On a team with its fair share of uncertainties, one thing is for sure; the Blues goaltending is set for years to come.
Billy Joel reminds us that “the good old days weren’t always good.” This is true for the St. Louis Blues. It seems that since Curtis Joseph last manned the pipes for the Blues in the early 1990s, the Blues could not come up with an answer for a starting goalie. Grant Fuhr was and will always be a fan-favorite, but injuries plagued him for his last two seasons in a Blues jersey. We all know the Roman Turek and Brent Johnson sagas are hard for Blues fans to talk about. The goalie carousel continued after the lockout, which has seen Patrick Lalime, Curtis Sanford, Manny Legace and Chris Mason take on the starting job at different points. Remember Reinhard Divis and Jason Bacashihua were once involved in starting games too. This is all very painful for Blues fans to remember, but those dark days may be behind us.
Jaroslav Halak was brought in last summer from Montreal after a dazzling playoff-performance for the Canadiens. Halak then inked a four-year, $15 million contract. He is the clear-cut number one guy in St. Louis, posting a 19-17-6 record, 2.63 GAA and a .907 save percentage. He has had his share of questionable goals against, but he has proven time and again that he can come up with the big saves when his team really needs him to do so.
Halak is not the only promising goaltender in the Blues organization though.Ben Bishop, a St. Louis native who was drafted by his favorite team in the third round, 85th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was called up to the big club last week since Halak was put on IR with a hand injury. He was given a chance to start for the Blues Monday afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks, something he probably wants to forget. He was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals, but he was called upon again Friday night in Edmonton. What was his response? He stopped all 39 shots for his first career NHL shutout.
"He made a great statement tonight," Blues Head Coach Davis Payne said after the 5-0 win. "He had to make some tough saves early. He was very solid. We were able to rely on him for a little bit until we were able to build the lead a little further.
"He's a young guy that we expect a lot from now and in the future. It was another great step for him tonight."
Bishop’s stellar performance not only impressed Payne, but also Blues’ management. Not even 12 hours after the 24-year old shut down the Oilers, the Blues put usual-backup Conklin on waivers. If he goes unclaimed, rumors are that he will finish the season in Peoria, giving Bishop the chance to backup Halak for the next few months.
The strong goaltending depth continues past Bishop though. The Blues have one of the most highly respected prospects currently starting in Peoria.
Jake Allen has already seen a lot of hardware come his way. Playing for Montreal and Drummondville of the QJMHL in 2009-10, he was named the QJMHL Best Goaltender and was also the CHL’s Goaltender of the Year. He was the starter for Team Canada in the World Juniors in 2010, taking home the Silver Medal.
This season, the 20-year old has posted a 2.30 GAA and .927 save percentage, making him a top-candidate for the AHL rookie of the year. His efforts even earned him a trip to Hershey in the AHL All-Star Game a few weeks ago.
It must be a good feeling for management to know that if Halak does not pan out, there are two young guns that are hungry for NHL action. This may not be a luxury that the team felt just a few seasons ago.
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