Throughout Brian Elliott’s tenure with the St. Louis Blues, it’s hard to argue that he’s put up nothing short of world-class numbers. In most seasons, he simply hasn’t played enough games to warrant Vezina discussion, although a Jennings shared with Jaroslav Halak in 2012 was probably little consolation. But if the recent announcement that Jake Allen is starting Game 1 vs. the Minnesota Wild is any indication, the lack of award nods added to numerous playoff snubs might simply be that few truly believe in him.
Allen and Elliot By the Numbers
Normally, I’d never posit that raw statistics ever tell the entire story of a goaltender’s performance, given things like confidence, “swagger,” and positive body language are all things that are hard to quantify objectively. However, sometimes obvious things are obvious. In terms of adjusted save percentage, where shot quality (distance) is factored in, Elliott’s numbers are generally very similar. In other words, he’s normally consistent regardless of opposition and opportunities faced. The only variable where Allen shines over Elliott is in high-danger save percentage, but given the Blues’ typical defensive scheme those chances are typically relatively few and far between. In terms of typical medium danger opportunities (we’re eliminating low-danger because hopefully any NHLer can deal with those), Elliott’s adjusted save percentage hovers closer to .950, versus Allen’s .910. Although the final total save percentages ended at .917 and .913 between Elliott and Allen respectfully, breaking that into relevant, scenario-driven circumstances doesn’t help answer any questions about this decision.
The Jim Corsi Factor
Jim Corsi’s metrics for player and team evaluation are touchstones for statheads everywhere. And it’s here, arguably more than anywhere, where we probably find the real reasoning for Jake Allen’s pending start over Brian Elliott. Although Blues beatwriter Jeremy Rutherford says coach Hitchcock met with Corsi, who in turn told the goalies, there’s no question there were numerous interactions prior to that in informing Hitchcock’s decision. The frequently-heard comments from Hitch about “Jake having a great last six weeks” fits perfectly into how Corsi thinks. By looking at the upward trending numbers of Allen and the declining stats of Elliott over the last couple months, the famous Corsi “trend line” was probably used to help make this decision when most other metrics seemed equal. Corsi’s eye test is also trusted throughout statsland, and Hitchcock is obviously a believer.
Blues Might Face Very Real Problem During Offseason
Brian Elliott’s been down this road before — in fact, every year he’s worn the Note. Halak, Ryan Miller and now rookie Allen all getting the nod over Elliott come crunch time has got to be wearing on his psyche. Every year, he’s mentioned as one of the hardest workers, puts up very good numbers, normally starts as many or more games than his partner and every year, starts the playoffs on the bench as his reward. It would not be shocking to see him pursue a trade this summer, regardless of how the Blues’ run ends up. This ignores the Martin Brodeur signing, widely understood as equal parts PR and tapping a knowledge resource. Although it’s not difficult to find a body to pop into the net, what is hard is finding a competent 1B partner, capable of starting in case the 1A goes down. The Devan Dubnyk lottery ball the Minnesota Wild came up with is a distinct aberration when it comes to scraping goalies from the pile. Should Elliott say enough’s enough — especially if the Blues fail in the postseason under Allen — he might simply want to go somewhere where his efforts are rewarded at the important time of the year. Ideally, the Blues take it all and this entire issue is laughed off over swigs from the Cup. No matter how the story ends, there remains a controversy surrounding a goalie that doesn’t deserve one.