Last night, the St. Louis Blues headed into the third period of their game against the Ottawa Senators with a 3-1 lead and were outshooting their opponents 32-21. It was domination, as you’d expect, from one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup.
But then it all came crashing down. Over about two-and-a-half minutes in the third period, the Senators fought all the way back to take the lead. They managed three goals on 10 shots in the last period of regulation. The Blues did tie it and sent it into overtime, but even though the Senators didn’t record a single shot in the extra frame, they still managed to come away with two points via the shootout.
It was an early-February, cross-conference game, but last night’s implosion was a condemnation of the current goaltending situation in St. Louis. There’s no doubting the Blues are in the upper-echelon of teams vying for the Stanley Cup. Heck, back in the pre-season, the group here at THN picked St. Louis to win it all in June. But when you get this close to the top, the difference between winning it all and becoming an also-ran can be one bad bounce or one bad goal. The San Jose Sharks have been on that brink for years.
Which begs the question: how much do you trust Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott to lead the way?
In last night’s game, the Blues had plenty of opportunities to win. They registered a season-high 50 shots, but went 0-for-7 on the man advantage. If the offense were even just a little bit better, the Blues would have come away with two points. In the end, though, the main reason for the disappointing result was that Robin Lehner outplayed Jaroslav Halak. That can’t happen to the Blues. Scoring will dry up to some degree at some point in the post-season and that’s where the goalie has to make a positive difference.
Think back to last year’s first round playoff series between the Blues and Kings. Again, if the Blues offense – which was terrible – could have been even just a sliver better, they would have moved on to Round 2. It’s not as though the Kings were shooting out the lights either. Elliott was simply outplayed by Quick, who didn’t let in the soft goal at the wrong time. It’s a small difference with enormous ramifications.
It can mean being a champion or being a forgotten great.
Let’s look a little closer at that playoff round from last year. The series was tied 2-2 with Game 5 taking place in St. Louis and Game 6 in Los Angeles. Each game in that series ended in a one-goal differential and these were the final two game-winning goals for the Kings that sealed St. Louis’ fate.
Not exactly highlight goals.
Elliott wasn’t bad in the six-game series. He posted a 1.90 GAA and .919 SP, but those numbers mean nothing when soft goals get by you at crucial times. They are back-breakers the likes of which Jonathan Quick and, ahem, Ryan Miller don’t usually give up.
The window for the Blues to chase a championship is open, but it can close quickly and unexpectedly. Nothing is guaranteed at these heights. Who could have foreseen the once high-flying Capitals becoming the scratch and sniff team they are now, while Alex Ovechkin is still in his prime? A fall can be fast and a fall can be relentless.
So, the Blues have to seize the opportunity in front of them, even if it means acquiring a goalie in the final year of his contract with no assurance of keeping him beyond this run. Elliott and Halak are both eligible for UFA status this summer, as is a certain Buffalo Sabres goalie. Is it not worth it for the Blues to take whatever risk necessary to acquire Miller and put themselves in a similar contract situation as they already have with their current tandem? With Jake Allen also waiting in the wings, there’s even an insurance policy in place.
The Blues are loaded and a prime candidate to make a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Behind this team, Halak and Elliott are even capable of taking a run at the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division during the regular season.
But do you trust that duo to stand tall through a very difficult Western Conference in the playoffs?
I sure don’t. If I’m in the situation the Blues are, I go for the home run.
I aim for a more concrete answer between the pipes, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.