(Photo Credit: USA Today)
The blame game is something St. Louis Blues fans have become quite experienced with, and the worst “fans” have made it into their own sport. The hate season starts around May and begins to heat up until it boils over around August, then it simmers into a slow hate throughout the season. Whenever Eric Brewer would be on the ice during a goal against, it was as if he pocketed the goal against himself. When the Blues would lose a game, it was Hitchcock’s fault for souring his relationship with Vlad. Let’s not forget the reaction when Pronger would touch the puck in the 1995 season. Was it his fault he and Shanahan swapped teams? Did it matter? No. Blues fans have always been passionate and the worst ones have always needed a scapegoat.
That scapegoat now is Jake Allen.
So I chose this to be the hill I die on. I wanted to prove the haters wrong that Jake Allen wasn’t the reason why the Blues missed out on the playoffs, that he wasn’t the weak link that these “fans” said he was. So I watched every goal he gave up last year. Every. Single. One.
It was sad. It was depressing, and it was aggravating, but it sparked something… optimism. The Blues were the 3rd best team in the league at shot suppression (they allowed very few shots) and Allen’s much-maligned .906 SV% (Shots Saved by Goals Allowed) seems to speak to the haters that he didn’t stop his fair share of pucks.
But what is a fair share of pucks? What is a save-able shot? If the Blues allowed so few shots, then why did Allen seem to struggle so much last year?
Let’s take a look at some splits then I’ll get into the goals, all the goals that I researched.
Looking just at the stats and drawing conclusions from them will lead you to notice the Blues Penalty Kill was a joke last year. More on why in a second, but Jake Allen has settled into a pretty consistent .920 Even Strength SV%. That’s something many teams, including the Blues, can live with.
So if his even-strength stats are decent, not world-beating, what made Jake Allen such a polarizing figure in the fan community? The Blues did allow the third fewest shots. So, was it really a tale of Jake just not stopping his fair share of shots? I set out to find out.
After hours of watching these goals go in, 152 of them, I tried to generate some sort of list, a guide on what caused these goals to go in.
Now for a slight disclaimer, this list is by no means scientific, but it is a direct result of me mapping out each goal that Allen let in.
Allen let in 152 GA
75 were derived from Defensive miscues (Cross Crease passes, Odd Man Rushes, Breakaways, and being late to the open man down low.)
37 were from screens or deflections from inside or close to the crease.
20 were garbage goals, scrambles and or just impossible shots.
Allen let in 20 softies.
First off, 152 GA is 12th most in the NHL last year, the problem is that Allen saw fewer shots than anyone higher than him on that list. However, in re-watching his play throughout the entire year it became clear to me that while the Blues did a remarkable job suppressing shots, they were still allowing premium scoring chances against Jake. That’s why Shot Suppression fails as a stat for goalies and why it should never be uttered in the same breath as Save Percentage. It doesn’t quantify the quality of the shot suppressed. It can’t, because the shot isn’t being taken. It’s not that they are just being blocked. A higher possession time for your team suppresses shot totals from the other side.
Prove it? Try Blues vs Winnipeg on February 9th. Allen had a .909 SV% and only stopped 20 SOG. The Blues won 5-2. Now that game pulls his season save percentage down but he was unreal. He kept the Blues in a scoreless game after Gunnarson goofed on a simple pass in front of the Blues net, then he made a miraculous deflection save when the game was 1-0 Notes. The only goals he gave up? One deflected off of Gunnarson, the other was a broken play where three Blues players camped in front of him trying to reunite Pietrangelo with a piece of lumber. He was sensational and his stat line? Pedestrian. Maybe even subpar. Allen’s season was full of these.
March 17th, the game where Schenn scored the overtime winner against the New York Rangers. Allen stopped 17 of 20 shots, but the 3 shots he let in were a crazy-ass deflection off of an ass, a garbage goal that went in off his glove and pad, and a cross-crease power play one-timer. He made an incredible save in overtime on a shot he had no business saving. Then Schenn won it. Again, Allen stat line a .850 SV% looks like a joke, but he kept them in the game.
March 12th against the Ducks, Allen stood tall on a Ryan Getzlaf breakaway and made 20 saves on 22 shots, the two that beat him was a Corey Perry cross-crease one-timer, when he got loose from Alex Pietrangelo and a nasty screened wrister from Derek Grant. Allen was really good when he needed to be and this capped a great West Coast trip and really helped propel the Blues into the conversation of the Wild Card conversation.
Allen had incredible nights and he had nights where he didn’t show up mentally. Those were tough to watch as an unabashed Allen supporter, but the man stopped the pucks he was supposed to stop. 20 soft goals is a high number and stretched out over a season sounds bad, he did have the good sense to clump them together. Mikael Backlund from the Flames can thank Allen for two of his 14 goals last year. In their October 25th game he was gifted two really soft goals from the netminder. (Fun fact for the stat geeks: Allen posted a .920 in that one.) The Blues still routed the Flames 5-2. The Philadelphia and Florida games in early January were an anomaly, but they are worth mentioning. Allen struggled, he was not in a good way and that led to Carter Hutton taking over. That can’t happen as an NHL goalie and it cannot happen again in his tenure with the Blues. That being said, the Blues weren’t kept out of the Playoffs because Allen couldn’t stop the puck.
The Power Play sucked. The Penalty Kill was pedestrian. The biggest stat that I think showcases the Blues struggles last year? +29. That is what the Blues were when they were on the Power Play. That’s 30th in the league. They let in 9 shorthanded goals and only scored 38 Power Play goals. Allen can’t fix that. He’s not scoring on a knuckle-puck from the Center Dot in this movie, but maybe Doug Armstrong has fixed this.
They also need to clear up their own net. You can’t have players camp out in front of Allen. You have to be strong. There’s no doubt that the crease got more crowded with Edmundson hurt last year. When Eddy was out Allen really struggled and the screens went unchallenged.
Allen is only as good as the quality of chances he is asked to stop and the quality of the defense in front of him. That is the same for every NHL goaltender. This isn’t just subject to the Blues’ shot suppression or just to Allen’s alleged ineptness. Scoring chances are a biased and impossibly subjective stat. I can tell you though, albeit my own subjective opinion, that after watching hours of sad Blues highlights that Allen stopped his fair share.
The narrative for last year has been written. He lost confidence. He had to have Hutton bail him out. He is too fragile and needed mental health days. That is 2017 Allen. I’m telling you that is not the whole story. He is not the scapegoat the haters want him to be.
Allen, when at his best, is the best in the West. I said it. Come and fight me. He beat the Wild damn near single-handedly in 2016. He led the Blues on a whirlwind 8-1 ride that made us believe they were destined for the playoffs. That’s who Allen has to be. That’s who he can be, provided he gets the help he needs from his team. If he gets that help, a more focused help on clearing the front of the net, Allen will be discussed on that next level. If he gets that help, he may even help lead the Blues to a parade down market.