This article was originally published in February 29th’s GameTime paper, ahead of a game that saw Jake Allen go head-to-head with Ben Bishop. Allen and the Blues would go on to beat Dallas 4-3 in the shootout.
The History Behind Platoon-Jake Allen
Coming into this season, questions were swirling around Jake Allen. With the dramatic emergence of Jordan Binnington, many weren’t sure whether Allen would be in the picture for much longer. This is especially considering his dramatic $4.35 million cap hit, which eats a big chunk out of the Blues already tight cap. With Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn both set to become free agents this summer, removing $4.35 million from the books would be an emphatic difference-maker.
And yet, Allen remains in St. Louis following the Trade Deadline. While part of this is surely the lack of interest in his hefty contract, his performance throughout the 2019-20 season has been plenty worth the price tag. In fact, Allen has performed incredibly in his new role. He’s answered every question that was present last summer and is now serving as the absolute best option to back up Binnington.
Some saw this writing on the wall (but were too scared to write about it during the pre-season). Allen has had a very interesting career so far; one that’s worked best when he served in a one-A:one-B, platoon role. In fact, that was the role that he was thrown into at the start of his professional career. Allen joined the Peoria Rivermen, who had another young star in net already; one that had already made his NHL debut and, while he wasn’t amazing, was showing hope: Ben Bishop.
Allen’s job coming into Peoria was to build up the foundation that Bishop was struggling to hold. Bishop had a save percentage of .908, .897, and .901 in his three AHL season’s prior to Allen’s professional-debut. While not awful numbers, they weren’t very much helping a Rivermen team that was already not very impressive. Allen, who was coming off a terrific career in the QMJHL, was the man to fix that.
But the Blues didn’t want to entirely abandon Bishop, so in Allen’s rookie AHL season, he received 47 of the 82 starts that year, although this higher tally was largely thanks to a seven-game callup that Bishop received. Still, Allen played great. He ended the year with a .913 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against-average. Bishop, in 35 starts of his own, tallied a .914 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against-average, clearly performing better with less responsibility. In fact, Bishop was performing so well that the Rivermen started gradually increasing his responsibility the following season. The two goalies made a 180 in 2011-12, with Bishop receiving 35 starts and Allen 38. They again both performed well (Allen: .915 SV%, 2.93 GAA; Bishop: .928 SV%, 2.26 GAA), with Bishop finally breaking out of his shell now that he had a right-hand-man to rely on.
And while the numbers point towards a sunshine-and-rainbows relationship between the two, the actual happenings were a bit sourer. The starting goalie was often a game-time decision during the 2011-12 season, with Allen being snubbed more than a few times; leading to noticeable unrest. What hurt even more was the fans perception of the two. Bishop was emphatically a fan favorite. He was on the same level as Ryan Reaves in the eyes of many Rivermen fans, which should go to say a lot to Blues fans aware of how incredible of a man Reaves is. In the eyes of Peoria, Bishop was the goalie of the future for St. Louis; definitely not Allen. This led to a unofficial day of mourning in Peoria when, towards the end of the 2011-12 season, Bishop was traded to the Ottawa Senators. This left Peoria with Allen, much to the dismay of fans.
The following year, Peoria’s heartache continued as Allen made his NHL debut. The then-22-year-old made the Blues NHL lineup out of camp, backing up Brian Elliott. He didn’t blow anyone away but played almost perfectly-average in the 15 NHL games he got, before being sent to the AHL in January. He was recalled again in April but, in that few-month gap, Allen also played in 35 AHL games, again playing just-alright with what was a very heavy workload.
He spent the entirety of the 2013-14 season in the AHL, though, giving him an experience he hadn’t had since 2007-08: he was the clear-cut starter. He played in a whopping 52 games, setting a very impressive .928 save percentage and 2.02 goals-against-average. This performance would win him the AHL’s goalie-of-the-year award that year and a definite NHL roster spot the year after.
Moving into the 2014-15 season and beyond, Allen’s minor league career was almost perfectly mirrored. He served as a young, hopeful backup to Elliott, who had been good-not-great in years prior. And while Allen played great, Elliott played better, leading to a gradual decrease of Allen’s responsibility, until Elliott was dealt away for a second-round pick a couple years after Allen’s joining. This is where the timeline differs, though. In a newfound, and very well earned, NHL starting role, Allen started to crumble under pressure. He became notorious for horrid mid-season slumps and a lack of reliability. He clearly was in desperate need of a platoon-role that he’d been granted for all but one season of his professional career. If he wasn’t able to either fix his terrible, and strangely consistent, trend or find a partner he could trust, Allen was going to dramatically fall out of favor.
And that’s exactly where Binnington comes in. Much like Allen to Bishop, or Allen to Elliott, Binnington is a young, very solid partner for Allen, allowing the now 29-year-old to return to the great level of play he once boasted. In fact, this year, Allen ranks seventh among all NHL goalies (with at least 15 games) in save percentage (.923). This puts him in the same company as Tuukka Rask and Tristan Jarry and three spots ahead of Bishop. While he does have the fewest games of any goalie in the top-40, he’s still done absolutely terrific when he’s been called upon. This rebirth of the former-star Allen is just one more accolade in what’s been an amazing season, for an amazing Blues team, that can’t stop doing amazing things.