The Blues have the fifth-best record in the league since Mike Yeo took over as coach on Feb. 1. A big part of that has been the turnaround Jake Allen has seen under the new St. Louis bench boss.
Jake Allen has had some rough outings this season, but there are few that stick out quite like the Jan. 19 meeting with the Washington Capitals. Allen came into that game struggling mightily, having allowed three or more goals in four of his past five games, and was looking to get back on track after watching from the bench in the previous three contests. His night didn’t last long, though.
Before eight minutes had passed in the first frame, Allen had allowed two goals. He allowed a third to T.J. Oshie less than four minutes into the second period. And after being replaced by Carter Hutton for 2:22 — a quick switch by then-coach Ken Hitchcock to try and shake up the Blues starter — Allen re-entered the crease only to surrender a fourth goal to Brett Connolly. That was the end of Allen’s night. He hit the showers sporting an ugly .600 save percentage on the evening, and his SP on the season dipped to .897. It was the first time he had been sub-.900 since mid-November.
What followed was a tough situation for Allen. With St. Louis heading out of town to face the Jets in Winnipeg, he was left behind. He stayed away from the team for the next two games, with the hope being that some time away would help him refocus and get his game back on track. But the real turnaround for Allen didn’t come after the stay in St. Louis. It didn’t come with his relief appearance against the Wild on Jan. 26, nor did it happen when he got his next start against the Jets on Jan. 31.
No, Allen’s turnaround began on Feb. 2, the day following the coaching change that put Mike Yeo into the top job and sent Hitchcock packing. Since Yeo has taken over, Allen has been one of the best goaltenders in the league and that’s the case just about any way you slice it, too.
On base statistics alone, Allen’s turnaround has been awfully impressive. Before Hitchcock’s firing, Allen was in an absolutely brutal position. His SP had dropped to .895, his goals-against average had climbed to 2.87 and it had been more than three months since Allen had been able to nab a shutout after posting 10 in 84 games heading into 2016-17. However, in the 17 games under Yeo, Allen’s numbers have done a complete 180. To go along with an impressive 11-6-0 record, Allen has a .942 SP and 1.72 GAA across more than 1,000 minutes of play. And as for those shutouts, Allen is back on track. He has three since Yeo’s been running the Blues’ bench.
Allen’s numbers are equally impressive when playing 5-on-5, too. At the time Hitchcock was fired, Allen had the sixth-worst 5-on-5 SP of any goaltender to play at least 500 minutes. Even Jaroslav Halak, who had been demoted to the AHL by the New York Islanders, was stopping a greater percentage of the shots he faced at five-a-side. But Allen’s ugly .906 SP under Hitchcock has become a glimmering .950 SP with Yeo at the helm, and only four who have played at least 200 minutes have fared better than Allen. If the parameters are changed to include only goaltenders who’ve played at least half of the 840 minutes at 5-on-5 that Allen has put in since Feb. 1, there isn’t a single netminder who has matched his play.
It’s not just Allen who is seeing improvement under Yeo, though. Backup Carter Hutton is also faring better with the change behind the bench. Hutton was in a similar spot under Hitchcock, with a .905 SP in nearly 800 minutes of 5-on-5 play. Since Yeo took over, though, Hutton has turned in a .971 mark in 234 minutes. That’s a vast improvement, and it can be seen team wide as the Blues’ overall save percentage has risen by almost two percent since Yeo stepped into the top job.
There is undoubtedly a certain aspect of both netminders finally hitting their stride in the Blues’ crease. That can’t be discounted, as neither has shown over the course of their career to be quite as bad as their numbers would have suggested while Hitchcock was still coach. But it seems like the bigger impact has been the changes Yeo has made to the system, which forces opposing teams to either take low-danger shots and fight to the high-danger areas to get their chances. There hasn’t been much of a middleground.
Since Yeo took over, Allen has been facing roughly five additional low-danger shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, while the number of mid-range shots has dropped by more than two and high-danger opportunities have remained nearly the same. The number of scoring chances Allen and Hutton have been facing per game has remained in the same range, too — an increase of less than half an attempt per 60 minutes under Yeo — but a number of those appear to be rebounds or jam plays, considering the increase of roughly one rebound attempt Allen is facing per 60 minutes.
And Allen has been locked in on those attempts against. Since Yeo took over, Allen has a .991 SP on low-danger attempts, .940 SP on mid-range shots and .846 SP when facing high-danger shots. The high-danger SP is a big one, too, because before Yeo stepped in, Allen was almost helpless when facing shots from in tight. At the time of Hitchcock’s firing, Allen was posting a mere .764 SP against shots that had come from high-percentage scoring areas.
The big question now, though, is whether the changes Yeo has made can have an impact when it matters most. Few would continue to call the Blues a Stanley Cup favorite in the West, but the biggest area of struggle for St. Louis throughout the season has been goaltending. With Allen turning it around, maybe the Blues have exactly what they need to upset a contender in the post-season.
(All advanced statistics via Corsica)
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