Jake Allen Getting the Nod for Blues in Game Four
The St. Louis Blues have been right to give starting netminder Brian Elliott a solid playoff run this postseason, failing to tandem him with fellow starter Jake Allen at all up to this point.
The Blues have started to falter, though.
The team went from dominant performances against the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars in the first two rounds to immense struggling against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals. They’ve been shut out in back-to-back games against their California opponents to fall to a 2-1 deficit in their best of seven series, falling victim to the consecutive shutouts for the first time in the team’s playoff history.
As a result, they’re trying to spark something new – and they’re moving from Elliott to Allen for game four tomorrow evening:
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) May 20, 2016
Elliott was one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in the 2015-16 season, and his postseason performance has been more than impressive – so at first glance, the move may seem questionable. After all, he allowed three goals in game three against the Sharks to see his team fall and head coach Ken Hitchcock pull him from net, but he can’t score the goals and make the saves for the team. His performance in the last two contests could have been better, but the losses aren’t on him; it’s hard to win games when the team can’t find the back of the net even once.
Looking closer, though, the move may be exactly what the Blues need.
NHL.com analyst and InGoal Mag managing editor Kevin Woodley has documented the impact that Allen has on St. Louis’ breakout strategy well.
Hitchcock has suggested that Allen is noticeably more active in net than Elliott, and that impacts how the team’s defense plays and how they deploy their exit strategy from the zone:
“Jake is more active in net; Brian is more conservative, both with the puck and in playing. Brian plays closer to the goal line. Jake plays closer to the edge…” suggested Hitchcock, per Woodley.
“It does [make an impact] on the exits. One guy we have flexibility, he can go either way, and the other guy, we have some automatics that we call. It is different, but our defense knows going in what we are going to do on exits depending on the goalie.”
When the team is playing well, they obviously handle the task of exiting their own zone with no problem; as mentioned by Hitchcock, the roster is aware of Elliott’s more conservative play and is able to adapt to that with no problem.
When the team is playing poorly, though, they struggle to exit the zone and get hemmed in by their opponent. Swapping out Elliott for Allen isn’t a product of one of the two playing poorly; it’s the team taking advantage of a stylistic difference in an attempt to spark the team’s offensive rush, and that’s incredibly important to identify.
Of course, this could go poorly for them. With greater levels of activity sometimes come greater levels of inconsistency for Allen; when he’s off his game, it can be far more costly than when Elliott is playing less than perfectly. Allen’s depth can leave him out of position sometimes, and playing the puck is always a calculated risk.
With two straight shutouts, though, it’s clear that something needs to spark St. Louis’ offense. Putting in Allen is a chance to do that, and failing to at least give the swap a try could cost the team dearly – so with the playoffs on the line and the series slipping away from the Central Division club, this isn’t the worst decision the team could make.
The two teams will face off at the SAP Center in Northern California tomorrow evening for game four of the series.