I posted this back in April after the Blues lost to Minnesota, but wanted to revisit it. A bang for bang convo between a good friend, PJ, and I.
Every writer needs someone to properly put them in their place when needed. A cooling stick to a guy with hot hands. For the past 12 years or so, that has been my good friend P.J. It doesn’t matter if it’s the St. Louis Cardinals, The Blues, a movie review, a comedian disagreement, musical taste, big statement about crime and poverty…P.J. will raise the hands at me if I write a shit article or ride off the rails. He is a good guy and someone I like to call a friend.
I posted my first Blues season wrapup where I broke down the latest failure of this hockey team to give anyway back to the city of St. Louis. Every time I post an article, I have this guy in my head and I would be lying if I said I didn’t aim a few paragraphs at him like I was pointing a dart gun at a man with his back turned. He’s my fiercest sports talk competitor, so when I saw a three paragraph response to my article, I got excited, weary and elated at the same time. In case you missed the article, here it is so you can get the base of the conversation. Let’s get into it.
P.J. kicked things off-
I disagree with the claim (made by you and others) that Allen performed well for the first 4 games. He was not good in game one. The first goal (the wraparound) was his fault. The 2nd goal was a undeflected, lightly-screened, shot from the point on the power play. It’s a save that goalies need to make if they want to win playoff games. Despite the fact that the Wild outplayed the Blues for most of the first 2 periods, that game should have been 0-0 heading into the 3rd and was definitely winnable. He was reasonably competent in games 2 and 4, but the way the team played, there was no way they were losing either of those. He was outstanding in game 3; it was his only great performance in the series, despite the lopsided loss. Games 5 and 6 don’t need to be revisited; we are both aware of Allen’s awful performance in those. As is usually the case in playoff hockey, the two goaltenders were the biggest difference-makers in the series. Dubnyk was above average; Allen was average. In Allen’s defense, he played the same way in the regular season. Allen’s play is usually a mixed bag of good and subpar performances. He saved 116 or 125 shots he saw during the series – a 90.4% rate which is slightly below how he performed during the season. There’s a reason that neither Allen or Elliott asserted their claim as the number one goalie until Hitchcock tapped Allen for the role after a few good performances at the tail end of the regular season. Inconsistent goaltending can be good enough in the regular season but falls way short in the playoffs when the margins are paper thin. In the playoffs, a goalie has to elevate his play. Allen didn’t. Neither did Ryan Miller last year. As is the case every year at this time, the team goes into the offseason with goaltending as a huge question mark. Unfortunately, I don’t see a change being made between the pipes, so I think we’re stuck with what we have.
Obviously, Hitchcock needs to go. He’s a good coach but he’s had 4 years to make something happen in the playoffs and if it hasn’t happened yet, there’s no reason to stick with him. Someone like Dan Bylsma, who had a good run with Pittsburgh and has a reputation as a players’ coach (the antithesis of Hitchcock), would be a good choice. Something has to change and it’s much easier to replace a coach than to replace a collection of players. I do think the core of this team has the talent to be successful in the playoffs. Despite the goaltending woes, the rest of the team underperformed. There were too many long stretches where Minnesota simply outplayed us. If it was just a couple of guys lagging behind, you could point fingers, but given the comprehensive underachievement from one end of the bench to the other, you have to point to the head coach. Tarasenko had a good series but disappeared in a couple games. Oddly, Berglund was the most consistent forward; when that’s the case, you know you’re screwed.
No matter what team takes the ice next year and who is behind the bench, no one should take this team seriously until they win a playoff series. The regular season serves only to separate the playoff teams from the non-playoff teams; aside from that, it is meaningless. I don’t care of they go 82-0 next season; we will not have an answer until 365 days from now.
(Hannah Folsien-Getty Images)
My Response(typed inside 20 minutes with a cup of coffee flying down the pipes)
On Allen-In Game 1 he let in a soft goal but he also made some great saves to keep that game close. When you have a team that doesn’t score enough in the playoffs, like the Blues, making 25 of 27 saves in Game 1 is pretty solid. I see your point. The second goal Allen never even saw because he had three players in front of him. Actually, a lot of goalies don’t make that. Devan Dubnyk actually did let in a couple saucers from the middle of the blue line. Allen let in one soft goal in Game 1 but made more than a fair share of great saves. Pj, the Blues defense is dreadful at times. Their penalty killing had some horrible moments, and I can’t tell you how many odd man rushes they allowed in Game 1 that Allen snuffed out and stopped. He made 93 percent of his stops(and made more great ones than soft let in’s).
Game 2 he was amazing. 24 of 25 and saved the Blues when they predictably took their foot off the gas pedal at the end of the 2nd and most of the 3rd period. Allen is the perfect combination in net. He’s calm, poised and doesn’t get rattled. He’s not laid back like Halak or a meth addict mobile guy like Elliott. Game 2 I agree was his best.
