The St. Louis Blues haven’t had a true number-1 goalie since Jaroslav Halak in 2011-12, but really haven’t experienced long term success with just one netminder since Grant Fuhr played from 1996-99 (249 GP). With that in mind fans have obviously gotten used to a 2-goalie system, yet seem to always be in search of the organization’s next franchise goalie. This has come with a great price as management has always gone with the ‘hot hand’ until push came to shove and then have, more often than not, decided who their playoff starter will be based on that same judgment.
This doesn’t give any goalies that have come through St. Louis in recent years’ past very much confidence in their coaches, which usually ends up translating to mistakes in key moments on the ice. Here’s why the latest ‘goalie controversy’ is getting blown out of proportions, and why talks about who’s the ‘number-1’ should simmer down.
— Dan_GNR_42 (@Dan_FortyTwo) February 16, 2016
Why There’s Really No Controversy
With the rigors of playing everyday in the fast-paced, heavy-hitting NHL goalies have become a more central focus on every team, and with back-ups consistently gaining more starts (on average) each season, a 2-goalie system has been successfully adopted by many teams around the league. Having 2 high quality goalies gives teams a chance to gain points in every single game they play, which has proven to be the difference between many bubble teams making or missing the playoffs. In addition, it also allows goalies ample time to mentally and physically prepare for each game, and also gives them the rest needed to stay sharp in every appearance they make.
In the Blues’ case a 2-goalie system won them the Jennings Trophy (fewest total goals allowed) in 2011-12, and has been the backbone of the team over the past 2 seasons. With Brian Elliott and Jake Allen splitting time last year, and with their total games’ played leveling out this year due to injuries (Ells: 31GP, Allen: 33GP), the team has been able to have a consistently great goalie in net to backstop them each game, and more importantly give them a chance to win. They both have All-Star caliber numbers this year (Ells: 2.03GAA, .933SV%, 1SO; Allen: 2.17GAA, .924SV%, 5SO), and have once again shown that the team’s problems do not lie in goal. Though the 2-goalie system has never been a Stanley Cup winning formula, last year’s champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, proved that you also need to have 2 stellar goalies to succeed through the playoffs in today’s NHL as well.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Allen’s Return
With the supposed ‘goalie controversy’ looming many area fans have been wondering who will get the majority of the starts once Allen is reactivated from the IR. What many fans need to remember is that there is no wrong answer to this question. Whether Allen or Elliott gets the majority of the starts the team clearly will have one of the top goalies in the league backstopping them, which is a great problem to have. And with the aforementioned playoffs starting to become a 2-goalie setup, the Blues could very well be ahead of the league’s curve in this regard and could ride both to a deep(er) playoff run this spring.
However, for this to work the coaching staff needs to sit down with both goalies and let them know that is the plan, and then they need to stick to it for it to work. The more games coaches play with goalies the more the goalies get into their own heads and start to doubt themselves or freak out because of the unknown. When a coach can set expectations early, remind both goalies that their (and the team’s) long term goals are one and the same, can stick to his word, and can support both goalies equally not only do the goalies’ consistency improve but their play, and the team’s, does as well. This is the best formula for success moving forward because neither Allen nor Elliott has proven to be the stand alone number-1 just yet (largely in part to both having such stellar seasons).
While Jake Allen is poised to be the future of the Blues club, and was the true number-1 until he suffered an injury on January 8th, he’s still young and learning at the NHL level. Conversely, Elliott has shown throughout his career that he only thrives in a 2-goalie system, but given his older age and increased experience he has really benefited from seeing how Allen battles each game, and has adopted some techniques of Jake’s that have really been paying dividends for the team since the early January set back.
Moving past this season Jake the Snake will be given the opportunity to be the team’s long term number-1, and he’s shown (through an abundance of highlight reel saves) that he’s got the goods to run with the role. As the Moose ages he will stay as consistent as ever, but may never truly take over the number-1 spot on any team, but that doesn’t mean his value is any less. He is a true teammate and leads by example, so he will continue to help the Blues (and any future teams he’s on) be a better team overall. While Ells may relinquish his starting duties once Allen returns, simply to try and boost goal production if nothing else, he will be a key cog to the Blues playoff puzzle whether he’s the starter or not. Hockey is the truest team sport there is for a reason, because every player needs to contribute on and off the ice to be successful, and the Blues tendies are certainly primed to backstop the team as far into the playoffs as the skater’s hearts and wills takes them.
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