What happens when 1A and 1B become 1 and 2?
The St. Louis Blues’ goaltending landscape has changed dramatically in the last two weeks. In came Ryan Miller, out went Jaroslav Halak and adding Miller to be the unquestioned starter drastically changes Brian Elliott’s role.
The turnover in the crease means Blues goaltending coach Corey Hirsch has to alter his approach and handle each netminder differently. No longer is this a Halak/Elliott model in which each guy pushes the other for playing time. I was curious as to how the Blues will manage Miller and Elliott as a tandem, so I asked Hirsch. Given how insightful Hirsch was, I’ll present our talk as a Q&A.
The Hockey News: The Blues gave up a lot (Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, 2015 first-rounder, conditional pick) for Miller and Steve Ott. How does Miller make the Blues better?
Corey Hirsch: He’s got obviously more experience. He’s been to the conference final twice, he’s been a Vezina trophy winner. I also think Ryan brings a little more size. He’s 6-foot-3. Even though he’s a lanky guy, that height really helps. He’s proven he’s very durable over the course of time and that’s what we’re looking for. And he brings a confidence to your team, that we have a guy who takes the goaltending out of the equation. We have a guy who can do it if we play well for him.
THN: The recent Blues teams are famous for allowing so few shots. How did you mentally prepare Ryan to see a lot less rubber?
Hirsch: Over the course of his career, I know in Buffalo he got a lot of shots. But he played for the U.S. national team and there were nights when he didn’t get the work. You still have to be ready. We still give up quality chances – we just don’t give up a lot of them. We block a lot of shots, but we just don’t give up those easy ones from the outside. So, typically when a team gets a shot on us, it’s a pretty good chance. He has the capabilities to handle it. That’s all the mental side of the game.
THN: What are your early impressions of Miller technique-wise? Has he impressed you? Surprised you?
Hirsch: He’s actually quieted his game down a little bit, meaning he’s not as aggressive as he was in the past, which is good. He thinks the game differently. I sat down and did video with him. I’ve done video with lots of goalies and it was interesting how his mind works because you’d think he’s going to think the way I do, but when we sat down for video he actually opened my eyes up to a couple of things I had never thought about. It was pretty neat just to sit and listen to him and how he thinks the game. He’s a very intelligent goalie.
THN: How did you and the Blues prepare Brian Elliott for a reduced role? How is he handling it?
Hirsch: Brian understands. He knows how the game is. He wants to be the guy. Obviously Millsy’s going to get the lion share of the games here, but we can’t just sit Brian and say now, “We’re done with Brian.” You never know when you might need him again and anything can happen in this game. I had a talk with Els and I said, “Brian, do you remember last year when you were sitting out and you were a healthy scratch for seven, eight games?” And I said, “Did you think you were going to start every game of the playoffs?” Which is what happened last year. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you know, things can happen. Guys get injured, knock on wood, guys don’t play well. So, we have to keep Brian playing and we have to keep him ready to go. It’s just as important for the team.
THN: Is Miller the piece that puts St. Louis over the top to win the Stanley Cup?
Hirsch: We think we have as good of an opportunity as anyone else right now. The issue is four out of the top six teams in winning percentage are in our conference, so by no means is it going to be a cakewalk. There are going to be teams at the end of the first round in our conference looking around and going, ‘How did we end up getting knocked out of the first round with the team we have?’ With Ryan, I talked to him and I just said, you know what, his job isn’t to go out there and win the Stanley Cup by himself just because we’ve got him. He’s another piece and he is there to help us along in our quest to try and win the Cup.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin