Halak, Elliott & Allen, Oh My

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The St. Louis Blues are a legit Stanley Cup contender this season, which is more than you can say about most NHL teams. Too bad they don’t have a starting goalie. Actually, that might not be true. The St. Louis Blues could possibly have three starting goalies. Unfortunately it’s very unclear which two will enter the season in the starting lineup. Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen all played significant time in the Blues’ net during the short 2013 NHL season.

Brian Elliott led the way with 24 games played last season. Halak appeared in 16 games throughout 2012-13, and Allen saw action in 15 contests. The Blues spread it out, I guess you could say.

St. Louis have a goaltending problem, although, it’s possible head coach Ken Hitchcock knows exactly what to do with his net minders this season. He may have a perfect plan in place – each goaltender’s role on the team clearly defined and perfectly decided, allowing the Blues to enter the season a powerful contender, not a team with questions between the pipes. Logic suggests Hitchcock does in fact already know exactly which two keepers to run with when the 2013-14 NHL campaign begins. What if he doesn’t, though? The last thing a contender needs is to be unsure about its goaltender. 82 games can pass by quickly.

The Blues have experienced a lot of bad luck in the playoffs over the years. They are one of the only pre-1990 franchises to never win a championship and it’s been over 40 years since they’ve made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. To be critical, their only Cup finals’ appearances came in the early days of the organization, when the Blues competed with a group of five other expansion teams hoping to challenge the best of the Original 6 for the Cup. The Blues have made the Cup finals three times in their existence. From 1968-70 they were one of the last two teams standing, and they failed to win a single game in all three attempts.

This could be the year for the Blues, but their goaltending needs to be great, because they are a defence first team that struggles to score goals, at times. Statistically, Elliott has proven the most effective over the last few seasons, but Halak has endured very strong stretches, as well. However, neither of the aforementioned net minders have done enough to dispel the efforts of Jake Allen, the 3rd stringer with an equal shot at being the man. Ken Hitchcock’s going to have a tough time figuring out his goaltending conundrum.

If you take into consideration the most recent Cup winners, the path has been paved. It usually takes a couple of strong goalies throughout a Cup winning season, but only one plays in the playoffs.

The previous three Cup winners ran with solid backups, spreading out the regular season workload amongst their keepers. The 2011 Bruins enjoyed the luxury of Tuukka Rask backing up Vezina winner, Tim Thomas,

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings let Jonathan Quick run with the puck, while backup Jonathan Bernier did an excellent job filling in when needed.

Last season, the Blackhawks lost a minimal 6 games – starter Corey Crawford and able secondary Ray Emery winning all but one of the 21 games in which he appeared.

The Blues can very easily allow their goaltending situation to play itself out. But when the playoffs begin, it’s beneficial if they are sure about their guy. At this point, it appears as though the Blues undisputed starter is undetermined.

In the end, the goalie who commands the crease for the St. Louis Blues may be irrelevant. Much needs to go right throughout a Stanley Cup winning season. Sometimes, a team can dominate for the bulk of 82 games and bow out in Round 1 of the post season, losing a hard fought Game 7. The NHL is a tough league, loaded with talent. Hockey is a game of inches and it sometimes happens that last goal takes all in the playoffs. Good teams go home in early rounds.

Regardless of the man tasked with being “the guy,” the Blues could lose, and lose early when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next April. But it’s good to know what you got and what your plan is. Between the pipes, the Blues still have some figuring out to do. Entering the playoffs with the right goaltender between the pipes could be the difference between another early playoff exit and finally winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title.