The recent play of St. Louis rookie netminder Jake Allen has left Coach Hitchcock and the Blues with a problem, though it’s a nice one to have. With Jaroslav Halak deemed 100% and ready to play, the Blues suddenly have a crowd of capable backstoppers on the bench, and I don’t see them keeping three goalies. Allen came up from Peoria when Halak was hurt a week ago, and gave the beleaguered Brian Elliot a much needed break.
I don’t think many fans anticipated that Allen would make some of the flashiest, highlight-reel type saves of the year and win 3 games in a row, but he’s done just that, finishing off the run by stone-walling the Vancouver Canucks Sunday night and preserving a 4-3 shoot-out victory for the Blues. After making what many deemed the “save of the year” Friday night in Calgary (watch it here) Allen gave up a few tough goals to the Canucks Sunday night, but made another incredible save in the last minute of overtime and stopped both shots he faced in his first NHL shoot-out.
Vancouver jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the 1st period thanks to strong power-play passing by the Sedin twins, some shaky defense by the Blues in their own zone, and the absence of a St. Louis forecheck. The Blues let the Canucks fire on Allen as if he was a duck in a shooting gallery, and didn’t manage a shot of their own until 10:30, nearly halfway through the frame. Hard work entering the offensive zone by David Backes and David Perron finally paid off as TJ Oshie banged in a rebound to tie things up 1-1.
The Blues failed to build on that goal and instead allowed Vancouver to out-work them for the puck in the final minute of the period. Tic-tac-toe passing in front of Allen led to a pretty give-and-go and Henrik Sedin’s first goal of the season, putting the Canucks up 2-1.
The Blues started the 2nd period on the power-play but for the first time in 8 games failed to score with the man-advantage Sunday. Despite that, St. Louis really picked up their game and re-discovered their forecheck, dominating much of the period. Credit Vancouver for not allowing the Blues room to set up much in the offensive zone, but St. Louis was fast to the puck, moved well up and down the ice, and did a nice job of clogging up the middle.
The 4th line of Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, and Scott Nichol really made their presence felt in the 2nd, forechecking, backchecking, pressuring Roberto Luongo, and generally annoying the heck out of the Canucks. Vladimir Tarasenko found himself the target of numerous big hits, but he proved again Sunday that he’ll give as good as he gets and isn’t afraid to go right after physical contact in the corners.
The Blues continued their physical play into the 3rd period, and we got to see Reaves flex his muscles when challenged by Aaron Volpatti inside the first 2 minutes of play. Right from a face-off, the two heavy-weights squared off and traded some big blows, Reaves giving the better of the two, though Volpatti ended up taking him to the ice- no doubt having had enough.
The fight didn’t quite serve to ignite the Canucks on the ice, and St. Louis controlled much of the play throughout the 3rd, though they began to take a disturbing number of minor penalties. Allen stood tall in the face of a barrage of Vancouver shots. The Canucks were strong on the puck in the offensive zone all night, Sunday.
Vladimir Sobotka, one of the best defensive Blues forwards this season, put the St. Louis ahead at 8:00 with a nice move coming out from behind Luongo, snapping off a wrist-shot that deflected in off Patrik Berglund, breaking the tie and putting the Blues up 3-2. While Sobie didn’t get credit for the goal, it was his hard work that created it. He continues to be an unsung hero night after night.
Penalty trouble continued for the Blues, at one point short two skaters for about 50 seconds. Vancouver put serious pressure on Allen but he and the defense held, with outstanding penalty-kill work in particular by Oshie, Jackman, and Roman Polak. The Blues blocked more than 20 shots for the second consecutive game, Polak getting his body in front of eight of them. With just over 3 minutes to play however, all the penalties caught up to them.
With Ian Cole off for holding, Vancouver created one too many chances and tied the game again on a wrist-shot by Mason Raymond, with under 2 minutes to play in regulation. The game went to overtime and while the Canucks out-shot St. Louis 5-1 in the extra time, Allen was up to the task. He gloved a point-blank shot by Daniel Sedin and absolutely robbed Alexandre Burrows, on what could’ve been a game-winning breakaway, to send the match into a shoot-out.
The match-up of veteran Luongo against rookie Allen seemed to lean heavily in favor of the Canucks, but Allen once again stood on his head, stopping 2 shots while Oshie and McDonald scored, giving the Blues the win 4-3. Vancouver out-shot the Blues Sunday night 31-23, but for the first time this season the Blues saw their goalie steal a game for them.
With Halak now healthy, and Elliot rested, the Blues must make a decision whether to stick with the hot-hand, Allen, or get their #1 guy back in the net. Either way, it seems Elliot could be the odd man out. We’ll all be watching closely today to see if the Blues make any moves. They play at home against the San Jose Sharks tomorrow night.
GO BLUES! Long Live the Note!