The St. Louis Blues’ season has been a train wreck, and while it’s unfair to blame any one player, their goaltending certainly hasn’t helped. They cut ties with Chad Johnson altogether, and long-time embattled starter Jake Allen is back to having a 3.07 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage after a brief hot streak.
But lately, a new ray of hope has shone in St. Louis in the form of long-time AHL goaltender Jordan Binnington. Just over a month ago, we pointed out that he was earning a second look from the organization due to his strong play, and now he’s taking the NHL by storm in his first two career starts. It may be a bold decision, but for the time being, the Blues need to forego the typical goalie controversy and simply commit to Binnington as their starter.
Binnington’s Strong Start
Binnington made his first NHL start on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday and recorded a shutout. He made 25 saves, including a sprawling kick save on an insane deflection. It’s rare that the Flyers’ rookie sensation Carter Hart isn’t the most outstanding young goalie in a game, but on Monday, it was Binnington and not Hart who stole the headlines. Binnington even earned the honor of being named ESPN’s best player in the world of the week.
His encore performance was arguably even more impressive. He made 28 saves against the Montreal Canadiens, several of them worthy of a highlight reel, and he would have had another shutout too, but for a wild deflection off his own defender’s skate on a Montreal power play.
No one is handing him a Vezina Trophy or giving him a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame because of two strong outings, but his poise in the net is a palpable difference for a Blues team that has struggled to find any consistency there this season. And he has appeared calm and collected in post-game interviews as well.
Perhaps the five seasons Binnington spent in the AHL are a benefit. He knows that nothing in this game is a given, and he is embracing every second of his run in the starter’s net.
Another “Second” Chance for Allen?
The Blues have been in this position before. Allen struggled for years to prove that he could outperform Brian Elliott, so much so that the Blues eventually traded Elliott to clear the net for him. They signed Carter Hutton, a career backup to Pekka Rinne, to play second fiddle to Allen after Elliott left, but over two seasons, Hutton proved to be Allen’s superior, giving the team hope last season and earning himself a hefty contract in free agency.
Even this season there was a period, although brief, when it seemed Johnson would begin challenging Allen for starts. Ultimately, that didn’t happen, but it had more to do with Johnson crashing back down to earth than it did with Allen performing well.
It’s possible the Blues would be better off now if they’d committed to one of the backups that outperformed Allen rather than continually trying to prove that he is the real deal. Perhaps they wouldn’t find themselves in the bottom-third of the league if they’d started the season with Elliott (had he stayed healthy), Hutton or even Ben Bishop, whom they once traded for table scraps, believing that Allen could be their goalie of the future.
All of that is in the past. But in the present, there’s yet another goalie controversy in St. Louis. History dictates that the Blues will do everything they possibly can to justify sticking with Allen. But history shouldn’t repeat itself this time.
A New Direction in St. Louis
No one assumes that Binnington is the long-term “answer” in St. Louis, at least not on the back of just two starts, but it’s time for the Blues to make a bold decision and make him the starter of the present.
If the Blues’ intention is to compete this season, as the organization has publicly maintained that it is, then they cannot continue to turn to a 28-year-old goaltender in Allen who has never shown that he can be a consistent NHL netminder, despite being given chance after chance.
Yes, Binnington may be a fad, but as long as he’s in style, the Blues should continue to wear him. He needs to remain the Blues’ starting goaltender until his play falls off significantly while the organization needs to begin to decide how they can move on from Allen.
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.