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Elliott Rebounds from Early Struggles

Sunday, 04.14.2013 / 9:40 AM / St Louis Blues - Features
By Louie Korac  - NHL.com Correspondent
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Elliott Rebounds from Early Struggles
After struggling early in the season, Brian Elliott has recorded five consecutive wins.

ST. LOUIS -- After winning the William M. Jennings Trophy and being the backbone of the St. Louis Blues' 49-win season a year ago, the barometer was set high for both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

The duo allowed 165 goals in 82 games (2.01 per game) and captured only the second Jennings Trophy in franchise history (Roman Turek claimed the award following the 1999-2000 season). They combined for a League-high 15 shutouts (Elliott nine, Halak six), which tied a modern NHL record set by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70 and surpassed the franchise record of 13 set by Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante in 1968-69.

Halak and Elliott are also the first tandem in NHL history to record at least six shutouts apiece in the same season. Elliott led the League last season in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940).

It was only natural to raise expectations.

The Blues, who face the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday in the NBC Game of the Week (11:30 a.m. CT), began well at 6-1-0. The goaltending wasn't a detriment but it also wasn't necessarily a difference-maker early.

Then as February began, the wheels began to come off.

Halak injured his groin against the Detroit Red Wings which thrust Elliott into the spotlight. Along with the rest of the team, Elliott struggled. His numbers, after being among the best in the League a season ago, tumbled to among the worst this season at 3-6-1 with a 3.65 GAA and .851 save percentage.

It got to the point where the Blues summoned Jake Allen from their American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria, Ill.

Halak missed three weeks, and although his numbers (6-5-1, 2.14 GAA and .899 save percentage) aren't that bad, they are nowhere near what he's put up in his two previous seasons.

Allen responded by going 9-3-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .911 save percentage. He was thrust into the spotlight Feb. 13 at Joe Louis Arena in his first NHL start against the Red Wings and responded with a 4-3 overtime win that ended an 0-4-1 slide. The Blues were fading and needed some sort of uplift.

When Halak returned from injury, Elliott was eventually cast as the third-string netminder and that eventually lead to a stint in the AHL with the Rivermen. He got a start at Dallas on March 3 and relieved Halak on March 5. It would be nearly a month before he would see the net again.

"I don't think I was that bad," Elliott said. "You can't take all the burden on yourself, so I think the guys did a good job just keeping me up. I just tried to be a good teammate and when I [got] my next chance, that's when you want to get in and just do your job."

Elliott took his conditioning assignment well. He continued to work in the uncharacteristic three-goalie rotation in St. Louis as well as putting in extra time with goaltending coach Corey Hirsch before heading to Peoria to play a pair of games. He allowed three goals on 10 shots, then turned aside the final 46 he would see, including a 27-save shutout in a game against Lake Erie.

When Elliott relieved Halak on April 1 at Minnesota, he stopped 19 of 20 shots in a 4-1 win. It was the start of a string of wins that resembled last season. The Blues, who won six straight before losing 4-1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday, gave Elliott the day off so he could be ready for the Blackhawks.

"I didn't play for a while, so going down there and seeing some pucks was a good idea, I think," Elliott said of his stint in Peoria. "Just feeling confident and playing with guys in front of you during a game, that's where you get your practice from. So it was good to get out there ... it translates into these games.

"We didn't play that weekend and I wasn't missing anything with the team. I think it was a reset and get back to the basics and just play your game. You never want to see a teammate get hurt, but you have to be ready to jump in and just play and try to be the rock for the guys back there."

Elliott has earned the No. 1 gig while Halak recovers from another groin injury. He is 5-0-0 with a 0.84 GAA and .968 save percentage in his last five appearances with three straight shutouts.

"He's ahead of the puck better. That's his strength," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Elliott. "He's able to get to a position, set the position and then wait for the shot. Before, he was surprised at times. I think that's just playing, anticipation ... he was behind the play quite a bit early in the year. He's caught up now. He looks sound, he looks good.

"For us, we need goaltending. If our goalies play well, we seem to feed off that energy. When Elliott or Halak and especially Jake Allen play well, it really gives us a chance to win. ... We're going to need this. We need both goalies to play well."

Added teammate Kris Russell: "It's confidence. Any player in this league's got confidence, and anyone can lose it. Ells is back to his ways. He's an all-star for a reason and he's showing that again."

Teammate Andy McDonald agreed.

"The guys were really pulling for Brian," McDonald said. "Obviously it was tough for him at the start of the year and tough for the team. We were up and down and didn't really help him out very much. Guys were pulling for him all year and everyone's excited to see him have his game back. He's playing awesome. Everyone's real happy for him."

Since Hitchcock's arrival in St. Louis, he hasn't committed to one particular guy to be the go-to netminder. It's been a committee, something the veteran coach prefers. So will Hitchcock change now?

"Not really," he said. "We've been a two-goalie system here ... when both of these guys are in, they seem to feed off each other's energy.

"We're kind of lucky. We've got a young guy that's up and emerging ... looks like the real deal, and then we've got Brian who's on top of his game right now. We're pretty lucky right now. There's not many teams that can actually say they've got two good goalies."

The Blues are once again getting the kind of goaltending they got a year ago, the kind of netminding the Blackhawks are getting from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery this season.

A question mark heading into the campaign, Crawford and Emery have answered all critics and are putting up the kind of numbers Halak and Elliott put up a season ago.

Elliott is trying to prove last season was no fluke.

"We know what we did last year," Elliott said. "Obviously this is a different year, but we have expectations of ourselves and for a little bit, we weren't meeting those. I think now we're getting some gritty wins and wins that we got last year. It's a positive sign and we've just got to keep building on that."

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Steen 68 33 29 17 62
T. Oshie 79 21 39 19 60
D. Backes 74 27 30 14 57
J. Schwartz 80 25 31 28 56
A. Pietrangelo 81 8 43 20 51
K. Shattenkirk 81 10 35 1 45
V. Tarasenko 64 21 22 20 43
D. Roy 75 9 28 -1 37
J. Bouwmeester 82 4 33 26 37
V. Sobotka 61 9 24 14 33
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
B. Elliott 18 6 2 .922 1.96
R. Miller 25 30 4 .918 2.64

 
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