Elliott keeps head up with lack of games;
Blues practice with tempo; new fourth line look
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Brian Elliott and Jake Allen were both heavily involved in a spirited practice by the Blues at the Ice Zone on Friday.
Both got a full workload in, like the rest of their teammates and got in a good sweat.
But as has been a common theme lately, Allen will get the start when the Blues (14-6-3) host the Columbus Blue Jackets (who played Friday at home against Pittsburgh) on Saturday.
It will be the 14th start in the past 16 games for Allen, who's taken the reigns of the No. 1 goaltending duties, and it's hard to knock Allen's play. He's deserved the opportunity.
But Elliott, who last played in a 3-1 loss against the Blue Jackets on Nov. 17 when he stopped 35 of 37 shots on the second of back-to-back games for the Blues, is 4-2-1 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .898 save percentage; he started the season 4-0-1.
"I'm just trying to stay positive and be the best you can be for the guys," Elliott said Friday. "Take as many breakaways as they want, just try to better yourself when you have the chance to.
"... It's a challenge because you feel like you're on, and you feel good. Last game I got in, I felt really good even though you don't get the result you want and then you don't really get another opportunity. It's tough (but) Jake's playing well, the team's playing well. It's kind of all about the swings. I always say when you guys ask me this question, I just try to stay in the middle of those swings."
So for the time being, Elliott is staying in the swing by staying sharp on the practice ice and being the best teammate -- and mentor, in a sense -- to Allen.
"I've always told him the past couple years when he came in two, three years ago, I was like, 'You're going to be the future of this franchise. Don't worry if you have a bad game here or there; it's about the end product,'" Elliott said. "He's showing that now. He's trusting himself, and I've been in that situation, too, where guys have said the same thing to me. You kind of want to pass on that, I don't want to say wisdom, but you know what I mean."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock recently said it came down to Allen's play of late and a guy who's stayed consistently strong and he expects Elliott to be good when called upon.
"It is what it is. Just be ready for your next one," Hitchcock said. "What can you say? You've got a goalie that's playing awfully well, he's taken the ball and running with it. When it's Brian's turn, we expect him to play well. He's worked his tail off at practice, he's had a great work ethic, a great attitude all year. He's experienced enough to know that things turn. You get an injury or something happens and he's needed, he;ll be more than ready. I think it's just the nature of the business.
"He's been really good, but I wouldn't expect anything different. It would be concerning if he was, but that's not an issue with Brian. Brian's a team guy."
But Elliott, who holds the franchise record for shutouts in a career (21), is human. It's only natural for him to want to play games.
"It's hard to describe for someone that's not really been in this situation," Elliott said. "Luckily for me, I've been in a lot of (these) situations. I've been able to have experience and know how to handle myself. You take things from all your coaches and along the way and everybody always says there's an opportunity to learn no matter where you are in your career. ... The tough part is having that mental capacity when you know you're putting your all in and then you're not really getting an opportunity. That's the hard part. I don't know what else to say but I just try to stay prepared as possible. Anything can happen on any given day and you have to be ready."
* Up-tempo practice -- Friday's practice was one in which all healthy bodies (aside from those on injured reserve) were present and available, and the pace was vivacious.
And in short order, Hitchcock wanted to accomplish one aspect: get the Blues playing with speed and tempo again.
"Maybe it's because the types of teams we're playing with Detroit, Buffalo (and) Pittsburgh, we looked like were a little methodical at moving the pucks and we actually looked slow," Hitchcock said. "I said this after the Pittsburgh game, we played slow. So today was a day of trying to get some quickness back in our game, in our puck movement and our puck support. I thought it was the best practice we've had in a month, which is a really good sign. I thought our guys were really attentive and very alert today. A combination of the day off, Thanksgiving and everything, but I thought we were really alert today, which was a great sign."
After playing nine games in 16 days, the Blues took Thanksgiving off and had their first stretch of consecutive days without a game since Nov. 8-9, which allowed for coaches to amp up the tempo. These types of practices have been hard to come by.
"Well, we've had a couple of them, but they've come after pretty hard games," Hitchcock said. "This was good to see. It was good to see that we adapted. You can rely on your work and your spirit, which we've done a good job of all year, and we've gotten a lot of points in the third period because of it, but I think we've just got to find a way. If we can find a way to play a little bit faster, I think it's going to make our whole group look a lot quicker."
"We understand that we're a veteran group; we've got to put the work in and make sure that we're improving every day," captain David Backes said. "We're in a lot of tight games right now and we need to find a way to be on the right side of them."
The Blues will begin a stretch of 12 games at home in the next 17 to close out the 2015 calendar year and a time to establish some home dominance.
"We've spent our fair share on the road and get some home cooking, especially this time of year, it's a great time to be at home and recharge your batteries, sleep in your own bed, be in front of our fans that give us so much energy at our friendly venue at Scottrade Center," Backes said.
* Fourth line change -- Hitchcock had Steve Ott, Scott Gomez and Dmitrij Jaskin occupy the spots for the fourth line, leaving Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves as the extra forwards.
Brodziak has played in all 23 games, so that would have been a surprise to see him as a healthy scratch, and Gomez has been a scratch the past two games. But Hitchcock won't make any changes, except perhaps inserting defenseman Joel Edmundson into the lineup.
"I wanted to see what it looked like today at practice," Hitchcock said of the fourth line Friday. "I don't think I'm going to change much from the last lineup. We might bring Edmundson back in; we're not sure right now. We haven't really discussed our lineup, but I wanted to see what it looked like today. Brodziak's playing for sure, but I wanted to see from a quickness, skill standpoint what the line looked like."