Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Elliott able to cast aside being overshadowed in playoffs

Blues' goalie takes positive route each season, 
prepares the best way he can in competition to be No. 1

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Brian Elliott mans the pipes Tuesday in Dallas, the Blues' goalie will do what he's done since he arrived in St. Louis in 2011.

Elliott will do what he did in a 6-0 shutout victory against the Stars last Thursday: he'll give it his best against Dallas again today and moving forward, he'll look to give the Blues the best possible evaluation of his performance.

Elliott's one of the key reasons the Blues have been able to go with a goalie tandem in the Ken Hitchcock era.

Elliott, 30, enters another season the way he's done so virtually every season since he's been with the Blues: trying to prove himself and trying to be "the guy."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (right) makes a save during a 6-0 shutout
victory last week in preseason action against the Dallas Stars

Elliott, who holds the Blues' franchise record for shutouts (21), was 26-14-3 with a 2.26 GAA and .917 save percentage last season. But it was the second time in as many seasons and third time in four years he started the playoffs as the backup. Last season, it was to Jake Allen, who Elliott will compete with for minutes this season.

Hitchcock has said it's an open competition and the Blues will look at the games played in October to see if one of Elliott or Allen takes the job and runs with the job. Otherwise, it could be more of the same for Elliott once again this season: split time with his partner and hope to play well enough during the season to earn the trust of those who will make those decisions as to who the guy is should the Blues make the playoffs.

"I've been here ... this is my fifth year; it's always a competition," Elliott said. "No one's ever given anything, so in that respect, it's no difference. You're competing against yourself every day, you're competing against your teammates, Jake's trying to stop them, I'm trying to stop them. There's no difference."

But when the Blues' season ended prematurely in their eyes again last season, a third straight ouster in the Western Conference First Round, it was another disappointing finish to a season for not only the team but for Elliott as well.

In 2012, Elliott backed up Jaroslav Halak before Halak (high ankle sprain) was injured against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round but took the reigns the rest of the way, and in 2014, the Blues acquired Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres near the trade deadline, casting Elliott as the backup again.

Elliott made a cameo appearance in Game 6 against the Wild last season but could not help the Blues overcome a 3-1 deficit, as they eventually lost the game 4-1 and the series in six games.

"You're at a point, it's an elimination game and you're down by two goals," Elliott said. "It's not easy when you're coming in, but you try and do your best. ... It wasn't easy; you want to be part of it, but you try your best to do everything you can to support the guys when you're in."

Allen, who was 22-7-4 with four shutouts, a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage last season, won out over Elliott and earned the No. 1 job during the series loss against the Wild after a strong finish to the regular season and giving the Blues strong consideration even before the hot finish, particularly in light of Elliott's knee injury that sidelined him and ultimately, had the Blues sign current assistant general manager Martin Brodeur.

But at the end of another disappointing finish, one couldn't argue if Elliott -- who still has two years and is owed a reasonable $5.2 million remaining on is contract -- would ask for a trade in light of being cast aside again.

But Elliott, who has been through this before, kept a positive attitude, arrived in camp this season and continues to motivate himself to be the best he can be and let the chips fall where they may.

"You guys probably get sick of me telling you this, but it's control what you can," Elliott said. "I can't control what other people's thoughts (are), coaches, how things go on that side of the fence. It's what I can do in my skates and my pads. 

"It's a show-me league and if you don't show anything, you're not going to be around. I take every day as you've got to come here with a smile on your face and be ready to work and have fun and get better for that next day, and this is exciting because our team is so competitive. We have a lot of young guys that probably could make other teams that there's no space on right now. It's encouraging because you know you have that opportunity still. It's five years now where we've had really good teams and you definitely don't want to squander those. Personally, it's go out there every day and I think everybody to a man does the same thing to be prepared."

Elliott was asked if there comes a point where he would want to be selfish and be that guy, be the guy.

"That's what you can control," he said. "That's your job, to go out there and to prove to everybody, your teammates and your coaches, management that you want to be the guy and you can be the guy. It's no different for anybody. If you look around the league, there's competitions for positions all over the place. It's cool to be a part of, that's for sure."

Hitchcock has been with Elliott every step of the way since he arrived in 2011, and Elliott's the reason why he goes into every camp calling the goalie job a competition.

"And that's why the competition is on," Hitchcock said. "(Elliott) could have taken a back seat, could have said, 'OK,' but he hasn't. He's come with a great attitude, a great work ethic, he's determined to make sure he's a go-to guy; he's making it really hard on us, which is really really a good sign for the organization. It bodes well for his character, his personality. He does not want to go away easily; that's why in fairness to both guys, especially him, we owe these guys full competition."

The Blues' goalie tandem isn't the only one in the NHL these days. It seems to be a trend around the league that it's more of a 1-2 combo, with one in some instances getting a good chunk of the games, but more so that it's a 50-32 split, or 55-27 split.

In any case, both guys tend to be relied upon more than ever, and in the Blues' situation, it probably won't be much different.

"The NHL's kind of changing from the guys that have played 65-68 games a year to keeping everybody fresh and having two good goalies that can handle the pressure," Elliott said. "You see a lot of teams trying to go to that. Dallas picking up (Antti) Niemi is a perfect example. I think when you get to the playoffs, you've played so many games. You need to be fresh and having two guys that can handle the load definitely helps.

"I think it's just kind of gone that way, and other teams have kind of noticed that maybe loading one guy isn't the smart thing to do all the time. You play back-to-back nights, when you go to California, it's always L.A. and Anaheim back-to-back, and those aren't easy buildings to play in. The teams are big, they're battling all the guys and to have fresh guys to be able to hop in there is probably a plus."

No matter how this competition plays out, it would perhaps be more difficult if Elliott and Allen weren't close both on and off the ice. It might be a tougher situation for the backup to step aside if there's animosity in any fashion, but this situation couldn't be better for two closer friends.

"I've still got a lot to prove, I feel like," Allen said. "I had a good year last year, but a long way to go to be the goalie I want to be and take this team where it wants to go. I'm still learning and still trying to improve and get better and help 'Ells' be the best he can be as well.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) is in position during a playoff game last
season against the Minnesota Wild.

"'Ells' and I have a great relationship. We're friends. We talk all the time. It's great to have a guy like him in this locker room. He's been doing it longer than I have and we've got each others' backs no matter what. I owe him a lot."

"If we didn't have a great friendship, it would probably be harder, but knowing that you can relate to the guy and talk to the guys that you're competing with, everybody wants everybody to do well," Elliott said. "There's no bad feelings towards anybody. That helps coming to the rink every day knowing there's the support no matter what."

And that's why Elliott will come prepared to play another game Tuesday, looking to compete for and with his teammates, getting himself geared for another regular season and what Elliott hopes is a strong run.

"It's good to kind of get that mindset and be able to kind of manage your thoughts and your energy throughout the game," Elliott said. "That's what preseason is all about, to get back into that mindset where you're focused for that 60 minutes and you don't lose that goal that you have to keep everything out."

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