawa since after the Blues’ last home game, last Saturday against Dallas.
“Chief’s pretty good about giving us the heads-up,” Allen said, referring to coach Craig Berube.
Berube kept it simple and direct when asked for the thought process behind starting Allen against the Senators (0-2-0).
“Well, he hasn’t played yet,” Berube said. “So it’s a pretty good time for him. He’s worked hard, he’s had a good camp. And we want to play him. He’s gonna play a lot of games for us.”
Dating back to a Jan. 14 victory at Washington, this will mark Allen’s 13th consecutive road start. He hasn’t started at Enterprise Center since Jan. 8 against Dallas. He is 5-3-4 in those previous 12 road starts.
“It was just sort of weird how the schedule worked out last year in the second half to have that always sort of happen and fall in my lap,” Allen said, laughing. “It’s interesting, no question. But that’s sort of just the way the schedule’s been. I’ll get back in at Enterprise here at some point.”
FACING THE SENATORS
Ottawa had the NHL’s worst record a year ago and is 0-2-0 this season. But the Blues know better than to take the Senators lightly. Exhibit A came March 14 of last season, when right in the middle of their second-half surge up the standings, the Blues lost 2-0 here to the Senators.
“They have a better lineup than they had last year, too,” Allen said. “They’ve got some good young players. We know that every game in this league is meaningful and we’re definitely not taking these guys for granted at all.”
Allen was in goal for that contest last March, allowing one goal. The second Senators goal was an empty-netter.
Registering the shutout for Ottawa — the first Senators shutout over the Blues in franchise history — was Anders Nilsson. Surprise! He’s in goal tonight for Ottawa, making his season debut.
Nilson, 29, played briefly for the Blues during the 2015-16 season (three games) and is one of the taller goalies in the league at 6-6.
“Big goalie. Good size,” Berube said. “He played a great game against us last year. So we’re gonna have to be good. We’re gonna have to go hard to the net here tonight. . .score some dirty goals on this guy.”
Tonight marks the third game in a row the Blues are using the same forward line combinations. Robert Thomas will miss his third consecutive game with an upper-body injury.
On defense, Carl Gunnarsson is out and Robert Bortuzzo is in for the first time since the Blues' season opener against Washington.
Besides, Thomas and Gunnarsson, the Blues’ other scratch is forward Mackenzie MacEachern, who has yet to appear in a game this season.