Thursday, February 21, 2013

Allen provides Blues reinforcement in goal

Netminder filled in well for struggling Elliott,
assigned to Peoria after Halak returned from injury

ST. LOUIS -- With the return of Jaroslav Halak in goal Wednesday night and Brian Elliott continuing on the right path after a tough stretch of games, the Blues returned goalie Jake Allen to Peoria on Thursday morning.

Allen, the Blues' second round pick in 2008, was thrown into the fire with the team sliding down a slippery slope that endured a five-game winless slide that saw the Blues spiraling down a path of uncommon ground.

But Allen, 22, can go back to the Rivermen with a sense that he was able to help the team -- at least in the immediate turn -- get their goaltending situation straightened out.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Jake Allen, assigned to Peoria Thursday, played well as
Brian Elliott struggled and Jaroslav Halak was dealing with a
groin injury.
Not only did Allen win his first three decisions in the National Hockey League (becoming the first to do so since Reinhard Divis won five in a row to begin his shortened career), but for the first time since turning pro, the Fredericton, New Brunswick native reinforces the Blues' depth at a position that had been stagnant for many years.

"This is what I want," Allen said. "This is what I've wanted since I turned pro, to get a chance here."

With the Blues laboring at 0-4-1 and heading to a place (Joe Louis Arena) that has been a gauntlet for not only the Blues but a number of NHL teams, Allen had an inauspicious beginning with a triumphant ending.

Before helping the Blues win 4-3 in overtime at Detroit to help them break their winless slide, Allen came on in relief of Elliott in a 6-1 loss to Nashville, allowing a goal on his first NHL shot. He also gave up two goals on eight shots to start in Detroit, as the Blues fell behind 2-0 just over seven minutes into that game. But Allen settled down and made a game-saving stop in overtime on Damien Brunner moments before Alex Steen's OT winner.

The streak continued in Calgary, where Allen made what will arguably go down as the save of the year on the Flames' TJ Brodie that helped preserve a 2-0 lead in a game in which the Blues ultimately won 5-2.

And to top off a tough trip, Allen was solid once again, out-dueling veteran Roberto Luongo in a 4-3 shootout victory in Vancouver before suffering the loss in a 2-1 home loss to San Jose Tuesday night. The game-winning goal came off the stick of Tim Kennedy, a goal Allen said was "unfortunate."

"I felt that I've played well in my four games," said Allen, who went 3-1-0 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in five games. "I wouldn't change anything at all. It's just another learning experience for me. I'm not trying to get too high or too low, just trying to make the most of my opportunity."

Which is what his teammates believe he accomplished.

"He's a great goaltender," defenseman Barret Jackman said of Allen. "He's really given us a chance to win.

"He's given us a huge boost, he's made some big stops. But I think all around, the team's played much better. Our forwards are doing an unbelievable job of coming back and getting over top of the opposition on breakouts, which makes it easy for the d-men to step up, get a lot of loose pucks, make our transition and play in the offensive zone."

Allen was recalled twice while Elliott labored during an 0-3-1 homestand after Halak suffered a groin strain in Detroit on Dec. 1. But Halak returned and played well, particularly in the third period and overtime, in a 1-0 loss at Colorado Wednesday night. His groin injury -- at least for the time being -- is behind him after missing 19 days.

But in case the Blues need to rely on reinforcements again, Allen displayed he's more than capable of filling in. And he also gave the Blues a sense that one day in the future he could be a No. 1-type netminder should the situation ever arise. In the meantime, Allen was happy to help right the ship.

"That's my job, to get in there and give the team a chance," Allen said. "It's my job to be the practice backup or anything to support and be a good teammate. That's what I'm trying to do."

* NOTES -- Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko left the game in the third period of Wednesday night's loss at Colorado following a hit from the Avs' Mark Olver.
Tarasenko clearly felt the affects of Olver's hit, whose shoulder made contact with Tarasenko's jaw area and sent him to the ice.
Tarasenko, a No. 1 pick in 2010, was sent to a Denver-area hospital for observation but accompanied the team's flight back to St. Louis afterwards. There was no immediate update on Tarasenko's condition Thursday, as the team had the day off. Also, the league reportedly deemed the hit legal and no further course of action will be taken.

"Just because we don't pursue a hearing doesn't mean we haven't reviewed it extensively," NHL senior vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan told the Post-Dispatch. "When we looked at it last night, and we revisited it again this morning, we felt that although there was principal contact to the head, the second element for the rule to be called, 'targeting,' was not there on this play. And our job is to enforce the rules that are in the rulebook. That's the has to have both elements."

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