At an admitted “critical point” in their season, the Blues are turning back to rookie goaltender Jake Allen.
Less than an hour after Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Los Angeles, in which the Blues gave away a 4-1 second-period lead, the team announced at 1 a.m. St. Louis time that it had recalled Allen from Peoria.
Jaroslav Halak allowed five goals on 21 shots and Brian Elliott one goal on eight shots against the Kings, sinking the Blues’ save-percentage (.870) to No. 24 in the NHL. The defeat dropped the club to ninth place in the Western Conference with 24 points after 22 games.
In a 48-game shortened season, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said that the team could ill-afford to wait any longer for the goaltending to improve, and so he turned to Allen, who went 3-1 with the Blues last month before being re-assigned to Peoria.
“I think it’s certainly a short season now, we’re in a very critical point and our goaltending to this point in the year hasn’t been to the standard that’s necessary to consistently win games,” Armstrong said. “Jake came up and played very well when he was here, and the team responded by playing very well in front of him.
“Ultimately we have faith in Brian and we have faith in Jaro, but we need to find success quickly in this type of season and I felt it was necessary to give Jake that opportunity.”
Armstrong did not confirm that Allen would start Thursday when the Blues travel to play Phoenix, saying, “Ken (Hitchcock) makes the lineup card, but I wanted to give him that opportunity. I just felt that when (Tuesday’s) game ended, we needed to look back on when we were having our most success, and what were some of the components, and Jake was one of those components. We think Jake has proven to be able to play at a high level over a short period of time.”
In four consecutive starts last month, his first regular action in the NHL, Allen had three consecutive road wins over Detroit, Calgary and Vancouver, followed by a one-goal loss to San Jose. His save-percentage during the stretch was .906.
But then Halak returned after missing eight games with a groin injury and Elliott was ready to hit the reset button after allowing four-plus goals in four consecutive outings. With four straight off days at the time, the Blues did not want to keep three goalies on the roster and thus assigned Allen to Peoria on Feb. 21.
“It was tough because I don’t really believe, all things being equal, that you should lose your job due to injury,” Armstrong said. “So I felt Jaro deserved the opportunity to get back in there and play. But when Jake was in there ... our success rate hasn’t been the same since he went down.”
The Blues had the highest save-percentage in the NHL last season at .929. Elliott ranked No. 1 with a mark of .940 and Halak wasn't far behind (.925).
“That position is obviously a large part of our industry and last year we were great benefactors of two goalies at the top of their game,” Armstrong said. “This year we haven’t had that luxury of playing and winning in one-goal games, 2-1 or 3-2. I think it would be too convenient just to say that our issues fall on one position. We’ve exposed our goalies to situations that you’re not going to have success in at different points of this year.
"That being said, we need to stabilize and gain confidence that we can win 2-1 and 3-2 games. Not to make excuses for Brian or Jaro, but there was no training camp basically, they did not play during the lockout. But Jake has played and when he was in there, he was the sharpest in the group.
“Normally you give opportunities to work through situations, but in the environment we’re in right now it’s difficult to allow that because every point is so critical.”
The Blues, who are in the midst of a five-game road trip, will carry three goalies on the roster for the time being. They had an available spot on the 23-man roster, so therefore don’t have to assign a player to Peoria to make room for Allen. There are no plans to option Elliott to the minor leagues. After signing a two-year, $3.6 million contract extension last offseason, he would need to clear waivers to play for the Rivermen.
“I’m not worried about rubbing a crystal ball right on what might happen (with waivers),” said Armstrong, who believes that with better goaltending the Blues aren’t far off.
“Quite honestly, I thought the first two periods (Tuesday) might have been the best hockey we’ve played all year as far as the players sacrificing for each other," he added. "L.A. was 8-2 (in its last 10 games), it looks like they have their swagger back and I thought we were there with them for 40 minutes and were in a very good spot to acquire points. We weren’t able to do that, but I thought there was a lot of really positive signs from our group as far as their willingness to compete against the best and play for each other. There were a lot of good things that went to the wayside when the final score was written.”