The St. Louis Blues have suffered a number of disappointments in their first season as defending Stanley Cup Champions, none bigger than losing superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko for at least five months due to a shoulder injury. But while injuries are always a disappointment, there are some underperformers who are still on the ice.
In the coming days, we’ll take a look at three Blues players who are exceeding expectations. But today, we’ll focus on three who are a disappointment so far, why they are underwhelming fans, and what they need to do to change that response.
1) Jake Allen
As a backup goaltender who lost some fans’ trust long ago, calling Jake Allen a disappointment is something of a surprise. With that said, there is no forgiving how he has played in just three starts this season, particularly after the front office decided not to trade Allen in the offseason, preferring the tandem they knew instead of searching for a new backup for Jordan Binnington.
Despite going 2-1, Allen’s numbers in three games are startlingly bad. He has a 3.72 goals against average (GAA), and a .855 save percentage (SV%). He also has minus-4.01 goals saved above average (GSAA), which puts him near the bottom of the league, despite starting far fewer games than those below him.
Allen’s struggles go beyond the number of goals he’s allowed. They extend to the quality (or lack thereof) of the chances upon which he’s surrendered tallies. First, there was Brendan Gallagher’s blooper-reel goal from the red line. Then, on Saturday, he allowed a goal to the Minnesota Wild’s Kevin Fiala which, according to Money Puck, had a 0.7 percent chance of going in.
Allen is certainly a backup, but at this pace, the Blues cannot afford to start him more than absolutely necessary. In time, that will overburden Binnington and drag the whole team down. The Blues made the decision to keep Allen knowing full well the burden his contract would pose if he didn’t play up to standard. It’s just a three-game sample size, but early returns are worrisome to say the least.
2) Justin Faulk
Justin Faulk hasn’t exactly been terrible since arriving in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes just before the season. But he hasn’t quite found his groove in St. Louis yet, either. He has just five points in fifteen games, and has yet to find his first goal as a Blue.
Considering that Faulk was seventh amongst defensemen in goal scoring over the last five years, it’s a concerning fact. More concerning still, only one of his assists has come on the power play. Presumably, the Blues acquired Faulk as a power play specialist (he is fourth over that same time frame in power play goals), and his inability to produce there so far is troublesome.
Given that he’s still a relative newcomer to the team and hasn’t yet found a consistent defense partner, Faulk’s struggles aren’t a massive concern yet. But the Blues signed him, sight unseen, to a seven-year, $6.5 million per season contract as part of the trade, so a quick turnaround would be a significant comfort to many in St. Louis.
3) Zach Sanford
He’s still young, but Zach Sanford can’t seem to decide just what kind of player he is. At times last season, and particularly in the Stanley Cup Final, he looked like a potential budding superstar. He scored four points in the last five games of the Final, including the final Blues goal of the series.
But early in the 2019-20 season, he has returned to the inconsistencies that plagued him last season. He has a goal and two assists in 10 games, but is averaging under 11 minutes per game, and has a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 48.3 percent, not terrible, but not great either.
At times, head coach Craig Berube has been critical of Sanford, demanding more physicality. “He’s got to be an intense player and be hard on pucks and be a physical player. That’s his game,” Berube said.
Sanford will turn 25 on Nov. 9, and still has plenty of time to mature. But the Blues hoped that he would be a major piece of their top-nine this season. So far, he hasn’t lived up to those expectations, making him something of a disappointment.
All Hands on Deck
After losing one of the most consistent goal scorers in the entire NHL, the Blues have a very large hole to fill. They need players like Sanford and Faulk to step up and play their best, and they cannot afford Allen’s continued underperformance.
Even with these struggling players, though, the Blues sit atop the NHL Central Division with 21 points. They have a difficult schedule ahead in the month of November, though, so they will need all hands on deck to continue to thrive.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.