Game 3 was a game that the Blues didn’t show up for. Allen made some solid stops and stopped 91 percent but Game 3 was on the Blues lethargic offensive attack. It won’t matter who is in net when the Blues play so horribly and soft overall. When this team gets down 2-0 in a game they shut it down. Every single time. That’s the problem. While not amazing overall, I think Allen was solid in this series.
Game 4 was thoroughly dominated by the Blues offense. The only true game where they played a complete 100 percent attack never give up game. Allen only had to stop less in than 20 shots and kept 94 percent in front of him. Not on him or a particularly MVP showing.
Game 5 and 6 were not good. Allen came undone and the rest of the team sucked it up. He made good stops but let in the softest goal of all time in Game 6.
However, I don’t think it matters who is in net for this team because the forwards and D-men play like utter useless crap for huge stretches. Allen was better in my opinion than yours but he didn’t outplay Dubnyk and has learning to do. Not bad for a rookie and I still stand behind my opinion that he was the guy for the team in the playoffs. I don’t think Elliott could have done a better job.
As team reporter Lou Korac said, when you have a team scoring 2 GOALS in the final two games that are must win, the last thing you look at is goaltending. That’s not the issue. It’s a team that has averaged 2.11 goals the past five years in the playoffs. Allen had solid #’s overall so I can’t pin much of the blame on him.
I do think these two will both be back and I hope Allen gets the bulk of the time because he is the goalie of the future. He showed enough promise in this series to make me think he can figure it out and be sharper next round.
Berglund wasn’t bad but he’s still a useless 3.7 million making player who is holding a spot that a much younger and cheaper Blue needs. Tarasenko did disappear but he scored 6 of the 13 goals and disappeared less than Backes, Oshie, Schwartz, Steen and others. In my opinion, Oshie needs to go or see his role dramatically reduced. When it comes down to the former drunkard, his shootout expertise is nice but doesn’t matter in the playoffs and he was missing in action far too much. Backes is an underrated captain but his career playoff numbers are dog shit. Same for Steen. It may be time to break up this original core by sending Oshie/Berglund out and figuring out which roles Steen/Backes have moving forward.
We can both agree that this team is Peyton Manning with the exception of 2006. A regular season beast that goes aggressively limp in the playoffs.
While I don’t like hanging it all on the coach, I do agree Hitch’s touch in the playoffs has disappeared. He had his time and has to go. While I hold players more accountable, he doesn’t have the success to hand him 82 more games to divide up and I think he struggles with line management. He should have noticed how better Stastny could be with more ice time and switched him and Oshie. You don’t sign a guy like Stastny and put him on the third line when Oshie doesn’t have a goal in over a month. Stastny didn’t blow me away this year but he plays so much better when paired with the right guys. Hitch can’t recognize that.
I love Bylsma a lot. He is my first choice. I don’t mind Babcock from Detroit either or if the Kings get tired of Sutter, I’d take him. All three are playoff hungry and experienced lions. For some reason, I don’t want Todd McLellan because I don’t think he is much of an upgrade over Hitch. Bylsman is a radical change in the way he deals with and handles players.
Overall, this team went limp at the wrong time. They won 51 games and like I said, seemed to come undone after a 2 goal deficit. The Wild aren’t more talented but in the playoffs, it’s about will power and the ability to react to bad shit happening. How you react defines your playoff tenure and the Blues are still children playing in a big boy’s pond.
The goaltending wasn’t electric but it was good enough to deserve a better result. The Blues offense left the ice for the last two games and the soft core defense let in too many rushes. Eventually, those rushes lead to goals.
It’s all ugly. Rock the ship, Armstrong. Shake up the core. It’s the only way.
P.J. Kicked This Back-
We’ve pretty much chewed up and spit out this topic, even if we don’t agree on some things. In hindsight, game 1 was the biggest game of the series; it was winnable, whether there was one soft goal or two. Goals are harder to come by in the playoffs, so when you cough up an easy one right off the bat, it changes the entire flow of the game. Goaltending was also big key in game 5; I kind of feel like Dubnyk stole that one (we had 37 shots on goal) with some help from Allen. I agree on Dubnyk; he was far from perfect in the games we won. The Reaves slapper from the blueline and Tarasenko shot from the side of the net come to mind. In my email to you, I originally had written “Dubnyk was outstanding” and changed it to “Dubnyk was above average” because, while he did enough to win the series and stole game 5, he wasn’t invincible by any means.
However, one factor that hasn’t been mentioned is luck. After acquiring Dubnyk, Minnesota was the best team in the conference. When you win your division and run into a team like that in the first round, you got screwed. As the regular season was closing down, my hope was that we’d draw anyone but Minnesota. I think I even mentioned that in one of our email duels. While losing the series sucks, I don’t really see it as an upset. Minnesota is a legitimately good team and it’s just pure bad luck that we ended up with them in the first round. They will give the Blackhawks all they can handle. And yes, as I mentioned, whether I like it or not, I agree with you that Jake is likely our guy next season. I wouldn’t be opposed to taking a shot at the Coyotes’ goalie Mike Smith, despite his huge contract, if Arizona decides to unload him. However, I don’t see that happening because we don’t really have any young, talented players on cheap contracts and that will be what Arizona wants. Allen is the only guy that fits that description and I don’t see the Blues parting with him yet (although I’d be fine with it), after they got burned a few years ago by giving up on Ben Bishop too quickly. Hopefully this year was just a case of the rookie jitters and Jake will come back more solid next spring.
