The St. Louis Blues went into the 2020 playoffs with their goaltender situation all figured out. Six short games threw a wrench into that confidence.
When the 2020 NHL playoffs began, the St. Louis Blues were one of the only teams involved that did not seem to have some goaltender controversy going on. The only other teams that felt they had any certainty in net were the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens.
Everyone else, including the Philadelphia Flyers, appeared more than comfortable with the idea of splitting time with two goaltenders. That is the norm in the regular season, but in the playoffs you usually figure things out and only switch if there is something wrong.
Some teams did not have a sure starter. Colorado was deciding between both of their guys and the same was true of Carolina. Other teams had a guy they were going to go with, but might have been on a short leash.
The Blues entered the postseason knowing that Jordan Binnington was their guy. Jake Allen had become the consummate team player, the one who emulated the styles of the opposing goaltender in the 2019 playoffs so the forwards could get a better grip on where to shoot.
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Things can change in a hurry. Even leaving the disaster that the round-robin games were out of the equation, six, short games against the Vancouver Canucks have turned things upside down.
That is not to say that Binnington is not or should not be the starter whenever the next season begins (scheduled to be December of 2020). That is not to say Allen deserves to be the starter either.
What those playoff performances do show is that we don’t know anything for sure. Things that were taken for granted now have to be questioned.
One thing that has to be slightly questioned is Binnington’s ability to be the guy. We have such a short body of work on him, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we don’t know that he’s not just the next in line to be a 1A goalie.
We know he has the talent and mentality to win a Stanley Cup. That does not always mean you are the only one the team should ever consider.
Draw an analogy from champions in the NFL. Trent Dilfer and Jeff Hostetler both won Super Bowls, but you’re either lying or a fool if you would take either of those guys over Dan Marino or Donovan McNabb, who did not.
Championships should be the last part of an argument between players that are on the same level with everything else. So, we cannot use a Stanley Cup championship, impressive as it may be, as the only credential for Binnington absolutely being the guy.
There are other goalies that won a Stanley Cup and then went on to an OK career. Jean-Sebastien Giguere won a Cup and was also the Conn Smythe winner in the season the Ducks did not win (2002-03), but outside of those years his numbers were somewhat pedestrian.
Despite winning one Cup and playing in two finals, he played for five teams overall. Two of those teams, Toronto and Colorado, came after he won.
Additionally, despite his championship ring, Binnington’s playoff numbers are not that great.
The year the Blues won, Binnington had a .914 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against. Those are not bad numbers, but not numbers you simply cannot ignore for how good they are.
Binnington was especially bad, statistically, against the Canucks. In five games played, he allowed 21 goals off 140 shots. That gave him an .851 save percentage and a 4.72 goals against.
There is little doubt that the defense gave him no help and the offense little support. Those numbers cannot be ignored, especially when we have only looked at cold, hard numbers when figuring out a goaltender’s worth in the past.
Conversely, the vocal portion of Blues fandom thinks Allen cannot stand up to playoff pressure. The numbers might say otherwise.
Allen’s career playoff numbers are .924 save percentage and 2.06 goals against. Take the name away and most people would say those are good stats.
Binnington’s career numbers are .904 and 2.76. That’s over a similar sample size too, with Allen having 29 career playoff games and Binnington with 31.
None of this is to say Binnington is not the guy either. He showed in 2019 that he has the mental fortitude to bounce back from bad games and shut a team down when it mattered most.
For some guys, numbers don’t always matter. Former Blues and Edmonton Oilers great, Grant Fuhr, was an example of that. His numbers were not all-time great, but he had the mentality to win those big games and come up with the save when needed most.
Nobody should think this article is saying Allen should be made the Blues starter either. If Allen is to start, it will likely be with another team, but that has to enter into the equation as well.
Allen playing quite well against Vancouver and Binnington not showed that the Blues rely on both guys. Going into the 2020 playoffs, most were quite certain that Allen would be traded in the offseason for cap space.
That does not seem like a good idea now. Are the Blues that confident in a goaltender with only 114 combined NHL games that they are willing to jettison a backup that can start in favor of Ville Husso?
Again, the Blues are not in untreaded waters. The Pittsburgh Penguins have gone through this, albeit under different circumstances.
The Penguins were willing to let Marc-Andre Fleury go to the Vegas Golden Knights because they were confident in Matt Murray. Now, the Penguins have goaltender issues of their own with some wanting Murray out in favor of Tristan Jarry.
The point is, we don’t know. That’s a problem.
When the pandemic shut sports down, we did know. Whether you were a fan of Binnington or Allen, you could likely agree that Binnington was to be the main starter going forward and for the foreseeable future.
Now, after six games in a playoff bubble, we don’t know. We don’t know that the Blues can afford to trade Allen away.
We don’t know that Binnington will be able to handle the lion’s share of the games. We don’t know that the career in the minors was the aberration and the 2019 playoff performance the rule.
We don’t know if the 2020 playoff performance was bad play, a crack in the mental armor, something covid related or anything else.
When you go from knowing something for sure to not knowing at all, it can be jarring. We know the Blues will enter 2020-21 with Binnington as the starter, but beyond that, it’s all up in the air.