Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Allen ready for workload

Blues goalie ready to step back into spot he lost after injury; 
Pietrangelo could play Saturday; Reaves suspended three games

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's never "good" timing when a player goes down to injury.

But for the Blues, who are used to carrying a 1A- and 1B-type goalies on their team for the past five seasons, the luxury of having two guys that can seamlessly step in at a moment's notice is something few, if any, teams can claim.

For the Blues, it's happened twice with their goalies, and for a team to recover from one goalie injury is asking a lot. The Blues are being asked to do it twice, and they feel like they can achieve it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen (right) returned Monday after missing six weeks with a
knee injury. He assumes the role of No. 1 in light of Brian Elliott's injury. 

Brian Elliott's lower-body injury will sideline him for four weeks or more, but when a team has Jake Allen, who was sidelined himself with a left knee injury that gave Elliott a chance to shine in the first place, steps into the spotlight again just in the nick of time.

Allen missed 17 games when he was injured at Anaheim on Jan. 8, and Elliott came in and started 18 straight games and played near-flawless netminding. It kept the Blues (35-18-9) afloat in the standings, and actually thrust them higher in the standings while Allen was sidelined.

"It makes somewhat of a seamless transition," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We're all feeling for Brian; it's a tough break for him, but for the one time, it's fortunate timing with injuries where we get Jake back at the perfect time for him to come in and step in for Brian. He's going to jump into a pretty hard part of the season right now and it might take a couple games for him to get adjusted, but a lot of that falls on our shoulders to play a pretty strong game in front of him and make sure that he gets some comfortable games in and start to build that confidence back up.

"It goes a long way to have two good goalies, not only for one guy to come in a few games into the season and steal some wins for you, but in crucial times like this, you start to realize now with how fast and hard the game is, not many guys make it through the season unscathed. With Brian going down, we're fortunate that we've got Jake back and vice versa when it happened to Jake. We're in a good position and the best part is we know what we get out of both goalies every time. We've seen it for years."

Having two strong goalies is a must today. Look at the Montreal Canadiens; they're a perfect example of a team that's suffered greatly without the injured Carey Price.

"I think that's just the new day and age in the NHL," Allen said. "I think you need two goalies. It doesn't matter who they are, just two goalies that can play and give teams chances to win games. I think that's the biggest thing in the NHL right now. I think you've seen that with the majority of teams. There might be the odd team with one guy that's playing, like a (Henrik) Lundquist or a Price, that's playing 75 games but it's very rare. We're very fortunate to have two guys that can play.

"I think the positioning, the style, the evolution of goaltending. It takes a lot bigger toll on your body than it used to. We're always in weird positions on the post, it's not easy on your body, it takes a toll, and you definitely need that rest. The travel, and the pace of the game, a lot more of a battle out there than people think. Playing in front of guys, 240 pounds in front of the net, 6foot 6, it's not easy to fight and keep your ice. It's definitely taxing on the body. You need two goalies in this league."

It's not often one team can place both of their goalies among the league leaders in statistical categories.

But both Elliott and Allen are right there with the best. 

Elliott is fifth in goals-against average at 2.14; Allen is eighth at 2.18. Elliott is second in save percentage at .929; Allen is tied for ninth at .923.

But coach Ken Hitchcock has been fortunate to not second-guess who goes in when one of either Allen or Elliott have gone down.

"It's where we're at. Another guy up, another guy's turn," Hitchcock said. "It's given is quality time with guys like (Pheonix) Copley and (Jordan) Binnington to get them ready, but at the end of the day, it's 'Ells' and Jake and you'd like the security that one guy's in and one guy's playing and the other guy's getting ready to play. It hasn't been that way so for us, we could have caught a worse break on timing. We're lucky on the timing because this was really six full weeks on Jake. We waited til the last possible meeting to get him ready."

Allen, who is 18-11-3 on the season, will get the bulk of the games down the stretch.

"We don't have a choice right now. He's our guy," Hitchcock said of Allen. "I think the one good thing is that Copley's been up with us before. He's back up with us again. The newness is out. Guys love his competitive level. He's a real trier and I think everybody likes that. He's a guy if he has to play, there's a lot of American (Hockey) League goalies that are in the NHL playing right now that were in the American League either last year or even at the start of this year. If something happens and 'Cop's got to go in, he'll play well."

Allen said he's ready, when with back-to-back games this weekend.

"We've got 20 games left, a chance for me to get back on my feet, get comfortable again, give the guys a chance in the final push," Allen said. "We've set ourselves up great. We've got 20 games to decide our own fate in the division. Even though that's not really the end of the world as long as we get in the playoffs, 20 games to finish on the right note, and that gives us all a chance, including myself, to get back into tiptop shape for the playoffs.

"I felt good (Monday in relief of Elliott). It was just nice to get some game action, some big bodies, meaningful play. In practice it's great, but still not really the same as a game. It was just nice to get my feet wet and tomorrow will be another chance for me to get back out there and feel comfortable again. It will take a few games. ... I played the majority of the games all year until I got hurt. I'm ready to go. It's not like this is the start of the season and I haven't played a game all year. It might take me a game or so to get back into it, but no excuses for me. I'm 30-odd games into the season, third NHL season, I'm ready to go and face the challenge and these guys will help me out."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was a participant in practice on Wednesday and took part in all drills without restriction.

Pietrangelo, who's missed seven games with a right knee injury, could play as early as Saturday at Nashville; he will not play Thursday when the Blues host the New York Rangers.

"He just looks normal. He looks normal," Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "This is really the first full practice for him, so he's going to get another good one tomorrow, he's going to get another good one on Friday and we'll make an evaluation for Saturday afternoon.

"He's a full go at practice today. We won't play him tomorrow and we'll see for the weekend here."

* Right wing Ryan Reaves was suspended by the Department of Player Safety for three games Wednesday in the wake of a major boarding penalty on San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Tennyson on Monday.

Reaves was given a five-minute boarding penalty and game-misconduct in the first period. He will miss Thursday's game and games Saturday at Nashville and Sunday at Carolina. Reaves, who will forfeit $18,145.17, and the money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund, is eligible to return Tuesday at Ottawa.

In the meantime, it appears that Dmitrij Jaskin will play on the fourth line in Reaves' spot Thursday.

"It's a concern because it's a concern for him financially, because it's a big hit, it's a concern because he's a big part of our team, so yeah, there's lots of concern," Hitchcock said before the verdict was handed down. "I think one thing that really worked in our favor, Jaskin went down, played three games, played huge minutes down there and he's absolutely flying right now looking for a chance and (Ty) Rattie's the same way. There's two guys really chomping at the bit. They want in. Watching 'Jask' at practice today, he was excited to get a chance to play. Hopefully Ryan doesn't get dinged up too much here and we're able to get him back in right away."

* Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, recalled from Chicago of the AHL on Sunday, may not make his NHL debut in his first recall from the minors, but the Blues noticed enough of his play to get him to St. Louis and observe how far he's come.

"He's a real skater," Hitchcock said of Schmaltz. "His mobility's ... oof. He gets up the ice. We only get training camp with him, but jeez, when you see his mobility here at practice, he can really skate. The one drill there, he had to put the brakes on because he was by every forward on that 2-on-1 drill; he was by everybody. I think when you get a look at him during a hockey practice where it's just the NHL players, you find out how mobile he is. I couldn't believe how fast he was." 

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