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Blues goalie Jake Allen lets game come to him

Finds secret to success is trying not to do too much

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- For Jake Allen, becoming the No. 1 goaltender for the St. Louis Blues during the summer may have been a step up in title, but it didn't mean trying to take another step on the ice.

Whether it was on the ice or on the golf course as an elite junior growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Allen knows trying harder in either sport is rarely a recipe for success. So when Brian Elliott was traded to the Calgary Flames for a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2018 on June 24, Allen didn't suddenly alter his summer routine or change his in-season practice habits.

"The mindset doesn't change, the preparation doesn't change, nothing changes," Allen said. "I learned my first year really quick that once you start trying to change yourself, either on or off the ice, it takes away from what you have been doing your whole life to get to this point. And I feel like every step you take in junior and the American League, all the ups and downs, prepared you to get to this point and once you are here you really have to trust yourself."

It's like trusting your swing, something Allen learned to do while playing competitive golf up to age 15, when he made his provincial team but had to decline because of hockey.

"Goalies and golf are very similar: You are on a team in hockey, but you are still an individual back there like in golf and I think it's boded well for me," Allen said. "I had to back off golf at a young age but it definitely helped me transition. It is very similar, especially when you are out there playing to legitimately shoot a good score, not just out having a couple beers with friends."

Video: STL@DAL: Allen makes a great save to stone Spezza

In both goaltending and golf, trying (or swinging) harder during a game isn't usually the best way to deal with a stretch of poor play or increased expectations. It's something Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot talked about last season, when he struggled early as the new No. 1 after success in a relief role with the New York Rangers in 2014-15.

"Sometimes it's almost like you try harder and you are almost just putting yourself in worse positions," Talbot said. "Every time things start going not your way you want to try to do more to force it but that's not the way it works in goaltending. You can't just try harder."

Frederik Andersen also talked about trying "a bit too hard" during his early struggles trying to live up the expectations that come with a new contract and new job as the No. 1 goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

Like Talbot and Andersen, Allen said the secret is not trying to do too much.

"I'm sure you hear this quote all the time, but you really do have to let the game come to you," Allen said. "It's easy to say and harder to do. Sometimes you want that puck so bad."

When that puck eludes you as a goalie, the key is not chasing it harder. Unlike forwards or defensemen who might be able to work themselves out of a funk and feel better about their game by making a big hit or winning a race on the forecheck, there is no equivalent for goalies.

Video: STL@NYR: Allen stands tall to deny Miller all alone

Like a struggling golfer, a goaltender can't just try to swing harder.

"If you hit a bad tee shot out of bounds or you let a weak shot in from the outside," Allen said, "you have to flip the switch really quick or your round is going to be ruined or your night is going to be over."

In addition to early lessons on the golf course, Allen learned about the pitfalls of trying to do more or be more when he got his first shot as a starter in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He finished with a .904 save percentage and St. Louis was eliminated from the Western Conference First Round in six games by the Minnesota Wild.

"I just tried to do too much," Allen said. "I tried to be more than I needed to be, and I think that's the lesson. If you look at more of the elite No. 1 goalies for long stretches of time, they steal games now and then, but they are just consistent goaltenders and they give their teams a chance to win. That's my objective."

With a 5-3-3 record, Allen appears to be doing just that, even if his .907 save percentage is below his career average (.914) and personal expectations. If there's one thing the Blues can count on as Allen tries to improve all those numbers, it's that he won't try to do it by swinging harder. Allen knows that doesn't work, on the golf course or in the goal crease.

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