Going into the 2018-19 season opener on Thursday night, the St. Louis Blues carried more direction than questions. General Manager Doug Armstrong’s lightsaber work in the offseason had cured a roster lacking definition and depth at center. The blue line defense was banged up and sidelined a little, but that was a temporary setback.
The only real question lingering in the halls of the Enterprise Center was whether or not Jake Allen would rise up and take the next step in becoming a legit front of the line goaltender for the Blues-or did he really even have to with the upgrades at the forward position? The 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, who still hold serve over the Blues in the division, answered both questions.
Allen isn’t ready to take that step, but he may have to if some games are going to be won this season.
Let’s be clear. Against all odds and everything considered, Allen wasn’t terrible during game #1 of 82. He made key stops in the first two periods to keep the deficit at 1-0, laying out late in the second period to stop a surefire scoring chance from the Jets. He made the required saves when he had to without being brilliant enough to stop the Blues from cascading towards defeat.
In the end, the defense let Allen down big time. Minutes into the third period, the Winnipeg turned on the jets (no pun intended) and overwhelmed the defensive core of St. Louis. Jay Bouwmeester may be healthy, but he still skates like he’s 60. Chris Butler may be from St. Louis, but his defending skills are only slightly worse than the accuracy on his shot. A 1-0 deficit was quickly 5-0, and while Vince Dunn’s late tally starved off complete embarrassment, the lesson was learned. The Blues were actually going to have to play the games, and could not win the Stanley Cup outright on offseason moves and preseason performance alone.
Allen was the immediate target of fans’ outrage, both on Twitter and outside the Enterprise Center. I’m not making this up. Blues fans are already in midseason form. Fans drove down Market Street, spotted an Allen jersey, and screamed, “get a job!” When I appealed to those souls in my car while Uber driving (don’t judge me), they weren’t swayed one bit. The 28-year-old goaltender plagued by inconsistency didn’t need more than a game to draw the ire of the fanbase.
Don’t expect this to stop. Allen brought this shadow upon himself with a slide in play and overall statistics the past two seasons. You can try and throw the blame on the players in front of him or competition from Carter Hutton, but the kid with the big contract hasn’t played like Armstrong thought he would. The part-time stud who convinced the team that Brian Elliott wasn’t needed has caused more frustration than jubilation the past two seasons, including last spring’s playoff-less episode at 14th and Clark.
The stats don’t lie or hide much. In 44 starts in the 2015-16 season, Allen posted a .920 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. The following season, those stats decreased to .915 and 2.42. Last season, Allen could only muster a 2.75 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. After accumulating six shutouts two seasons ago, Allen put up a combined five over the last two.
As I wrote last season, to much opposition from Blues fans, Allen is a better part-time goaltender than a starter. That Being a starter is a far more rigorous job than most assume. It’s not just starting 60-70 games and stopping shots. The mental aspect of handling losses, rebounding, and being consistent for six months is something completely different than what millions of aspiring goaltenders train for. Being an elite NHL goaltender can’t be taught: you either have it or you don’t. 206 starts into his career, Allen does not have it.
He will get the opportunity to improve and find redemption. There’s no Moose or Hutton standing in his way this season. Chad Johnson was brought in as Ville Husso insurance, so don’t expect him to part the blue sea anytime soon. It’s Allen’s net. Armstrong didn’t deal him in the offseason most likely due to the fact of a pricey contract and perhaps a need to find out what exactly Allen has left up his sleeve.
Like it or not, Blues fans, the answers will come soon. While the real answer may have to wait until January, the immediate play in net will carry some weight.
In the mean time, stop with the Bronx cheers. They solve nothing and come off as embarrassing amateur hour bullshit. You’re better than that, so act the part. It’s the first game of the season and you are mocking your goaltender when the rest of the team can’t even score a goal until the final minutes of play. If Allen doesn’t allow three of those goals, the Blues still lose.
If Allen’s career arc is worth anything in NHL coin, you’ll have plenty of time to complain. There’s a time for it and last night wasn’t it.
Do I think Allen can reverse the trend and turn back the tide? No. I don’t. He is what he is, which is a timeshare goaltender who isn’t good enough to be a #1. He’s not what the Blues need in net. If the youth movement at Enterprise continues, I’d expect to see Husso this season.
I hope I’m wrong. It’s not cool to see Blues Twitter burn in October.