There maybe isn’t a bigger ‘tale of two stories’ this season than the St. Louis Blues. A strong start out the gate, the Blues quickly became one of the favorites out in the Western Conference.
Things took a turn for the worse, unfortunately, and now the Blues must dig deep to even make the playoffs.
It won’t be easy, as they currently sit four points out of the playoff picture and the team holding the last wildcard spot, the Los Angeles Kings, are among the better teams in the conference at the moment.
Jake Allen has struggled, to the point he has been replaced as the team’s go-to goalie by career-backup Carter Hutton. For the longest time, Allen had been held in high regards around the league as one of the best young goalies in the league. It appeared that he finally turned the corner until this season.
The numbers, when stacked against Hutton, haven’t been anywhere close to each other, as the undrafted netminder has vastly outplayed Allen, who was a second-round pick his draft year. Of all goalies who have played at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5 this season, Hutton has posted the second-best save percentage (SV%).
Allen is ranked 25th in the same category.
With the Blues barely hanging on to a playoff spot - they lost six games in a row heading into the trade deadline, and have just one win in their last 10 - losing Hutton to an injury is the last thing they needed.
Or maybe it’s the spark that they needed.
Meet Ville Husso
It’s hard to say that about the league’s leader in both goals-against-average (GAA) and SV%, but if there was any time for a team to rally together, it’d be with their top goalie out.
Double that to be the case seeing as potentially a rookie with no NHL game experience could be getting the call at some point, depending on how long Hutton is out, as the case is with Ville Husso, the Blues' fourth-round pick in 2011 out of Finland.
Although Husso was the ninth goalie taken in his draft class, he was ranked as the top player at his position from Europe, according to Central Scouting. If he gets into a game before Hutton returns, he will be just the third goalie to play in a game from his draft class (Brandon Halverson and Alex Nedeljkovic).
After being drafted, Husso spent two more years in Finland fine-tuning his game before coming over to North America, splitting time between the American Hockey League (AHL) and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
With the Blues without an official AHL affiliate, they had to find the best place for Husso to play, eventually landing in San Antonio with the Rampage (Colorado Avalanche’s affiliate), sharing the net with Andrew Hammond and Spencer Martin.
When he has played, he has been one of the better goalies in the league, currently sporting the eighth best GAA, and fourth highest SV% of all qualified netminders in the AHL. He has posted the 12th most minutes, faced the eighth most shots and is in a tie for sixth in shutouts.
Goaltender not necessarily the problem
While it would be nice to have Allen play like the guy they are paying him to be, they have received great support from Hutton. Stopping the puck hasn’t been the problem this season... scoring has been.
St. Louis sports the 25th worst offense in the league, and only the Arizona Coyotes have scored less than the Blues. While they have struggled on offense, the Blues have allowed the seventh-fewest goals-per-game wise in the league.
Brayden Schenn is just two off his career high in points, and while his pace has slowed compared to the start of the season, he has given the Blues top-line production down the middle.
Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t a surprise to be near the top of the Blues in scoring, but after him, that’s where it gets tricky.
Losing Jaden Schwartz for an extended period of time certainly hurt and the fact he is still third on the team in points despite missing nearly two months is hard-hitting evidence. Factor in their fourth leading point-getter was traded at the deadline in Paul Stastny, it truly puts their scoring troubles in the spotlight.
Not an impossible task
The Blues only sit four points out of the playoffs right now, not an insurmountable deficit, especially when you factor in how the rest of their competition has been playing.
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Outside of the Kings, who are playing as good as any team in the West right now (they have a recent home-and-home sweep of the Vegas Golden Knights to prove it), each team in direct competition with the Blues have won less than half of their last 10 games.
Husso may not be the answer in net, at least right now. It’s hard to imagine a rookie without any NHL experience being the answer in net for a team fighting for a playoff team.
Except for the fact that the back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup twice with a goalie that was considered a rookie both times.
That’s not calling Husso the next Matt Murray, that’s just saying that a team is going to have to rally in front of a rookie goaltender to help make things as easy as possible.
At this point, there isn't any guarantee that Husso is going to get into a game, but Allen hasn't been great this season and a window could open depending on how long Hutton is out.
With their season trending towards the wrong direction, now could be as good a time as any to get Husso into some NHL action. Judging by how Allen has played, and where they are at in the standings, there is really nothing but upside to at least get him into a game.
Can playing a rookie like Husso in net spark the Blues? Or are they too far in the hole to make the playoffs now? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.