The Jake Allen era is officially underway in St. Louis. Sure, Allen’s been in the crease intermittently since the 2012-2013 season, but with Brian Elliott honing his craft up in Western Canada, this year will be first with Allen as the true go-to goaltender with the Blues. Provided he stays healthy, there won’t be anyone taking his net based on performance.
Though Allen is the starter, he can’t play every night. Backup goaltender in the NHL is an important spot, and having a viable one is an underrated element of a successful team. The Blues brought in veteran net-minder Carter Hutton over the summer to fill the void as Allen’s understudy.
Blues fans didn’t have to wait long to get their first look at Hutton, as Ken Hitchcock gave him the start Saturday as a reward for an impressive showing in training camp.
Facing 35 shots, Hutton allowed only two of them to reach the back of the net, beating his career 2.56 goals against average and helping the Blues beat the Rangers 3-2 to improve to 3-0 on the season.
The beginning of Hutton’s night didn’t lend itself so clearly to how it would end. First, he gave back a first period lead shortly after Vladimir Tarasenko provided it with his third goal of the season. Then in the second, before the crowd had ceased its celebration of an Alex Pietrangelo goal to make it 3-1, Hutton coughed up a weak backhand goal to Mika Zibanejad. Hutton cited his ability to put that mistake out of his mind as the reason for his success in the game, in which he earned first-star honors.
“That was definitely not a good goal obviously, right? But that’s hockey. It happens sometimes,” Hutton said. “You can take one and roll it into two or three and make it a bad night, but for me at that point, what’s done is done and I try to move on. Being able to push past that and move on was the difference for me tonight.”
Move on he did, with a remarkable showing in the third period. Hutton stopped fifteen shots in the third, including a heavy barrage early in the frame that drew rave reviews from the crowd. The Blues were evidently gassed down the stretch, failing to register a shot on goal in the third. Hitchcock acknowledged Hutton carried the team late, when it needed him most.
“The goalie was outstanding in the third period,” Hitchcock said. “He won us the game, which was great. We needed it. Whether it was three in four nights or the injuries or whatever that depleted us, we needed our goalie in that third period, and he came through for us.”
Hutton, a four-year veteran who played the bulk of his career games with the Nashville Predators, had a 2.33 GAA last season, actually a touch lower than Jake Allen’s 2.35 mark. Hutton plays a similar style to Allen, active in and around the crease and always looking to help his team advance the puck. Both goaltenders are perfect for the up-tempo style of play the Blues intend the run this season. Thus far, both are giving the Blues every chance to carry out that blueprint with success.
“He was awesome,” Alex Pietrangelo said of Hutton Saturday. “That third period was unbelievable. He was good all night, but that third period was pretty impressive. He’s been great all camp, he’s been great since he got here. Great in practice, and carried it over tonight.”
St. Louis fans probably don’t realize how much they have been spoiled in recent years by Blues goaltenders. The tandem of Allen and Elliott meant there was no true backup: no matter who played, as long as the duo was healthy, the Blues were in good hands.
Take it from the Nashville Predators. Hutton’s replacement as the backup goaltender in Nashville, Marek Mazanec, allowed three goals on the first five shots he faced in a 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks Saturday. Even if Hutton is no Brian Elliott, that Predators fans are begging for him right about now is a healthy reminder to Blues fans of how good they’ve got it.
Even without an organized ‘Moose’ chant like the home fans had for Elliott, they liked what they saw from Hutton in their first glimpse of him. If nothing else, it’s a sign that life after Elliott may be okay, after all.
He doesn’t have to be Brian Elliott. If Carter Hutton can give the Blues more of what he offered Saturday, he’ll be just fine—and so will they.