Sunday, December 11, 2011

Elliott continues to ride high in goal

Cinderella story for Blues' netminder continues to grow

ST. LOUIS -- It's a question that Brian Elliott has been asked quite a bit lately, and it's one the netminder doesn't mind answering as long as he continues to help the Blues win hockey games.

Have you ever remembered a hot stretch like this before?

"I get that question asked a lot," Elliott said after improving to 12-2 on the season Saturday following a 1-0 win over San Jose. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't.

"I'm not asking any questions. I'm just going out there and playing."
(Getty Images)
What the Blues have gotten so far from goalie Brian Elliott has been
nothing short of brilliant.

Elliott might be playing, and his numbers reflect everything that's good about Elliott's resurgence in goal this season after a forgettable 2010-11 campaign. But this performance so far has been nothing short of prophetic.

Elliott, who signed a one-year, $600,000 contract this summer, wasn't even guaranteed to be Jaroslav Halak's backup going into the season. The 26-year-old had to beat out Ben Bishop just to claim the role of spot starter.

But Elliott, who leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.45) and save percentage (.947), also tied with Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick for the league lead with his fourth shutout of the season Saturday, the 13th of his career.

Not only is Elliott running away with the comeback player of the year award to this point, but if this play continues, he'll get serious talk as a Vezina Trophy candidate.

Yes, all this for the bargain price of $600,000.

"He's just simple," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of Elliott. "He's been really good at moving with the puck, staying big. When there is a rebound, he either smothers it or it's going to the side of the net and giving the forwards a chance or D-men a chance to move the puck out."

Elliott's not surprising his teammates anymore, if they ever were, by what he's been able to do.

"No, and I hope he doesn't," captain David Backes said. "He's a guy that battles all the time in practice. He gets (upset) when you score on him. That's the kind of compete you want. Guys feed off that and play better in front of him."

Elliott, who's made 14 starts and 15 appearances this season, has only allowed more than two goals in a game once. It seems when the game's on the line, as it was Saturday night, he comes up with key, timely saves that either preserves a Blues lead or keeps the game in balance. It's the kind of play teammates are feeding off of.

"He's made some big saves for us," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "He seems to be our best player in the third period when he's playing. When we're up by a goal, he's making huge saves to keep us in it. When we're down by a goal, he's doing the same thing as well.

"Our goaltending has really been leading the team over the last 15 games or so."

And in the 16 games since Ken Hitchcock took over, the Blues are 11-2-3 and they've gone from 14th in the Western Conference to currently in a tight pack at fifth place.

The goaltending, which also includes Halak's 1.66 GAA and .936 save percentage in his last nine starts, continues to be the backbone of this team. Both Elliott and Halak seem to be feeding off the team and vice versa.

"I think it's a combination because when you don't give up odd-man rushes and you don't give up easy scoring chances, I think from a team standpoint it's really invigorating," Hitchcock said. "When you don't give up easy scoring chances, then I think everybody buys in a lot easier.

"Nothing is more frustrating for a goalie and there's no worse evaluation for a goalie than when you're giving up 2-on-1's, breakaways, 3-on-2's. I think that's what's happened here. We take pride in not giving up odd-man rushes, and even when we do give up an odd one, we work our tail off to come back and prevent it. The goaltenders recognize that and then they fight and battle."
(Getty Images)
Brian Elliott leads the NHL in goals-against average, save percentage and
is tied for the league lead with four shutouts.

Elliott's taking it all in stride to this point. But his teammates are certainly not shying away giving out accolades.

"He never shows it, but I think he gets pretty excited," Backes said of Elliott. "He's battling his butt off back there. Guys respond to that. When they see a guy doing everything he can back there and playing his butt off, then guys in front of him are diving in front of shots and eliminating guys a lot more."

Added Elliott: "
I want to be the best that I can be on any given day. It's just a matter of making stops. If you do that, you'll solidify your spot in the league.

"You'll always go through trials and tribulations. It's just how you handle them and move forward. That describes the type of player you are."

For those that are waiting for Elliott to falter need to keep the button held on pause. Because right now, he refuses to fall into those peaks and valleys that goalies tend to go through. Elliott's all but eliminated the valleys to this point.

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