It’s well documented that Jake Allen is having himself an even more Jake Allen-y year than usual. He’s never really been a true number 1 for the Blues, but it’s undeniable that he’s been serviceable most of the time, albeit letting in weak goals along the way, until this year. This year, despite sprinkling in solid games here and there, he’s been brutal in goal and his stats show it. Would the Blues be in playoff contention with a different goaltender? No, the offense has been atrocious, the defense has been shaky, and the coaching staff doesn’t seem to be addressing the problem areas effectively. That being said, Jake Allen has cost the team wins consistently in 2018-19, which has not happened before. So, why?
Jake Allen’s 5v5 save percentage this season is .908, which is bad. Like, very bad. Over the last four seasons, it would be the sixth-worst number out of 129 goalies that have played as many minutes as Allen has so far. 124th out of 129 is laughably bad, especially when 3 of the 123 that are ahead of him are his own numbers in 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18. His previous low was .923, put up last year, which for comparison ranks 68th out of the 129. Pretty average. His best year in this stretch, 2015-16, in which he put up a .929, ranks 49th. 2016-17, coming in at .925, ranks 59th.
(Hey it's PJ while editing this article. If those numbers gave you a headache I put a cartoon below.)
These numbers tell a couple stories. First, Allen has gotten progressively worse each year, but only very marginally. Sure, .925 is less than .929, but the difference is essentially negligible. That difference equates to giving up one more goal every 250 shots, which doesn’t cost the team anything. Allen has been consistently “fine” over the first three full seasons of his career, despite often having to make up for bad stretches with great stretches. His inconsistency is another issue though.
Blues fans against Allen, which seems like just about all of them at this point (thanks, Binnington), feel like this year is just the breaking point, the cherry on top. This is the season that we finally stop putting up with his poor play. This take is wrong though—Jake Allen’s play went from consistently around league average (over the course of full seasons) to absolutely horrible.
So, why? What happened?
For one, the Blues as a whole are struggling this year. Plenty of Jake’s goals against can be attributed to the team letting him down. But not nearly enough to bring him down to letting in an additional goal every 50 shots at 5v5. So the excuse of blaming the team can only go so far.
Some people may hate this conclusion, but I believe that the new restrictions on the size of goalie pads are what’s sinking Jake Allen’s season. They were implemented this summer, and several people, including Yahoo’s Ryan Lambert, have speculated that this seemingly minor changes could be why league-wide scoring is up, and save percentages are down. He goes on to suggest that these changes would be most noticed in medium-danger save percentages.
This makes sense if you think about it, since low-danger shots are from so far out that there’s really not an excuse not to save them. Allen’s LDSv% reflects this, sitting at .970, which is down a tiny bit from the last three years, but it’s a small enough difference that it probably hasn’t even equaled an additional goal against yet.
Then you have high-danger shots, which are in so close that pad size is also a non-issue. These saves are reactionary, athletic, and helped by good positioning. Allen’s HDSv% is .798, which doesn’t look great, but is actually higher than he had in 2016-17. So, more of the same here.
The league-wide trend that Lambert exposed seems to especially ring true with Allen, however, as his medium-danger save percentage is just atrocious. His MDSv% is at .879, down significantly from his previous low of .912 (which, ironically, came during his best season). This difference is huge, and it can’t be justified by bad team defense or an extra goal here or there. It could, however, but Jake thinking he has an extra inch or so around his shoulders, above his legs, or out from his sides. And, looking back at his “bad goals” against, and even his reactions after them, this theory starts to look more and more reasonable.
Now, this article is not supposed to be an excuse for Jake Allen. It’s not supposed to read as “new rules screwed Jake Allen out of a starting spot”. No. Jake Allen screwed himself out of a starting spot by not being able to adjust the way that other starters have. Like it or not, Allen has been a serviceable starting goalie in this league for three years, but he’s not anymore. My goal was to try to find out why, and his ability to save medium-danger shots seems to be the answer.
So, what’s the solution then? If Allen can’t bounce back from this (which is probably the case), where do the Blues turn? Don’t get me wrong, Jordan Binnington has been wonderful through his first two starts, but… it’s been two starts. Even if he manages to continue performing great and carry the Blues into playoff contention, how many late-blooming goalies have done the same thing and then flamed out? Remember Josh Harding in Minnesota? What about Andrew Hammond in Ottawa? What teams do they play for now? I hope Binnington takes over the starting job, runs with it, and does great for years. But depending on that to happen is stupid. The Jake Allen era in St. Louis is over, and it’s on Doug Armstrong to find a new long-term solution and not screw it up this time.