Is Brian Elliott a bona fide No. 1 goaltender? Is Jake Allen the next big thing for Canadian-born netminders?
Both answers appear to be yes — a resounding, yes — based on the first 15 games of this season.
There were no shortage of skeptics when the St. Louis Blues appointed Elliott their starter in the off-season instead of signing a more proven option such as Ryan Miller — who they got to know, for better and worse, last season — or Jonas Hiller. Maybe even Martin Brodeur, Ilya Bryzgalov, Tim Thomas or Tomas Vokoun.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong put their faith in Elliott, a career back-up for the most part, and he has rewarded their confidence with a stellar start. After 10 appearances, Elliott is boasting a 6-3-1 record with a .928 save percentage (tied for 8th) and 1.96 goals-against average (tied for 7th).
Yes, Elliott currently ranks in the top 10 for those two major statistical categories — and he also has 1 shutout to his credit in just over 613 minutes of playing time.
Rookie understudy Jake Allen has been equally, if not more impressive in his 5 starts — sporting a 4-1-0 record, a league-leading 1.40 GAA and .944 Save % (tied for first with Ottawa’s Craig Anderson), including a shutout of the high-powered Anaheim Ducks. He is pushing Elliott and could supplant the 29-year-old veteran journeyman should he slip up, but Elliott has shown no signs of imploding to date.
Allen has long been a top prospect, with the 24-year-old having been a high second-round pick (34th overall) by St. Louis in 2008. He represented Canada at several junior tournaments, including an MVP, gold-medal-winning performance at the 2008 under-18 championships followed by a more forgettable, silver-medal effort at the 2009 world juniors. Allen was named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the year for 2010 and, more recently, the American Hockey League’s outstanding goaltender for last season. He was also an AHL first-team all-star in 2013-14, proving his worth at the minor-league level and earning an opportunity to back-up Elliott in the NHL this season.
So far, so good for Elliott, Allen and the Blues (10-4-0-1). Their next six games should shed more light on the goaltending situation and whether this tandem is the real deal.
Allen is in line for his sixth start against the surprisingly potent Nashville Predators (10-3-1-1) on Thursday, with Elliott back between the pipes to face Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (7-5-1-2) on Saturday. St. Louis then heads out on a four-game road trip that starts next Tuesday in Boston against the Bruins (10-6-0-0) before making three stops in Eastern Canada against the Montreal Canadiens (11-4-1-0) on Nov. 20, the Ottawa Senators (7-4-2-2) on Nov. 22 and Winnipeg Jets (8-6-0-2) on Nov. 23.
All teams that are essentially above-.500 and sure to test the mettle of the Blues’ goaltenders. Pass this stretch with similar flying colours and St. Louis should be in good hands for the long haul and perhaps a Stanley Cup run come spring.
In terms of carrying the national torch, Allen could be capable but still has his work cut out for him with huge shoes to fill. The top 10 goaltenders in career NHL wins are all Canadian — and all retired, or at least inactive: Brodeur (688), Patrick Roy (551), Ed Belfour (484), Curtis Joseph (454), Terry Sawchuk (447), Jacques Plante (437), Tony Esposito (423), Glenn Hall (407), Grant Fuhr (403) and Chris Osgood (401). Half those guys — Brodeur (2014), Roy (2003), Belfour (2007), Joseph (2009) and Osgood (2011) — were still playing at the turn of the century, but the Canadian goaltending prospect pool isn’t producing too many heir apparents these days. The reasons for that drop-off in talent are debatable, but Allen has the potential to be elite, joining the likes Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury and Corey Crawford as the current (or next) generation.
If Allen can become half as good as the guys on that career wins list — which includes Luongo, currently No. 14 (373) — St. Louis will be sitting pretty for the foreseeable future.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.