Are Brian Elliott and Jake Allen the St. Louis Blues’ Best Goalie Duo Since 1969?


Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are currently in the midst of the most dominant stretch in team history for Blues goalies. Are we watching the Blues’ best goalie tandem since the 1968-69 season?

With the massive obstacles that the Blues’ offensive corps have been dealt due to injuries among the club’s top forwards—15 games missed and counting from Alexander Steen, 18 from Paul Stastny, and 49 from Jaden Schwartz—they’ve had to rely on exceptionally disciplined defensive play during 2015-16. While an elite blueline group that has seen bounce-back seasons from Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester and a spectacular rookie campaign from Colton Parayko deserves massive credit, much of the team’s success has been possible due to dominance in net.

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Strong play from goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jake Allen has been a constant whenever the Blues (45-22-9) have won this season. Allen and Elliott have consistently lifted a team that ranks an unimpressive 18th in the NHL in goals per game (2.61), and as a result of that superior play in net, the Blues have allowed the fourth-fewest goals (2.38) in the league. Even though they’ve both dealt with long-term injuries this season, they’ve also been a collectively reliable presence in 2015-16. Despite the fact that Allen missed roughly six weeks and Elliott nearly a month, both due to knee injuries, the duo has managed to start all 76 games to date for the Blues this season, with Elliott starting 18 straight from January 9 to February 22, and Allen starting 10 straight from February 25 to March 16.

As a duo, Allen and Elliott are quite obviously at their highest point thus far following Saturday night’s dominant 4-0 victory over the Washington Capitals, who lead the league with 111 points and had not been shut out since November 10. Allen’s shutout on Saturday followed a run of three straight shutouts by Elliott, so they’re now in the midst of a franchise record four-game shutout streak. Neither Elliott or Allen has allowed a goal in 261:51. Because Elliott has yet to allow a goal in the three games following his return from injury, he hasn’t let a puck in the net since February 22.

Now that Elliott and Allen’s dominance has reached historical measures, it’s fair to wonder where the duo ranks among the greatest goalie tandems in franchise history. Both netminders can back up their dominance with their statistics; through 45 games, Allen is 25-14-3 with a .920 save percentage, a 2.36 GAA, and six shutouts (good for second-best in the NHL, only behind the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford). In 37 games, Elliott is 20-7-6, a league-leading .934 save percentage, a league-leading 1.95 GAA, and four shutouts.

The easiest, most high-profile Blues duo to compare Elliott and Allen to is that of Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall, the tandem of Hall-of-Famers that led the 1968-69 Blues squad to the Stanley Cup Finals (where they were swept by the Montreal Canadiens).

Now that Elliott and Allen’s dominance has reached historical measures, it’s fair to wonder where the duo ranks among the greatest goalie tandems in franchise history.

Plante and Hall were co-recipients of that season’s Vezina Trophy, though it’s worth noting that the trophy had a different meaning than it does now. Whereas today’s Vezina Trophy is voted on and awarded to the league’s top goaltender, the trophy was given to the goaltender(s) of the team that was best at preventing goals prior to the 1981-82 season.

That year, Hall was 19-12-8 with a 2.17 GAA and eight shutouts in 41 games, while Plante was 18-12-6 with a 1.96 GAA and five shutouts. The duo combined to start 75 of the Blues’ 76 regular season games, though in a somewhat eerie repetition of history, the Blues also used three additional goalies during that season—Gary Edwards, Robbie Irons, and Ted Ouimet—for one game each, just like they’ve done with Jordan Binnington, Pheonix Copley, and Anders Nilsson this season.

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Perhaps equally eerie is the fact that Allen’s numbers align so closely with Hall’s, while Elliott’s are so similar to Plante’s. Allen, who like Hall is the younger member of the duo (albeit 12 years younger than Hall was in 68-69), has played in more games and has a sky-high shutout total. Elliott, who is the more experienced member of the duo like Plante was way back when, has played in fewer games than Allen, but like Plante, he has the best goals-against average in the league and has a greater win percentage than his more frequently-used counterpart. While the NHL didn’t keep track of save percentage until 1983-84, the league’s level of scoring is relatively similar now as to what it was then, so it’s pretty safe to compare statistics between the seasons. Both campaigns fall near the middle of the pack in NHL history, as the 68-69 season ranks 43rd all-time in goals per game (2.98), while this season currently ranks 70th with 2.69 per game through 1,112 of 1,230 games played.

