Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Much like last season, Allen has found his game again in March

Blues' goalie confident, winning just in time as Blues making playoff push going 
7-1-0 past eight starts, earning NHL Second Star of Week honors after 3-0-0

ST. LOUIS -- Instead of sulking during a rut that saw him win only twice in 16 starts, Blues goalie Jake Allen turned to goalie coach David Alexander, who's had Allen's trust since he was a teenager, for some tutorial.

It included plenty of video.

Lots of video, as a matter of fact.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen went 3-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .961 save
percentage in earning the NHL's Second Star of the Week honors.

"We really just sat down before, we went over about 300 clips from the start of the year and just what I'm really good at," Allen said. "We just said, 'Why would I stray away from any of that?' We sort of went back to it."

And by going back to "it," and as the Blues get set to face the San Jose Sharks tonight and Allen on the cusp of making his 10th consecutive start, he does so as the NHL's Second Star of the Week, announced on Monday.

What a difference a month makes.

Last month, one wondered if Allen would ever win a game again. Today, he can't seem to lose.

Sound familiar? Sound like last season? 

There are a lot of similarities. Ask the Minnesota Wild, who were stymied by Allen in a five-game playoff defeat in the first round last season.

Once again, something had to be done. It was getting to a point where it was deja vu all over again. Not quite to the extremes of last season when the Blues sent Allen home for a game to clear his head while the team was playing in Winnipeg and starting Pheonix Copley of all people before bringing assistant general manager Martin Brodeur out of the stands to resurrect Allen's season, but some of the old bad habits and even unfortunate luck started to be a stark reminder that Allen's season was spiraling in the wrong direction again.

Allen went 2-13-0 from Dec. 12-Feb. 27, the last game culminating with him being pulled after allowing three goals in the first period of an 8-3 loss to Minnesota, a game in which was the Blues' seventh in a row (0-6-1) and the lowest point in their season.

To Allen's defense, a number of those losses came with little to no goal support. He allowed 53 goals in 18 appearances (16 starts), but in 15 of those starts (minus the one he was pulled from in Minnesota), Allen received just 25 goals of support, or 1.67 goals per game. That's asking a lot of a goalie to hold the opposition to one goal or less for that long a stretch.

But he put in the necessary time, working on his game, and got himself in a better place again; he's 7-2-0 since Hutton went out and 7-1-0 in his last eight starts with a 2.12 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.

Allen went 3-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .961 save percentage last week.

"I've been practicing real well for about the last two months," Allen said. "I'm pretty proud of myself for that and it's really translated into my game. Obviously you need some luck to go with it and the boys play well in front of you, but it just started to click and started to move in the right direction. It was a little bit frustrating. I thought I was playing well and not finding ways to win games, but it came and now we're moving on up."

So where did it all really turn?

Well, an injury, of course, helped the cause.

Doesn't it usually work when someone's misfortune turns into someone else's good fortune?

When Carter Hutton, who held the fort down going 11-5-0 during Allen's skid, sustained a neck injury during the morning skate of a March 8 game he was going to start at San Jose, Allen jumped in when he found out literally hours before puck drop.

And although Allen lost that game too, he only allowed one goal on 35 shots and gave the Blues a chance at winning a game they had no business being in.

It was the start of building quality minutes for the netminder. There was a glimpse of what could be the start of something.

Or was it?

"I think my game against Nashville (Feb. 25), we lost 4-0, but in Nashville, I thought I played really well that game and I feel that was the start of my transition," Allen said. "It was still tough to get a few wins after that game. We were in a tough position, but I think that's when the tides turned for me."

Blues coach Mike Yeo wanted to give every reason to go back to Allen, but he's in the business of winning games, and at the time, Hutton was winning and Allen wasn't, so he allowed his No. 1 netminder all the time he needed to work his kinks out.

"I know Jake's put a lot of work in just on video sessions and practice time, really working on his habits," Yeo said. "I do believe that when games, especially in the goaltending position, games really get intense and when things are really on the line, that's when your habits really matter. I think that him taking the time to really get back to some of the real important habits that need to be in his game, I think you can see that now. It's hard for me or a person who's not a goaltender to really pick up on that stuff. I think what the finished product is, I think what you end up seeing is he looks very controlled right now. Obviously he looks very confident, that's a huge part of it, no question. He seems to be doing himself an awful lot without having to take himself out of position or without having to overreact to everything. He's always an athletic goalie. He's going to make saves like he did in the first period in Columbus which are phenomenal, desperation-type saves, but I think he's making a lot of saves look easy right now too."

Allen got back on the saddle and helped the Blues end their losing streak in emphatic fashion, 7-2 at Los Angeles on March 10, a game in which he made 38 saves. It got the ball rolling and extended it to wins at Anaheim (4-2), he made a game-saving overtime save March 17 against the New York Rangers and Chris Kreider in a 4-3 win before starting 24 hours later and winning a 5-4 shootout at Chicago. But his best games came last week wen he won NHL second star honors.

Allen allowed one goal in each of the three wins (2-1 in OT against Boston, 4-1 against Vancouver before helping the Blues snap the Blue Jackets' 10-game winning streak, 2-1). 

In that win over the Blue Jackets, Allen's first-period glove save on Markus Nutivaara was one for the highlight reels.

"It's one of those plays where you just understand who's on the ice and where you've got to just know hands, which guys' hands are on the ice, lefty, righty," Allen said. "The guy's a lefty on the far side. I knew he was pulling over there. I didn't really even see him shoot it. I just sort of knew where he was going to go with it and I put my glove there."

His teammates knew Allen needed to steal one, which goalies are asked to do from time to time, and he did.

"He's playing aggressive and he's playing confident," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Allen. "We're doing a good job of limiting opportunities and obviously in Columbus, we needed him to steal one for us and he did just that. ... If you look at the job we're doing, we're doing a good job of taking those second chances away, not leaving him out to dry like we were for a while there. He's continuing to play well. We've got a lot of confidence in him obviously and with 'Hutts' back, the 1-2 punch is back."

"I guess you can say that from the outside," Allen said of the aggressive and confident style. "I've sort of went back to my old style, not changed a lot, but at the start of the year, I was very simple, very patient just sort of letting my natural ability do the work. I feel that's the way it's been going right now. Just giving the boys a chance. They're doing the right things in front of me too. That's why we're winning games."

And now that Hutton's back, it does give the Blues their 1-2 punch back, and to have both going well would bode well. But Hutton sees Allen back in form, and he's not about to make this about himself.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Since a stretch that saw him go 2-14-0, Blues goalie Jake Allen is 7-1-0 in 
his past eight starts.

"No, we're winning buddy. This is what it's all about, man," Hutton said when asked if his injury was unfortunate because of how he was playing. "I play for the Blues, right? I don't play for myself. The main goal here is getting in the playoffs and trying to win a Stanley Cup. Whether it's me, Jake or Tyler Stewart, it doesn't matter."

With the Blues, who have won eight of 11 (8-2-1) since their dreaded seven-game slide, in a fight for the playoffs, as usual, goaltending will need to be at its peak.

"We're in a good spot right now, especially from where we were a few weeks ago," Allen said.

And was there a video clip of those 300 that stood out over the rest?

"Just the ones that don't go over the red line," Allen said.

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