With not a lot of time to make up ground thanks to a shortened schedule, the St. Louis Blues are turning back to a rookie to solve their goaltending issues.
The Blues are expected to start Jake Allen in net on Thursday night when they try to avoid a third straight setback in a meeting with the Phoenix Coyotes.
St. Louis led the NHL with a 1.89 goals-against average in 2011-12 en route to winning the Central Division, but despite returning the same duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, currently sit 24th this season with a 3.00 GAA.
An All-Star last season, Elliott teamed with Halak to set a franchise record with 15 combined shutouts, but the 27-year-old is just 3-6-1 in 11 games (8 starts) this season with a 3.65 GAA and .851 save percentage.
Halak, meanwhile, has gone a respectable 5-2-1 with a 2.31 GAA in 10 starts this season, but his save percentage is down to .884 and he also missed time with a groin injury.
That and Elliott's struggles opened the door for Allen to make his NHL debut in a relief effort on Feb. 5 and he then made four straight starts from Feb. 13-19. He won the first three -- all on the road -- before dropping a decision to San Jose. He was then sent back to the minors as Halak returned from injury.
Halak, though, was pulled in the third period of Tuesday's 6-4 setback in Los Angeles after giving up five goals on 21 shots as St. Louis blew a 4-1 second- period lead. Elliott gave up a goal on eight shots in relief.
"Even after they scored the first one in third, we all thought we were okay," said Blues winger Ryan Reaves. "Things started to slip when they tied it up. We started to panicking then. It kind of seems like we do a lot of that lately -- hitting too much of a panic button when things start to look bad. We just have to stick to our game plan and grind away."
Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo and David Perron each posted a goal and an assist and Vladimir Sobotka also scored for the Blues, who have lost five of their last seven, including the first two of a five-game road trip.
Allen was recalled from Peoria of the AHL following the loss and he'll try to get the Blues back into the playoff picture. They currently sit 21 points back of the dominating first-place Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division and are tied with Dallas and Minnesota for the eighth spot in the West, one point back of the Coyotes.
Phoenix is holding onto the seventh spot despite Wednesday night's 2-0 setback to the hosting Anaheim Ducks. It wrapped a span of three games in five nights between the Pacific Division rivals, with the Coyotes having taken the first two at home in a shootout by identical 5-4 scores.
The Coyotes had no answer on Wednesday, failing to put any of their 18 shots past Jonas Hiller. Jason LaBarbera was solid for Phoenix, stopping 22-of-23 shots, including one on a penalty shot by Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano early in the second period to keep it a one-goal game.
"We got a solid game from him," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "He stopped a penalty shot and another breakaway. He gave us a chance to win and we just needed a little more push on the offensive side."
Tippett is likely to go back to No. 1 Mike Smith in net for this game. Smith is 3-3-0 with a 2.99 GAA and .898 save percentage in six career meetings with the Blues.
St. Louis outscored Phoenix 11-3 in taking the first three meetings between the teams last season, but the Coyotes capped the series with a 4-1 win in St. Louis on April 6.