Trust is a must or your game will bust.
Though it was consistently a hot topic surrounding Blues conversation around town last season, Ken Hitchcock didn’t really need to fret about his goaltenders. Whether he selected Jake Allen or Brian Elliott to man the crease on a given night, he was rolling with one of the statistical leaders in the NHL.
Elliott’s .930 save percentage led the league, while Allen was just a fraction behind at .920. Net-minding was a timeshare for the Blues, and it worked to the extent of a trip to the Western Conference Finals. For all the fodder, it was a fortuitous system.
Numerous factors led to a change of goaltending personnel over the summer. The expansion draft was on the horizon. Additionally, the Blues had to consider the salary cap and desired to anoint a true go-to goaltender. They traded the elder Brian Elliott to ride the upside of Jake Allen.
While it’s still too early to judge, Allen has done a fine job for the Blues so far this season. Some road difficulties aside – that’s been a team-wide problem, anyway – Allen has put the Blues in position to return to the playoffs yet again.
For the team to succeed once it gets there, though, Allen will have to carry the load, whereas Elliott was the featured goalie during last year’s run. And if Allen has to carry the Blues, Ken Hitchcock needs to equip him to do so.
That means giving him proper rest throughout the season, and placing more trust in backup goaltender Carter Hutton.
Before Monday’s overtime loss to the Oilers, Allen had started a season-high seven consecutive games. Against an Eastern Conference foe with a division rival slated for the following night, Hitchcock gave Hutton a rare opportunity.
Though he had his work cut out for him against a speedy Edmonton team, Hutton gave the Blues a chance in the game, which is all one can hope for from the backup goalie. Facing 35 shots on the night, Hutton allowed just two goals during regulation before giving up another during the three-on-three overtime.
His first goal allowed came immediately off a first-period face off as Tyler Pitlick fired the puck past Hutton with Ryan Reaves and Joel Edmundson inexplicably setting the screen. The game-tying goal in the third was even less Hutton’s blame; local kid Patrick Maroon outmuscled Carl Gunnarsson in front of the net for a tip-in to tie the game 2-2.
Though he surrendered the game-winner to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in overtime, Hutton did enough for Hitchcock to rave about his performance.
“He was outstanding,” Hitchcock said. “He was really good. Alert and sharp, he helped us. (If) he plays like that, he deserves to play a little bit more here, to be honest with you. He was outstanding.”
With his emphatic praise of Hutton, who made several sprawling saves to help the Blues secure a point in the loss, Hitchcock rendered this piece less controversial. But he was right: Hutton does need to play more.
Not as frequently as either Elliott or Allen played last season, as Hutton is the caliber of neither. You wouldn’t catch Allen – who often takes risks to advance the puck – with his pants down like Hutton’s were late in the third period after the latter essentially passed the puck to an opposing player with an empty net.
Giving Hutton regular time in the net would keep him sharper – ideally avoiding such near-catastrophes in the future. More importantly, it would keep Allen appropriately paced for the stretch run come springtime. Hitchcock admitted Hutton should play more – next he needs to make it happen.
The Blues cleared Elliott to make Allen the guy – and he is. But for St. Louis to have him at his best when the games mean the most, Hitchcock needs to sprinkle in Hutton more frequently throughout the rest of the regular season. He has to find situations – beyond the glaringly obvious ones like Monday – where Hutton can get some game-action.
No more seven consecutive starts for Allen. It’s time to trust Carter Hutton to do his job, so when the time comes, Jake Allen can do his.
Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.