Saturday, December 10, 2011

Elliott, special teams key to shutout win over Sharks

Blues' netminder continues to shine; Shattenkirk nets only goal in 1-0 victory

ST. LOUIS -- Brian Elliott appreciates the accolades. Even he agreed that this shutout belonged to the team.

The Blues' netminder continues his brilliant play, stopping all 24 shots faced for his NHL-tying fourth shutout and Kevin Shattenkirk returned from a one-game absence to provide the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks Saturday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (17-9-3), who are 11-2-3 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, not only got Elliott's stellar play but their penalty kill turned the Sharks (15-10-1) away on all six opportunities, plus they scored a power play goal against the league's worst penalty killing unit.

(Getty Images)
Goaltender Brian Elliott (1) makes one of his 24 saves en route to his
fourth shutout of the season Saturday in the Blues' 1-0 win over San Jose.

But looking at Elliott's performance, he did what he had to do in the third period, but Elliott, who leads the league in goals-against average (1.45) and save percentage (.947), passed credit to his team.

"It makes you smile," said Elliott, who's 12-2 on the season. "That's definitely a team shutout there. You have to just take it, put it in your back pocket and move on to the next game. I can definitely be satisfied with it but not get too high on yourself."

Both Hitchcock and Sharks coach Todd McLellan were in agreement: this was a playoff-type game with little or no room on the ice.

"It was a man's game. A playoff game. Hard, no room, both teams came to play," said Hitchcock. "We knew that San Jose was going to play like this. I was really proud of the way we stood up to the challenge."

"It was an April-May score," McLellan said. "A lot of tight checking, a lot of playoff-style grinding along the boards. Not many chances for either team.

"They got the one (goal) and we didn't."

Added Sharks winger Ryane Clowe: "It was a tight game. A lot of clutch and grabbing."

The Blues were able to just get enough offense against the Sharks, which came into the game with the 30th-ranked penalty-killing unit. The Blues were 1-for-5 while holding the Sharks scoreless on six advantages.

"We've had to earn everything we've gotten against them," Blues captain David Backes said of the Sharks. "They've got plenty of power up front, Ells was great tonight, the penalty kill got plenty of tests tonight. We stood up to the challenge. We got whatever you want to call it, a 5-on-3 or 5-on-4 goal. Special teams battle and we come out on the plus side there and we got two points out of the night. Another good feeling in this locker room. It's good to have."

Shattenkirk played in his 100th NHL game after missing Thursday with a stomach virus. His wrister from the right circle snuck inside the near post past Antti Niemi, who was screened by Backes, with 25.4 seconds left in the first period.

"As their forward came out or a defenseman came out to take the shot away from me, I knew Backs had (Niemi's) eyes taken away," Shattenkirk said. "I just saw that lane and decided to let it do."

(Getty Images)
The Blues' Jamie Langenbrunner (15) tries to get control of the puck near
the San Jose goal Saturday night.

Little did Shattenkirk know his fourth goal of the season would stand up.

"Absolutely not, especially in the first period against a team like that," Shattenkirk said. "We both played some great team defense out there today, but luckily one goal was the difference."

Elliott made his biggest save of the third period by going from his left to right and thwarting Joe Pavelski's one-timer with 10:31 remaining. Elliott also held his ground on the near post with 1:31 remaining to stop Logan Couture's chance, then denied Couture's one-timer from the slot with 1:02 remaining.

"Those bang-bang plays, you just have to be in the right position and they'll hit you," said Elliott, who improved to 12-2 on the season. "(Pavelski's) one of my good friends. I'll probably give him some razzing, but I'll probably get some back, too."

Elliott's teammates continue to be amazed at the play of a guy that was supposed to get a spot start here and there just to give Jaroslav Halak a breather.

"He made some great side-to-side saves," Jackman said of Elliott. "He played the puck very well, too. There were some opportunities for them to get the forecheck and he made some nifty plays through them. All-around, he had a great game."

Hitchcock was equally as impressed with his PK group after turning away the league's 10th-best power play unit. He says they're key to the team's success.

"I just think it the evolution of a group that's got pride and compete," Hitchcock said. "I think the big thing is they're playing with their legs. You can't kill penalties in the league now with your eyes. You've got to kill with your legs. ... We've got a real confidence, focus, competitiveness about us right now in the group.

"We just had a change of attitude two or three weeks ago about the way you kill penalties. I told the players that power plays can win you hockey games, but penalty killing can lose you games. If you're not good at killing penalties, you can lose a lot of games. Boston won a Stanley Cup last year and they were great on the PK, they were great 5-on-5 and they had the worst power play in the playoffs. You can still win championships doing that, but you can't do that if you don't kill penalties. We've done a great job since that meeting. It was a couple games into it. The guys have really responded."

The game marked the first time that the Blues' David Perron faced the Sharks' Joe Thornton in a game since Thornton's hit on Perron last Nov. 4 forced the Blues' forward to miss 97 games.

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