Jake Allen vs. Carter Hutton: Who should the Blues start?

With both goalies struggling this season, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as coaches and fans would like.
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The St. Louis Blues are between a rock and a hard place right now. The club currently holds the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference playoff race, but they are going to need to make some improvements if they don’t want to end up on the golf course come mid-April. The largest issue holding the team back right now is their goaltending, or lack thereof.

Last season, the Blues split starts pretty evenly between goalies Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and it seemed to work well for both players. Both netminders ranked in the top 15 in save-percentage and goals-against-average among goalies who started at least 30 games, according to NHL.com. While Elliott had better stats last year, Allen held his own, and the club decided to trade the former away to the Calgary Flames for a second-round pick and conditional third-rounder.

By getting rid of Brian Elliott, former head coach Ken Hitchcock put his faith in the younger Jake Allen to take over the reigns as the club’s undisputed starting goalie and build off his strong 2015-16 campaign. Unfortunately, that plan hasn’t panned out the way many were hoping for, and the team has already gone back to splitting time between goalies — this time, between Allen and ex-Nashville Predator Carter Hutton.

Allen has struggled in what was supposed to be his first season as a starter. In his 34 starts, he has posted a 17-12-3 record with a 2.83 goals-against-average and a .897 save-percentage. He has just one shutout this year. While his record may not show it, his goals-against-average ranks 31 out of 42 goalies who have played at least 20 games. Almost every goalie below him plays on a team that either isn’t in the postseason race or is hanging in there by a thread. Not only that, his save-percentage is even worse. Out of those 42 goalies previously mentioned, Allen’s save-percentage puts him at 38. And number 39? The other Blues goalie, Carter Hutton. Hitchcock has publicly spoken about Allen and his struggles.

“There’s times in your young career where you just said you’ve had enough and then you’ve got to go turn it around the other way,” Hitchcock said after a January 12th loss the the Los Angeles Kings. “He’s got to man up and get better and we’ve got to get better in front of him.”

While Allen may not be posting the stats that coaches and fans were hoping for, he’s not the only goalie in St. Louis who’s struggling.

Carter Hutton signed a two-year contract with the Blues this offseason after spending the past few seasons backing up Pekka Rinne in Nashville. For most of his time in yellow, he was second to Rinne and has never had the type of stats to seriously be considered a starting goalie. Right now, St. Louis is seeing why. This season, Hutton has played in 22 games, started in 14, and posted a 7-7-2 record. He has a 2.81 goals-against-average and a .896 save percentage in those games. Comparing him to those other 41 goalies in the NHL, he places at 29 in goals-against-average, just a few spots above Jake Allen.

The curious thing about Hutton is that he’s actually very good at times, but once he starts to get a few consecutive starts, he falls apart. Just last week, he started against the Pittsburgh Penguins and posted a 34-save shutout. Because of that performance, he earned the start a couple days later against the Minnesota Wild. The Blues lost that game 5-1, and Hutton let in all five goals on 30 shots. He went from having a perfect 1.00 save percentage to a .833 save percentage in just two games. And that’s not the first time he’s randomly gone cold either. On Jan. 14 and 15, the Blues had a pair of back-to-back games. Hutton started in both of those. The first night he had a 23-save shutout and the next night he made 23 saves on 24 shots. Two days later he made his third consecutive start and laid an egg, letting in 5 goals on 23 shots and posting a .783 save percentage. Every goalie will have games they want to forget, but it’s curious that Hutton is so extreme with his playing, looking like a solid netminder one game and a mess in another.

Things aren’t all bad with Hutton, though. While Jake Allen has been pulled in two of his last three starts and has won just one of his past six games, Hutton has been trending up. In his past seven starts, he has won five and earned two shutouts. While neither goalie seems like a great choice to be the team’s starter right now, Hutton has been performing better and is possibly just facing some growing pains with all the work he’s been getting recently. After all, the most games he’s ever played in the NHL in a season is 40, and he’s already over halfway to reaching that mark. It’s possible that as the season concludes, he gets into more of a groove and begins to improve his play to take the starting position.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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