If things play out as most observers expect they will this postseason, Elliott will also begin the playoffs as the starter, just as Plante did. The Blues will have to hope that Elliott can have as much early playoff success as Plante did, considering that Plante won his first eight playoff games while allowing just 14 goals and recording three shutouts. If they’re fortunate to advance so far, though, Elliott and/or Allen will hope for better results in the Stanley Cup Finals than Plante and Hall did, though, as each goalie started two games and combined to give up 12 goals, compared to the three that the Blues scored during the four-game series.

While it’s easy to compare the all-time great 68-69 goalie duo with Elliott and Allen, there are certainly other Blues goalie tandems that have challenged Hall and Plante. In fact, Plante and 29-year-old rookie Ernie Wakely (joined by Hall after he came out of retirement during the season) did a pretty fantastic job of following up in 1969-70. That season, Plante was the primary starter, going 18-9-5 with a 2.19 GAA and five shutouts. Wakely had a dominant rookie season, going 12-9-4 with a 2.11 GAA and four shutouts, and while Hall wasn’t extremely sharp after coming back in-season, he still went 7-8-3 with a 2.91 GAA and a shutout. The 69-70 goalie trio also earns bonus points for helping the Blues to a third straight Finals appearance, though Wakely didn’t help those efforts much, going 0-4 with a 4.72 GAA in his starting opportunities.

Other notables include Grant Fuhr (29-21-6, .898 save percentage, 2.53 GAA, three shutouts) and Jamie McLennan (16-8-2, .903 save percentage, 2.17 GAA, two shutouts) in 1997-98, Roman Turek (24-18-10, .901 save percentage, 2.28 GAA, six shutouts) and Brent Johnson (19-9-2, .907 save percentage, 2.17 GAA, four shutouts) in 2000-01, and Jaroslav Halak (26-12-7, .926 save percentage, 1.97 GAA, six shutouts) and Elliott (23-10-4, .940 save percentage, 1.56 GAA, nine shutouts) in 2011-12.

The Halak-Elliott duo clearly seems to have been the most dominant among those groups, considering that their goals-against averages were 0.76 and 1.17 goals below league average, respectively. That tandem ultimately drew criticism because of their inability to succeed in the playoffs, as Halak suffered an ankle injury that ended his postseason after two games, and after Elliott helped the Blues to a first-round series win, he broke down in the second round against the Los Angeles Kings and allowed them to score 15 goals in a four-game series sweep.

The common denominator between that season and this one, though, is the ridiculous dominance of Elliott. While setting a franchise record with nine shutouts in a season, Elliott managed to have a streak of three straight shutouts from March 22-27 (pretty similar timing to this year), though one was spoiled by a shootout loss. He gave up more than two goals on just seven occasions throughout the season.

One other thing that should be considered while debating the merits of this goaltending duo in relation to others is the adversity that both goalies have been able to overcome. While reduced to full-time backup status between early November and early January, Elliott was plagued by ineffectiveness. He didn’t win a game for more than two months, going from October 18 to December 19 without a win. While starting six games and appearing in eight during that stretch, Elliott had a 0-3-2 record.

Saturday’s win represented Allen’s first shutout since December 22, breaking a streak of 16 starts in which he gave up a goal. Allen had a stretch of six games between November 21 and December 5 during which he allowed 17 goals on 159 shots (.893 save percentage, 2.97 GAA). He also struggled immediately before and after his injury, failing to record a win in seven starts between December 31 and February 27.

While the 68-69 team had a string of four straight losses and another six-game winless streak (three ties, three losses), it’s difficult to pinpoint a prolonged period of failure on the schedule like the ones that Elliott and Allen have experienced this season. Even with the 11-12 team, which played in a more fast-paced and competitive NHL, there were no prolonged struggles like the ones Elliott and Allen have faced this year, unless you want to count Elliott’s failure in the conference semifinals.

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The fact that both goalies have managed to post stats that rank at or near the top of the entire NHL is pretty incredible, considering the struggles that each has faced at various times this season. We’ll have to see how the postseason treats the Blues this year, but as things stand now, this powerful duo of Elliott and Allen definitely has a chance to be the best one the Blues have had since Hall and Plante.