Goalie Controversy. It’s the last thing St. Louis Blues fans want to hear right before the start of the playoffs.
It seems like a broken record by now. The Blues have had goaltender questions for more than a decade; it may be one of the biggest factors keeping them from winning a Stanley Cup. Last year’s experiment with Ryan Miller didn’t work out, and this year questions are beginning to surface around the new goalie tandem down the stretch.
The Blues are beginning to slide heading into the playoffs, much like they ended last season, losing their last 6 regular season games. This year, the Blues have lost five of their last six, and the play of starter Brian Elliott has been like a roller coaster ride.
After shutting out Calgary on March 17, breaking the Blues’ franchise record for shutouts, Elliot has lost four straight starts, including getting pulled in Minnesota on March 21.
In Elliott’s struggles, young backup Jake Allen stepped in nicely, playing strong in a 2-1 overtime loss in Detroit then helping his team to a huge victory in Pittsburgh. This is where the controversy begins.
Hitch says despite Jake Allen's last 2 starts, Brian Elliott remains the goaltender the Blues will trust down the stretch and into playoffs.
— Luke Thompson (@FS_LukeT) March 26, 2015
After years of being a strong proponent of playing the hot hand in between the pipes, Coach Ken Hitchcock is sticking with Elliott as the starting goaltender heading down the stretch. Hitchcock says there is no goalie controversy, but to everyone looking from the outside, there may be one brewing if Elliott doesn’t improve soon.
Of course it’s not fair to simply blame the goaltender for the recent losing streak. The entire Blues team is quick to blame themselves for not supporting their goaltender. The players know they have to protect their goaltender as the first priority and they have not done it well in the past two weeks.
Once again, can't blame this all on Brian Elliott. Not a single player playing defense or doing anything positive. #StlBlues
— David Rogers (@FrozenNotes) March 21, 2015
Perhaps the more concerning issue than the goaltending is the defensive breakdowns that have led to odd-man rushes and pointe-blank shots at the net.
The Blues remain second in the NHL in fewest shots allowed per game (27.3), but the stat doesn’t reveal the amount of quality scoring chances the team is giving up. On Saturday night vs Columbus, the Blues only gave up 17 shots on goal, which would normally be a solid night for the defense. But the Blue Jackets were able to score 4 times, one of them an empty net goal.
Perhaps the ugliest game the Blues have played came on Monday night, when the team was booed off the ice after a lethargic effort in a 4-1 loss at home to Vancouver. In that game, Elliott allowed three goals on 21 shots, but he let in a weak goal under his blocker that allowed Vancouver to pull away.
The dysfunction and inconsistency is something Blues fans are all too familiar with, especially the way last season played out with Miller. The Blues made a splash at the trade deadline, acquiring the All-Star veteran goalie from Buffalo. While it started out great, it began to crumble towards the end of the season, and especially in the playoffs.
Puck Daddy on Ryan Miller, and why he was a playoff bust for the Blues: http://t.co/HGj3fpZ2dQ
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) April 28, 2014
What really seemed to strike a chord with Blues fans was how sparingly Elliott was used over Miller. Coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t play the hot hand in goal; he rode Miller in 19 of the season’s final 23 games, despite Elliott winning 2 of his final 3 starts, including a shutout in Pittsburgh.
Still, Elliott sat on the bench, only to watch Miller struggle against Chicago in the playoffs and see the season come to an end. This year, Elliott is in the same hot seat and he’ll be the work horse heading into the playoffs, with a hot Jake Allen sitting on the bench.
How the Blues manage their goalie duo will be interesting to watch in the final six games of the season, but if you ask any Blues fan, it’s just one of the many issues the team is facing to close the regular season.