Thursday, March 24, 2016


Elliott, Allen to split weekend games, Hitchcock to monitor performances 
closely; Steen, Ott skate, unlikely to play Friday, Saturday; Lindbohm recalled

ST. LOUIS -- Coming off back-to-back shutout performances, Brian Elliott will get the start in goal when the Blues (43-22-9) host the Vancouver Canucks (27-33-13) today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

But with back-to-back games slated for tonight at Saturday at Washington, Jake Allen will start against the Capitals.

Coach Ken Hitchcock will use the final eight games to evaluate his goalies and make a determination who will start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But with Elliott's run of late (8-0-1 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .948 save percentage), it will be tough to supplant him as the go-to guy heading into the playoffs.

"This is the best Brian's played since he's been here," Hitchcock said. "He's played excellent. Both guys have played very well and sound, but this is the best Brian's played since he's been here for me."

"It's been great to get him back for one," right wing Troy Brouwer said of Elliott. "To see him play the way he has the last two games with two shutouts for us is a confidence booster after coming off an injury. It's a good problem to have. Coaches are going to have to make some decisions on who's going to play the majority of the games down the stretch."

Elliott's back-to-back shutouts, which give him a three on the season (all in his past 12 games played) and 24 with the Blues -- a franchise record, come on the heels of missing 10 games with a knee injury sustained Feb. 22 against San Jose.

"He looked the same until he got hurt," Hitchcock said. "The injury ... because he was on long-term injury, it allowed us an extra seven, eight, nine days to really work with him. He was really ready a week before. It afforded us to spend a lot of time. To me, the timing's given us the record we've got because it seems like when one guy's gone down injury-wise, the other guy's been ready to step up. It's not surprising that they've both played well when the other guy's been out. It's a lot of pressure to put on one guy, but they've both handled it really well."

Now Elliott, 19-7-6 with a 2.01 GAA and .933 save percentage, and Allen, 24-14-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .917 save percentage, are both on the ice for the first together and pushing each other for the job.

"They push each other anyway. That's not a surprise," Hitchcock said. "They're good friends, but they're competitors. That's a great sign for us. The decision I have to make is at the end of the year. We still have lots of big games ahead. It's going to be a telltale sign of how they play in these big games. They're both going to get chances to play in big games and then I've got to make a decision."

Hitchcock left the door open that he could go to both if the situation warrants.

"What's the difference? If you've got both guys going and you start one guy. If it doesn't work out, you play the other guy or whatever, or if one guy takes it and looks (like) the obvious choice," Hitchcock said. "These are good decisions for a coach to have that you've got two such good, capable goalies. I think there's a lot of coaches that would be envious of the position that we're in because they've been quite frankly the story and the strength of our team all year.

"Chicago just won the Cup with (two goalies). Where would they be without the way (Scott) Darling played to help them? I think you can go either way. Who cares who gets the wins as long as you get the wins."

No matter who the Blues go with, the players feel the security blanket behind them at all times.

"As far as the players are concerned, either way that we go with will be a great option in goal," Brouwer said.

* Steen, Ott skate; not ready -- Both forwards Alexander Steen (upper body) and Steve Ott (hamstrings) took part in the full practice on Thursday but neither is expected to be ready for weekend games. In fact, there's no real time set for when either can return.

Steen has missed the past 13 games since crashing hard into the boards from a collision with Arizona's Kevin Connauton, and Ott has been out since Dec. 5 (47 games).

"Slow process but moving forward. Like with everything, time helps," Steen said. "I have no timeline. We haven't even discussed a timeline. We're just trying to get a feeling as good as we can."

Ott's in the same boat.

"It's a work in progress every day," he said. "We're having a lot more good days than bad days. ... Inching closer to the playoffs, I'd say time is at a premium, but I've got to be able to perform before I can play a game. ... I don't think we're there that early. ... I hope; you never know, but it's probably still a little ways away.

"... We're tackling something new, so that's the hard thing. You're dealing with different issues you're trying to work on and get stronger every day. All of us know our bodies well; it's our engine. You have that type of feeling in your body you know when you're ready and when that time comes, I can probably go to Hitch or the trainers and let them know. But in the meantime, the training staff's been phenomenal and continues to try and progress me every week."

Steen, who is second on the team in points (47) and tied for the team lead with Paul Stastny in assists (30), was to be reevaluated in four weeks from the time of injury Feb. 20.

"We've had some talks and we've been happy with the progress I've been making," Steen said. "Not ready just yet. Still not great, but we're getting there."

Steen skated in a red jersey centering the fourth line, and Ott was wearing blue, mixing in with the line of David Backes, Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin. 

Both ratcheted up their workouts on Thursday, and according to Steen, it's a day-to-day occurrence as to what he can/can't do.

"It's been a little bit kind of both. Obviously we've had a plan, but somedays you've got to step back, sometimes you're able to push it a little bit," Steen said. "It's just reading the body."

* Bouwmeester, Brodziak miss practice; Lindbohm recalled -- Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day, according to Hitchcock. As a precaution, the team recalled defenseman Petteri Lindbohm from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

Also, center Kyle Brodziak took a personal day, according to Hitchcock, but is expected to play Friday.

Bouwmeester, who played 21 minutes, 55 seconds in the Blues' 1-0 win at San Jose Tuesday, is questionable.

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