Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Allen vows to fix recent struggles

Goalie feels mentally strong, eager to work 
through issues on ice and be "backbone" for team 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jake Allen walked out from behind a workout room for players only with a cast of media members awaiting his arrival in the Blues' locker room.

There was no hiding, no ducking away from any negative questions be was about to answer. Allen was ready to face the music. He's the No. 1 goalie of the Blues and with the good comes the bad.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen is determined to straighten his
game out in the second half of the season.

Allen has been struggling, and it isn't just a run of the mill stretch where things have gone wrong, there have been up-and-down stretches in Allen's game throughout season. Early on in the season, it was on the road, much like the team in general. Lately, it hasn't mattered where; it's been there, and too often.

Allen, who does have 17 victories this season among his 17-10-3 record, but his 2.70 goals-against average and .902 save percentage, among goalies with at least 15 starts, is tied for 37th in save percentage and 28th in goals-against after a 2.35 GAA and sparkling .920 save percentage a season ago. Allen was pulled for the third time in five games Tuesday in a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins (once because of injury) and four times this season because of his play. 

Not exactly what the Blues were looking for when they handed the keys of the cage over to Allen, who gets a boost in pay after signing a four-year, $17.4 million extension last summer, after dismantling the 1A-1B combo with Brian Elliott.

"It's not going my way right now and I need to find a way to be the backbone of this team in here and give the boys a chance," said Allen, who became a first-time father on Friday. "I get a good opportunity this week." 

As the Blues (21-15-5) begin the second half of their schedule tonight against the Los Angeles Kings, whether he or Carter Hutton get the call from coach Ken Hitchcock in goal, Allen will continue to battle and fight through his struggles.

The mental part of a goalie's game is probably the biggest hurdle on a day-to-day basis, not the physical aspects. The goalie is the last line of defense, whether the team in front of him is playing well or poorly, and when the goalie feels like he's fighting his game, like Allen appears to be doing lately makes for a tough challenge.

But Allen has learned to keep an even-keeled attitude, good or bad, and this is why he feels he can come out of his first adversity in the NHL better and stronger than he was before.

"As soon as I leave that rink door, it's over," Allen said. "It's been my protocol my whole life, not since I've just been in the NHL. It's something I started when I was way back in midget triple-A, I had an old coach that told me to do it. I've done it ever since. I don't think about last night unless you go over it with (goalie coach) Jimmy (Corsi) to video, it's the only really time where you go back and say, 'Look, I could have done this or done that or etc., etc.' Once the game's done, it's completely done.

"You can't dwell on the negative and you can't keep leaning on the positive and saying, 'Oh, I did this well or I did that well.' You've got to move on. There's another game right away. I think it's a mindset that you have to have in professional sports, especially as a goaltender, it's crucial. It's something that I've been doing my whole life."

What's puzzling, and at times frustrating, for not only Allen but Blues management and coaches, is he's shown flashes of brilliance with an ability of carrying a team on his back.

And then there's the present, when teams feel like they have Allen figured out, and go out and execute and expose the flaws. It's going to be up to Allen to figure out how to counteract the opposition, but he won't be alone in doing so.

"Jake is like everybody else on our team, we've got to battle this thing together. It can be a real rallying tool if we use it the right way. He's got to rally and we've got to rally around him. So ... 

"I think it's up to Jake. He's going to have to forge a steeliness through this adversity he's going through and he's going to have come out on top. It's on him. We're going to help him along, but at the end of the day, this is what every goalie goes though, you have to dig out yourself. We'll help him along, but at the end of the day we need him to dig out."

"He's fine. ... We've got to find a way to take care of the puck, stop giving glorious chances," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "That's on us. We can't expect him to make every single save every single night. We're giving up really good opportunities, but when we're on our game, we're taking care of the puck and taking care of each other."

Added defenseman Colton Parayko: "I think it's a team game. We're in front of him and if we don't give him the opportunity to make the easy saves, we're making it extremely tough on him. Teams are getting tons of prime opportunities against every game. For a goalie, that's tough. It's something we shouldn't be doing as a team. In a sense, we're almost leaving him hanging out to dry, kind of. I think if we start playing the style we can in front of him, we'll be better."

Allen is only 26 years old, and he has a 74-36-10 career record with a 2.43 GAA and .912 save percentage, so he's shown the ability that he can win. But if he wants to be among the elite goalies of the NHL, it's up to Allen how he deals with the adverse situations and how he uses those experiences to make him a better player.

The Blues had the luxury of having both Allen and Elliott in the past, and whoever came out playing better would get the net. It was a luxury Hitchcock had at his disposal, but that buffer pad is not there anymore where the Blues could play whichever goalie was playing better. 

This is a new experience, and the Blues can only use Hutton for so long before they will need Allen to be who general manager Doug Armstrong thought he would be when he signed him to an extension.

Which is why Allen feels this particular attitude will help him prevail.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (left) makes a save in the Winter Classic on the
Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov at Busch Stadium.

"Don't ever doubt yourself," Allen said. "I got here for a reason. Just be confident in there and trust everything that you've done to get here is going to work. It's tough times right now, but definitely better days ahead.

"... Yeah, the game now, everyone's in great shape. It's not the physical part. It's more the mental grind if you can grind your way through it. Right now, I'm in that challenge and I've got to find a way to grind through it. I've always thought of myself as being a mentally strong, even-keeled person. I think this is where it's going to have to come through and I'm going to have to step up and do something about it. We get a couple teams to chase ahead of us, and we really need to make some ground here."

If Allen makes some ground, the Blues make some ground. Simple as that.

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