To Which I Sent Back-
The biggest aggravation is that, no matter who it is that comes before them, The Blues go down too easy and there isn’t any fight in this team at the crucial time. Look at the way the Jets battled the Ducks or the way the Pens batted the best team in the NHL In the Rangers. There were overtime games and back and forth struggles. In Game 2, the Blues got very luck with Backes pushing that near goal out of the crease and Allen was huge. They dominated Game 4 but the four losses they had the team was just flat. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Kings, Hawks or Wild. The Blues have to rise to a certain level of play in the playoffs and they consistently don’t. 25 different teams have won the Stanley Cup since the Blues came into the league in 1967 and it’s disheartening. I can’t tell you that if the Blues get a different coach, cut the fat, win another 50 games next season that they will advance past the first round.
Luck is always a factor in the playoffs. The Wild were great down the stretch but the Blues finished 5-1, were completely healthy and got their asses kicked. Allen getting outplayed by Dubnyk was a factor but the bigger factor to me is our supposed playmakers(at least in salary alone) in Backes, Oshie and Steen coming up horribly short in a big time. That spells change. Do you really think we fare any better against a Predators team that struggled down the stretch. They pushed the Hawks to three OT’s and made the Hawks shuffle their goalies twice.
The Blackhawks have decent to slightly above average goalies in Corey Crawford and Scott Darling(I believe Ells-Allen are better) but they win because their entire team plays a full 60 and doesn’t give up after the Preds go up 2-0 or 3-1. It’s a different thing with the Blues. Compared to the other series and the way they were played, the Blues went down too easy.
I don’t want Mike Smith. I don’t think he is any better than what we got. Stay with Allen. He is going to be great. When Ells started playing like shit at a crucial time, Allen went berserk in net from March 5th to April 12th. He got beat up late in the playoffs but still deserves the future look of this team. The players put in front of them will make the biggest difference. If the Blues average a paltry 2.1 goals per game next playoffs, the person in net won’t matter much at all.
This team is infuriating. Without Tarasenko’s ability to be an offensive beast(there’s a reason Dubnyk stopped him in the post game handshakes to tell him how good he was), the Blues get swept in this series. He also lit up the Blackhawks last year. He can’t do it alone. The other high paid guys need to show up. As much as I like Backes as a captain, he plays like shit in the playoffs. He takes bad penalties and doesn’t do much. That has to change.
This October things better look different. If not, where’s the hope?
P.J. ends it with…
I can’t argue with any of what you wrote. If Allen is the future, then I think you have to cut bait with Elliott and bring in someone who is fine being a backup (unless Elliott is willing to do that, which is doubtful). I don’t like the “play the hot hand” approach that was used throughout this season. I would take Mike Smith in a heartbeat if they wanted to give Allen more time to develop (or give up on him completely), as I do think he’s an elite goaltender (aside from his shitty start to this season), but it’s not going to happen, so it’s not even worth the words I’ve already given it.
I can completely agree with you regarding the frustrations of being a Blues fan. This team has made the playoffs in nearly every year of my life and has never made the Stanley Cup Finals during that time. I can only recall 2 times that they’ve even made the conference finals (vs Colorado during the manual scoreboard days and Calgary in around 1986 or 1987). It is so frustrating so see talent wasted and potential unfulfilled year after year. The fucking Lightning and Hurricanes have more Cups than the Blues and that is embarrassing. We are regressing. The pre-strike Blues used to win a series before wilting in the 2nd round. Now, they don’t even do that.
And yes, you are correct in saying the way we lost was pathetic. I may be wrong about this, but I don’t think we came back to erase a deficit once during this series. Once Minnesota had a lead, it was game over. All the other series losers battled harder. We never sniffed overtime in the games we lost. It was a pathetic pattern: fall behind, stay behind, pull goalie, immediately concede empty netter, game over.
My Finishing Touch
The Blues are just a kill joy. They either don’t get the goaltending they need or they flunk every single playoff test. It’s tiring and it doesn’t help that right down the street the Cards dominate every single season. There are hockey fans united in STL and they are let down every year. Stillman is a proud owner and a hockey guy himself, and he put up the cash for Stastny and other players and raised the payroll but saw the same result. It’s pathetic.
If you are asking yourself how all this was typed in one afternoon, you have to understand how quick P.J. and I can fire at each other. It’s relentless and we kept this one mostly clean. If a bit of profanity dropped in there somewhere, I halfway apologize but come on, on this site it’s the middle of the night so anything goes.
I wanted to share this conversation because for years we have had these kind of talks and they never saw the light of day and I love reading a conversation between two fans. It’s real and there’s history and fire worked in so it’s interesting. I hope you enjoyed it and if you did, I’ll recruit the next GMAIL chat for future post. Thanks and see you in October Blues fans.