The Blues’ Troubles At Home Begin With Jake Allen In Goal

Blues chairman Tom Stillman, ever supportive, hasn’t given up on the season.

The Blues are still lagging in the Western Conference standings, and sitting near the bottom of the NHL with 38 points. But with his team exactly halfway through its 82-game schedule, Stillman sees an opportunity for the Blues to make the playoffs.

“What I’ve been thinking about recently is 2009,” Stillman said on Tuesday morning, during a 45-minute visit to the Bernie Show on 101ESPN radio. “On January 19th we were in 26th place, then we had that game in Boston where David Backes scored with (less than a second) left, and from there we went on a run and made the playoffs. So we can do it. The Flyers did it last year. They were way down at this time last year and then made the playoffs.”

As the Blues prepared for Thursday night’s home game against visiting Montreal the Blues were 17-20-4 overall, and a bitterly disappointing 10-13-2 at home. They’re eight points behind in the chase for the No. 2 wild-card playoff spot in the West. With 38 points, the Blues are ranked No. 28 among the NHL’s 31 teams.

“It’s no secret that we’re struggling,” Stillman said. “But at the same time we’re not raising any white flags. We’re going to keep going. I still have confidence in this group.

“If you look up and down the roster and see the skill and the ability and the character — I think they will still come together.”

Let’s discuss.

First, if Tom Stillman doesn’t express a positive outlook during a public round of Blues Talk — then who will? Stillman, a gentleman above all else, is trying to set an example here. He wants to make sure that his players and coaches know he still believes in them. And that’s the correct message. The proper message. The only message.

He’s also human.

The Blues haven’t come close to playing up to preseason expectations inflated by an aggressive offseason roster makeover.

To that end, Stillman is just as frustrated as the fans. And that’s especially true when he hears Blues’ players confessing to their lack of effort and intensity in competition. The Blues have lost by 4+ goals six times already at Enterprise Center this season.

“I have a padded room at home,” Stillman said, adding a dash of humor to his dissatisfaction. “I will agree that is the most frustrating part of it. And I also would say, I don’t think we’ve seen that recently. The effort has been there (lately.) But I will confess to having said pretty much the same thing that you’ve said. I know how hard this game is. There are a lot of hard things you’re trying to do out there with an NHL-caliber player six inches away from you, trying to stop you from doing it. But as you say the one thing you can control is your own effort.”

Can the Blues rally, stop lurching, crank up the internal engine, and start winning enough games to make the playoffs and save their season? According to Thursday morning’s Playoff Probabilities Report at the Hockey Reference site, the Blues have only an 11 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason. The only Western Conference teams with worse odds are Chicago (2.3%) and Los Angeles (1.1%).  

But in mentioning the 2008-2009 Blues, Stillman cited the right precedent in offering a reason to believe in these Blues.

In fact, the 2008-2009 Blues were in a less favorable position through 41 games than this current Blues team.

The ‘08-09 Blues had 35 points at the halfway checkpoint. The 2018-19 Blues had 38 points after Game No. 41.

After a plodding 16-22-3 start, the ‘08-09 Blues charged their way to 92 points and a playoff spot by clicking for an 18-6-3 record over the final 27 regular-season games. Those Andy Murray-coached Blues were swept out of the first round by Vancouver in four straight, but that isn’t relevant to this discussion.

We’re talking about in-season comebacks. And the 2008-2009 Blues proved that it can be done. And based on the latest regular-season projections, it would take 90 points to grab the No. 2 wild-card ticket. There have been taller mountains to climb.

But that’s as far as I can go in offering optimism.

The Blues are plagued by a terrible set of of problems. None worse — in my opinion — than goaltending. And if we’re using the 2008-2009 Blues as the comeback-kids model for the 2018-2019 Blues, then we must also recognize the most distinct and meaningful difference between the teams.

The 2008-2009 Blues had a good goaltender, Chris Mason, to lean on.

The 2018-2019 Blues have an enigma in goal, Jake Allen, and can’t count on him.

As always, Allen’s peculiar headwires are tangled … again. And Allen is absolutely the worst goaltender in the NHL when occupying the net at home this season. The numbers are horrific;  I’ll share them in a few moments.

The ‘08-09 Blues were raised from the dread of a slow start by the molten-hot Mason. In his final 38 starts of the regular-season Mason went 24-8-6 with a .924 save percentage, 2.01 goals-against average. During the 38-game stretch Mason posted five shutouts and allowed no more than a single goal in 13 other starts.

Does this sound like a description of Jake Allen to you? Me neither.

Well, not when the Blues are home, anyway.

Allen has played well on the road,with a .922 save percentage and winning (6-5-2) record. But Allen gets the yips when playing at home, giving up bad goals, soft goals, and crushing goals — all of which demoralize a fragile team.

Here are Allen’s Enterprise Center numbers this season during even-strength situations:

Among the 28 NHL goaltenders that have played at least 500 minutes on home ice, Allen is tied for the worst save percentage at .886.

Using the Goals Saved Above Average Metric (GSAA), Allen is dead last among the 28 goaltenders with a horrendous GSAA of minus 15.20. That means he’s 15 goals worse than a league-average goaltender at home.

Surveying the stats of goaltenders that have played at least 100 minutes on home ice during tie-game situations — 43 goalies in all — Allen ranks 40th with an .882 save percentage. He’s also 40th in GSAA (minus 4.44) and has the poorest high-danger save percentage (.652) among the 43.

What about protecting leads at home? Among 26 goaltenders that have logged at least 100 minutes at home this season when their teams have a one-goal lead, Allen ranks 24th with an .872 save percentage, is last in GSAA at minus 4.11, and is 19th with a medium-danger save rate of .833.

When Allen has a lead at home this season — by any score — he’s not what you want for security. Among the 25 goaltenders with at least 200 minutes of action when their team owns a lead, Allen ranks 24th with an .886 save percentage and is 24th in GSAA (minus 5.91.) Most discouraging of all: his .983 save percentage on low-danger shot attempts when leading a game ranks 22nd among the 25.

If the Blues truly want to give it their best shot and launch a comeback that leads to a spot in the postseason tournament, Jake Allen should be banned from the Enterprise Center.

OK; that’s probably too harsh. The Blues needn’t ban Allen from home games. I’m kidding about that.

The team can settle for benching Allen. Just make him the backup goalie when the Blues go marching into the Enterprise Center.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie