Which goalie will St. Louis Blues roll with in playoffs?
The St. Louis Blues are a match up nightmare for most teams. Depth at center? The Blues are about as beastly as they come with Paul Stastny, David Backes and Jori Lehtera. Defense? Give me Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman. And there's that Tarasenko dude of course.
What can derail this team in a deep run into the Western Conference playoffs – besides the Kings (who probably won’t make it) and Chicago Blackhawks? That would be goaltending!
The simple son (an homage to this week’s Passover holiday) may ask, ‘But they have Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, right?’
Yes, they do simple son, but it’s not that easy. This is because coach Ken Hitchcock is playing mind games with his netminders in the media, as the 24-year-old Allen continues to stay scorching hot. Meanwhile the 29-year-old Elliott has cooled off since being publicly named playoff starter.
With a 1-0 loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday, Allen is 4-1-1 in his last six games and allowed seven goals in that span.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch following the Winnipeg game where Allen stopped 30 of 31 shots on goal in the loss.
The game did nothing to change Jake Allen's status as the goalie with the hot hand, as he stopped all but one shot and made saves on two breakaways. But the Blues, who beat Ondrej Pavelec thanks to a lob from the neutral zone in their last meeting, couldn't beat him Tuesday on more mainstream approaches to scoring.
And there was this little nugget on Twitter from Post-Dispatch Blues beat scribe Jeremy Rutherford.
Hitch on whether Allen or Elliott will face #blackhawks Thursday: "I don't know, let's talk about that tomorrow."
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) April 8, 2015
Elliott has won one of his last four starts. His save percentage in that stretch is just .824. Then again, this came right after a stretch where Elliott – a favorite of ours for leaving his All-Star beach vacation to spend the weekend in Columbus at the game as an emergency replacement – allowed four goals in a four game stretch, including two shutouts.
And it was in late March – during his hot streak – that Elliott had inspired confidence in the Blues’ brass.
From a March 24 article in ESPN.com
"He's an elite goaltender. There's no question about what he's done over the year. I've always had the feeling he was a good goaltender, but he's at that right age now where his game is complete," (goaltending coach Jim) Corsi said. "He's become a pillar for our team."
Then why does Hitchcock suddenly have such an itchy finger with his goaltenders? Does Elliott know he’s the starter, behind closed doors, and is taking it a little easier for the playoffs?
Hitch, who is one of those coaches with media truth serum, doesn’t sound like he’s hiding anything to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“We see a guy that is hot, that’s feeling it, so you ride it out,” Hitchcock said. “Whenever that runs out, then you go a different direction. I think when you’re in points mode, you ride whatever’s hot.
“During the season there’s more of a long-term plan. But when you get into that 30-day mode, when there’s 30 days left, it’s whatever is going. It’s nice to have options. That’s what we’ve got right now — we’ve got options — so let’s use them.”
And that 30 days probably goes … oh right into the playoffs.
Said The Hockey Writers:
Coach Ken Hitchcock stuck to the company line earlier in the season, all but shouting from the Scottrade Center rafters that Elliott was the Blues’ #1 goalie, but has said in the last couple of days that both goaltenders will play over this final week of the regular season and that he’d “ride the hot hand” if it comes down to it.
Goaltending is the most mentally taxing position in hockey. It has almost no gray area to the untrained eye. The goaltender makes the save, or he doesn’t. The Blues have been strange in how they’ve dealt with their netminders this year, bringing in Martin Brodeur when Elliott was hurt, and then trying to figure out how to deal with the legend when he was on the outs – and being outplayed by Allen as the backup.
This adds another wrinkle to the situation.
Elliott’s playoff numbers are so-so. He’s 6-10 with a 2.55 goals against average and .898 save percentage. In 2012-13, he was beat by the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, in spite of notching a 1.90 goals against average and .919 save percentage. He can be good enough in the playoffs, especially for a team this talented.
But if Hitchcock wants Allen to start, at very least stop playing these games. We’ve seen playoff goaltender confusion created by end of season coaching decisions mangle other postseason runs in the past – looking at you Boudreau, Bruce.
The Blues have established that they’re a, if not the, Western Conference favorite. There’s no need to keep this situation unsettled, unless they want to screw up another potential deep run.
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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper
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