Friday, May 20, 2016

Blues to start Allen in Game 4

Feeling he needs to change momentum, Hitchcock 
makes goalie switch hoping to avoid 3-1 series deficit

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Feeling the need to change the momentum that the San Jose Sharks clearly have in the Western Conference Final, Ken Hitchcock is making a change in goal and going with Jake Allen as the starter for Game 4 on Saturday (6:15 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

Allen, who has relieved starter Brian Elliott twice in the postseason, including 8 minutes 33 seconds of a 3-0 loss in Game 3 against the Sharks that has the Blues down 2-1 in the series, has played 49:57 in two games this postseason.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues will start goalie Jake Allen in a crucial
Game 4 against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

The Blues have been shut out twice in back-to-back games (150:45 total going back to midway through Game 1) for the first time in postseason franchise history, and after deliberating with coaches and management, Hitchcock came to the conclusion Friday morning that a team struggling to find ways for offense need to change the momentum somehow, someway.

"Some of it is just changing momentum for both teams hopefully, but part of it is also a luxury," Hitchcock said. "I've got a goalie that gives a different look, he plays a different style, he's very active in the net, he's very active at moving the puck and getting us out in transition. He's an awfully good goalie just like 'Ells' is. 

"'Ells' has run us quite a distance here and we just feel like Jake's a guy that can help us help change the momentum of a series."

It will be Allen's first start since April 3 at Colorado, when he sustained a lower-body injury and was replaced by Anders Nilsson.

"I just feel like if you're in a position where you need to change momentum, you need to look at a lot of things," Hitchcock said. "We got great minutes from the fourth line yesterday, changed momentum for us in a positive direction and we need more of that to happen quite frankly. So we need to look at every avenue.

"... I like to solicit a lot of opinions, so I listened to the coaches. We kind of got rid of it (Thursday) night and didn't want to deal with it that much because it's the emotion of the game and everything. So I just talked it over this morning, including management and we came to the decision. It's ultimately my call, but just feel like we need to get us a little bit of momentum changed our way because we're not being rewarded for the work and they are, which the small difference in this series is has been that. We dinged them in Game 1 and they dinged us in (Game) 2 and 3."

In 47 games during the regular season, Allen was 26-15-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He had a 2.20 GAA and .904 save percentage in six games of a first-round loss to the Minnesota Wild in the 2015 playoffs.  

Elliott, who allowed three goals on 14 shots in Game 3, has started all 17 games for the Blues this postseason. He's 9-8 with a 2.34 GAA and .925 save percentage.

The Blues saw the Stars play musical goalies in their series in the second round with negative results. But Hitchcock said he feels this won't be a detriment. He's cited in the past how the Blackhawks used both Corey Crawford and Scott Darling en route to winning the Stanley Cup last season.

"You've seen it lots," Hitchcock said. "I think quite frankly we've had two guys all year. It might be a story for people, but for inside the locker room and for us coaches, it is kind of an easy decision in the fact that it's probably easy for us than it is for other people because we've just trusted both guys so much. We trust Brian, even when there were bumps, we trusted Brian. 

"This is a little bit different. This is a change in momentum. We're playing a team that's got a confidence? in their game and a focus in their game that's been around for seven games now. We've got to change momentum here. They've been dialing in with this game for seven games now. I think if we expect to trot out just a little bit better effort and expect to see a change, that would be misleading. We're not gonna change that. We're going to have to change momentum in a real positive way with probably more drama to it and we're going to have to find people that can help us do that."

The players trust both goalies.

"I think either way, our group has all the confidence with whoever is in net tomorrow," center Kyle Brodziak said. "Obviously 'Moose' has been the backbone of our team for the entire playoffs and a big part of the year. You look back earlier in the year when 'Snake' had a chance to run in the net, he did a great job for us. We’re fully confident with him back there as well. Whichever way it goes we’ll be fully confident with them back there.

"... You never really want to have to rely on a goalie change to have to push your team. We’re in the situation we are right now. Whatever way the coaches decide to go with that we’re going to have to focus on what we need to do."

Hitchcock was asked how can bringing in a different goalie help alleviate the issues on offense. Well for one, Allen can transition the puck better from the defensive zone and give Blues defensemen perhaps better options moving up ice.

"Just brings alertness," Hitchcock said. "I think everybody's fixated on goals. This is a territorial series by two teams who are firmly entrenched in checking, and if you don't have positional patience in your transition and if you don't have structure on an ongoing basis in your transition, you get no zone time, and you get no zone time and you get no scoring chances. They had the breakdowns in the first game, which allowed us to get the odd-man rushes, which we got our goals on. We've had the few breakdowns. The two goals that we got scored on yesterday, first two goals were direct results of forcing pucks to covered people with committed checking people. Not only did we pass it to covered people, but they checked us hard off the puck to create the transition back. That's what we got, two teams who are more than comfortable checking away to a championship. 

"I said to you before, their team's dialed in and has been for seven games like this. ... We're going to have to be a lot better, so it's just a change in attitude I think in a number of avenues, not just goalie, in a number of avenues for us to win."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is fine after taking a cut, and forward Scottie Upshall, who missed Game 3 with an undisclosed injury, is available for selection if the Blues want to go that direction for Game 4.

"We got great minutes from Bortuzzo yesterday until he got cut there," Hitchcock said. "Guys that have come in have done a real job for us, they've done a great job for us. We want to try to do as much as we can to change momentum.

"Yeah, he's fine, and Upshall will be available if we want to use him. He'll be available for us."

But that may not be an option since Hitchcock liked the fourth line with Brodziak and wingers Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin.

"I liked it a lot," Hitchcock said of the line. "They played like a third line to be honest with you and I think we're going to find them hopefully playing more in the game and helping us. If that's their level ... they gave us great energy. I think what it also does is tells you what fresh players do. They were fresh and I think it really helped us. I think it gave us a big boost energy-wise too."

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