Is this season really all about goaltender Jake Allen?
Not all of it, no … but Allen obviously will be a central figure in the Blues’ success, disappointment or failure. If you look at some of the metrics-based team ratings out there, the Blues are highly regarded. The Athletic, for example, rates the Blues’ forwards at No. 10 in the league after a summer upgrades. And The Athletic is keen on the Blues’ defensemen, rating their top four at No. 5 and the entire group at 7th overall.
That sounds like a helluva team.
So what’s the problem?
Last season, among the 20 NHL goaltenders that started at least 50 games, Allen ranked 17th with a quality-start percentage of .482. His save percentage (.906) was 19th on the list of 20. Allen also ranked 19th in Goals Saved Above Average, costing the Blues an estimated three wins due to poor play.
Since the 2000-2001 campaign, among Blues goaltenders that started at least 20 games in a season, Allen’s .482 quality-start percentage was the second worst to Manny Legace’s .393 in 2008-2009. And Allen’s GSAA was third worst to Ty Conklin (2010-2011) and Legace.
The free-agent loss of No. 2 goaltender Carter Hutton made Blues fans nervous, especially after the team filled the void by signing Chad Johnson. CJ’s terrible numbers in 2017-2018 didn’t ease the concern of going into the season with so much anxiety over the goaltending.
The Blues’ sound, disciplined defensive system suppresses goal scoring. That’s a positive; compared to most teams, the Blues’ goaltenders have limited exposure and it makes their job easier. Even with Allen slumping, last season only five NHL teams gave up fewer goals than the Blues.
When Brian Elliott signed with the Blues before the 2011-2012 season, he was coming off two lousy seasons. His two-season save percentage was .893, a number that inspired little confidence. But Elliott thrived in the Blues system and became one of the league’s better goaltenders. That’s why I’m not as worried about Chad Johnson, who was an easy target behind Buffalo’s horrendous defense last season.
On the negative side: Allen performed worse than he should have given the Blues’ system that limits scoring. Allen’s .906 save percentage was considerably lower than his expected save% of .916, which is based on quality of shots faced. And Allen’s Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) was a gruesome minus 10.34 according to Hockey Reference. So Allen probably cost the Blues two or three wins.
I believe Allen will straighten out. He’s too talented to fold. Goalies tend to be persnickety, peculiar and unpredictable creatures that can change like a weather forecast. A couple of years ago, predicting greatness for Allen was just as premature as forecasting failure for him now.
The Short Shift:
Blues coach Mike Yeo has some things to prove, or at least reaffirm.
1. He’s put focus on fixing the power play, which was ranked dead last in the league in success rate last season. Given the Blues’ offseason influx of talent, the PP should be much better this season. But if it doesn’t improve, Yeo will have to hear and read more about his weak history in power play results while coaching the Minnesota Wild, and the Blues.
2. The Blues need to score more goals — period. More than anything, the shortage of firepower kept this team from getting into the playoffs last spring. With the additions of Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon and David Perron, the Blues should be more prolific in scoring goals … especially if the centerman O’Reilly can get the best from sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.
3. I personally don’t believe Yeo has a problem coaching young players, but let’s just say a lot of folks will be paying attention to the progress of Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Sammy Blais, etc.
Let’s Go Blues!
The “L” stands for “lag,” as in jet lag. Or lethargy. According to The Athletic, the Blues will be less rested than their opponents 10 more times compared to the number of games that their opponents go into a game with less rest than the Blues … And the “L” also stands for Luck, as in better luck. Enough of the injury plague. Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri deserve to have an injury-free season.
The “G” is for goals. More goals. Power play goals. Goals, goals, goals. And specifically, 45 goals for Tarasenko this season. That’s my prediction. Tarasenko needed a buddy and he has one in O’Reilly.
The “B” is for Back — as in Back in the Playoffs. Despite so many things going wrong last season the Blues finished with 94 points and missed making the postseason by a point. Management has added enough talent to ratchet the point total up to 98, at least. Beyond that, not sure. If Allen settles in, a spot in the Western Conference Finals is doable.
Thanks for reading …