St. Louis Blues knotted up in net, will Halak help untangle things?

Jan 19, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock and Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) and Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong pose with the general manager of the year coach of the year and goalie of the year trophies before the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues went into the lockout shortened 2012-13 season with an award winning goaltending tandem. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott combined the previous season to win the Jennings Trophy given to the goalie(s) on the team with fewest goals against. Their total of 165 had been the fewest since Martin Brodeur’s 164 in 2003-04.

Despite an injury to Halak in the post-season and Elliott’s collapse in Round 2, the Blues had to feel pretty good about their netminders coming into ’12-13. Elliot was an All-Star in 2012. Jaro had 3 consecutive seasons with 25+ wins. Halak has a 4-year deal in place (through 2014) and in January of last year St. Louis signed Ells to a 2-year contract extension. The picture seemed complete.

The start of the ’12-13 campaign was delayed by a lockout but nobody in St. Louis had much to worry about in January. Halak and Elliott combined for a 6-1 record in the first couple weeks of the season and media mavens across the country felt confident about the St. Louis pre-season hype. They had the tools to win and it was showing. Unfortunately, Jaro got hurt and Ells, stepping in to take over as starter while #41 was on the mend, showed only a shadow of his Jennings form in losing 5 games in a row to begin February.

Mar 19, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen (34) during the first period against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The wheels had apparently fallen off the proverbial bus, but GM Doug Armstrong found an answer to the problem in Peoria, at the time the AHL affiliate for the Blues. Rookie Jake Allen was called up and asked to right the ship and he did so in pretty spectacular fashion, wining his first start on the road in Detroit. In fact, Allen would win his first three starts in a row before being out-dueled 1-0 by Antti Niemi and the San Jose Sharks.

Jake finished the regular season with nice numbers for a rookie goaltender thrown into the mix in an emergency fashion going 9-4 in 13 starts with 1 shutout, a 2.46 GAA and a .904 Save %. He dazzled us at times, making saves like the one that has him in the running for TSA’s Play of the Year.

Allen was so good during his stretch of starting that even when Halak returned from injury the rookie remained with the club as the backup. The rookie is a Restricted Free Agent this off-season but word has it the Blues plan to re-sign all of their RFAs so it’s fairly safe to say Jake will be wearing the Bluenote again, although a contract does not necessarily preclude a trade for anyone.

The team kept all three goalies on the roster for a few weeks and Elliott was a healthy scratch for most of that time before accepting a reconditioning assignment in Peoria with the Rivermen. Ells went down and played in two games before returning to the Blues. Surprisingly to some, Allen was sent back to Peoria and Elliot took over as the backup. Halak re-injured himself on April Fool’s Day in a game against the Minnesota Wild and Ells stepped in, getting the win in relief and starting one of the best months by an NHL goalie in any season.

NOV 19, 2011; St. Paul, MN, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) makes a save in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Enregy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Halak was placed on IR and Allen was recalled, with Elliott becoming the defacto starter. The reconditioning stint apparently worked as Ells would go on a tear, back-stopping the Blues to a 12-3 record for the month of April (one of those losses belonged to Allen) with 6 wins in the first 6 games. The 12 victories set an NHL record for most by one goalie in April. Six of those wins were by 1 goal and eight of them by 2 or less. It could be said that Elliott, once a goat and watching from the press box, single-handedly carried the Blues into the playoffs.

Ells was good in the first round match-up versus the Los Angeles Kings, with all 6 games decided by just one goal, but Jonathan Quick was better. Rumor/news out of the Blues clubhouse had Jaro in a yelling match with Coach Hitchcock, possibly about the fact he wasn’t called upon to play at all in the series, despite returning from IR before Game One. The Blues rode the hot hand, as they’ve been wont to do over the last 2 seasons, and all but the staunchest Halak supporters would probably agree it was the right thing to do.

The question now is what will St. Louis do about the potential log-jam in net? The Blues have already begun signing Free Agents, with forward Adam Cracknell and defenseman Ian Cole each getting one-way deals in the last week. If GM Doug Armstrong is true to his word and the Blues sign all of their RFAs, they’ll have Allen, Elliott, and Halak all under contract for next season. It’s only speculation until something actually happens.

Apr 26, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) during the game against the New York Islanders at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Allen could get a two-way deal and start the season in Chicago (the new AHL affiliate.) There could be a trade moving one of the trio out, solving the issue, or even sending more than one of them packing. One internet rumor has Ryan Miller on the radar as a potential “fix” to the Blues’s goaltending problem. The only problem I see is that they have 3 starting caliber goalies. Is one of them a Cup winning netminder? We’ll have to wait and see.

Do you think the Blues will keep all three of these goaltenders? Will Halak be traded? I’d be happiest seeing Jaro dealt away. His inability to stay healthy has been a problem. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or head over to Facebook and share some insights.

Topics: Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Jaroslav Halak, Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues

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  • http://beautypersoni.livejournal.com Christopher-J Carlson

    I was very pleased to see Jake Allen – a fellow New Brunswicker – do so well in his call-up for the Blues. Heavy pressure. But, being thrown so quickly into the fire may have helped. With little time to mull over his situation he just had to put on his pads and play his game. I expect St. Louis won’t rush him at all though, gradually giving him more occasional call-ups over the next few seasons. Hope his experience tempered him well for the future and he avoids getting stuck or falling back in his development.

    Oh, yeah. I like those other two Blues goalies too! :^) Though I was very disappointed they didn’t make it past L.A. I expected them to go far in the playoffs. Despite being a Predators fan, I really like the make-up of the Blues.

    Anyhoo…

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