When you think of St. Louis’ goaltending, you think of Jaroslav Halak and his grand potential should he somehow find the magic that pushed him and the Montreal Canadiens to the 2010 Eastern Conference final. Entering this season, when you talked about Blues goaltenders, you might have laughed at any suggestion Brian Elliott would have a positive impact.
But here we are in the holiday season and Elliott has been the better of the Blues goalies. After the year from hell he endured with Ottawa and Colorado in 2010-11 (3.34 goals-against average, .893 save percentage) it wasn’t even a lock that Elliott would continue to be an NHLer, especially after he signed as a free agent with the Blues. With Halak locked in as the No. 1 and 25-year-old giant Ben Bishop champing to get his shot, Elliott would have to earn every inch if he was to stick with the big club.
“We were looking for someone to come in and provide good competition for Ben Bishop, who is a young goalie pushing on the doorstep here,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong. “They both signed similar contracts and I thought there was going to be good competition and, honestly, there was in training camp. We decided to go with Elliott due to the experience he’s had over the past few years and, to his credit, he got the opportunity to get in the net in San Jose and played outstanding and hasn’t looked back.”
And he hasn’t looked over his shoulders much to locate pucks, either. In fact, when Elliott made 34 saves in a 4-2 win over San Jose Oct. 15 it was the beginning of an historic streak. In all 11 starts between the San Jose game and a 2-1 win over Columbus Nov. 27, Elliott allowed two goals or fewer, becoming the first goalie in 70 years to go on such a streak at the start of a season. In 1938-39, Boston’s Frank Brimsek held opponents to that low standard for his first 12 starts.
It wasn’t until Elliott allowed four goals in a loss to Chicago in his 12th start that his streak was broken. But instead of letting it get to him, Elliott followed it up with a 27-save performance in a 3-2 win over division rival and NHL powerhouse Detroit.
To ensure his great start doesn’t go to his head or the first slip-up doesn’t lead to a decline, Elliott keeps it simple with an eye on the basics to help him in the long run.
“I talked about it with our goalie coach here, Corey Hirsch, as we were winning some games,” Elliott said. “He said, ‘go home, think about what you’re doing right now and maybe write some things down that you think are giving you success.’ When you focus on those little things - maybe your shoulders are relaxed or your hands are relaxed and you’re not too uptight in your net - those are the types of things you have to keep in mind. Then you don’t have to focus on stats, you just go play your game.”
Elliott tops all goalies with a 1.43 GAA and .948 SP and has a sparkling 13-2 record. But stats aren’t the only potential peripheral distraction. It’s a contract year, so Elliott is playing for a new deal, whether it’s with St. Louis or another NHL team. Elliott and Armstrong both believe it’s too early to think about his contract status, though if he continues to play this well, the Blues will be faced with a tough choice.
“The way he’s playing right now looks legitimate,” Armstrong said. “We’ll let the year play itself out and we’ll have hard decisions to make. But hard decisions are much better to make as a manager than easy decisions. You like having hard decisions because that means you have a lot of players playing well.”