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Allen succeeding in backup role for Blues

Goalie never lost confidence, trust in self, after Binnington became starter

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

Listening to Jake Allen talk about the state of his game, it's not hard to understand why the St. Louis Blues goaltender is succeeding this season in a reduced -- and arguably tougher -- role as the backup behind Jordan Binnington.

"A big word for me right now is trust," Allen said. "It's about trusting yourself, trusting the process, trusting my game. I know I am a good goalie in this league and I've just got to keep going back to that and not straying from my game, because I know my game works."

With a 7-3-3 record, 2.36 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 15 games (13 starts) this season, it's easy to see why Allen would have such faith in the way he is playing. But here's the thing: he wasn't having nearly as much success when he delivered that line about trust.

The above quote about trusting his game is from a Nov. 5 visit to Vancouver. At that point Allen had played three games in the first five weeks of the season. He was 2-1-0 in those games but had a 3.72 GAA and .855 save percentage, not exactly the kind of numbers that invoke a talk about your game working in the NHL.

That belief, however, is exactly what Allen portrayed.

"It's just trust, because you can get into a position like this where there is a lot of time off, a lot of time to think, and it's just understanding that I've played enough games in this league and know what works and what doesn't, and I can't stray away from it," Allen said then.

Video: STL@BUF: Allen stacks pads for two huge saves

The next day, on the second of back-to-back games for the Blues, Allen made 32 saves in a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers that was close until St. Louis scored two empty-net goals in the final minute.

Including that game, Allen is 5-2-3 with a .939 save percentage in his past 12 games, which is tied with Dallas Stars backup Anton Khudobin for first in the League among goalies that have played at least five games during those two months.

Allen knew he had to ignore the results and statistics, especially in a sample as small as three games, and focus on a process he's learned to trust during seven NHL seasons.

"Too many uncontrollable variances in the game of hockey as goalies to not so much focus on the results rather than what you know works for you," Allen said this week. "At the end of the day, if you're confident and can trust yourself long enough the tide will eventually turn one way or another, or people will realize your game is good. You're not going to get the win and result every night, that's just the game we play. It is more of an internal win that eventually should come out in your favor at the end of the day."

Saying it and truly believing it can be two different things for NHL goalies.

Carolina Hurricanes goalie James Reimer once said the hardest part of the job is sticking with a foundation when things aren't going well. Chasing change for the sake of the change is like chasing the puck in a game rather than trusting your positioning. It doesn't usually end well in either scenario.

Video: STL@CHI: Allen makes 38 saves to shut out Blackhawks

"You got here for a reason, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel," Reimer said last season.

Florida Panthers goaltending coach Robb Tallas said then the ability to separate the process from the results is something that differentiates elite goaltenders in the NHL.

None of those things get easier when you aren't playing much, an additional challenge Allen faced after Binnington took over the top job in St. Louis around this time last season.

Since he had a shutout in his first NHL start, Jan. 7, 2019, Binnington leads the NHL in wins with a 45-12-5 record. Among goalies to play at least 20 games in that span, he is fourth in the League with a 2.16 GAA and tied for seventh (with Allen) with a .923 save percentage. He also backstopped the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019.

Binnington has authored an incredible story, making it easy to overlook the fact Allen also has played very well.

For Allen, playing well in a reduced role the second half of last season after going 14-13-4 with an .898 save percentage before Binnington took over, helped cement his belief in the work he'd done with Blues goaltending coach Dave Alexander, and made it easier to stick with it through a tough first month this season.

With Allen and Binnington each playing well, St. Louis has shown little fall-off from the team that rampaged through the second half of last season and won the first Stanley Cup championship in Blues history. St. Louis is 28-10-7 and is second in the NHL with 63 points, two behind the Washington Capitals.

"The start of last season obviously didn't go great for us, but I still felt my game was pretty good and when [Binnington] came in on his roll, I told myself, 'Do not change one thing.' I didn't and I probably had the best second half of my career," Allen said. "The second half of last season is probably the best hockey my career, and coming into this season I said, 'Look, don't change, just don't change a single thing and keep going with it and it will work itself out.'"

It has, in large part, because Allen never stopped trusting it would.

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