Sunday, March 31, 2013

Elliott focused, confident game is on track

Blues netminder played well in pair of
minor league games; Oshie out Monday night

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A veteran National Hockey league player never wants to admit a trip to the minors is a good thing.

But for the Blues' Brian Elliott, a trip up Interstates 55, 155 and 74 into Peoria to play for the American Hockey League's Rivermen could be the best medicine a goalie could get.

Elliott's two-game stint with the Rivermen produced a split, a loss Friday followed by a win Saturday. But after an inauspicious beginning that saw the 27-year-old Elliott allow three goals on the first 10 shots he saw against Oklahoma City en route to a 4-2 defeat, he stopped the final 19 shots he saw against the Barons, then followed it up with a 27-save shutout of Lake Eric Saturday night. Peoria won that game 2-0.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott is looking to get back on track after a playing
a pair of games at AHL Peoria.
And after the game, Elliott, who is 3-6-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average and .851 save percentage this season with the Blues, hopped into his truck and made the three-hour journey back to St. Louis and was on the ice for practice on Easter Sunday before the Blues hopped on a charter to Minnesota, where they'll face the Wild Monday night.

"It was good to get back in some game action and have that little competitive nature out there," Elliott said. "Those guys are fighting for a playoff spot down there, so I wanted to do the best I could for them. I wanted to play a great game in front of them, so it was good to see the puck. It's a different game, but stopping those first couple just to get back in the groove of things and (got me to) have a little fun out there.

"It's obviously been a while since I played (March 5 in a relief role at Los Angeles). I think it was a good idea to go down there and feel the puck, those first-shot jitters to get them out of the way and smile again when you're out there having fun. The guys made it easy for me to have fun down there. Now it's try to get back to the same thing up here."

To say it's been a rough season for Elliott would be understating things. After last season's sparkling year in which Elliott led the league in goals-against average (1.56), save percentage (.940) and tied for the league lead with nine shutouts, those numbers plummeted during this lockout-shortened season. It got to the point where Elliott was third on the depth chart after Jake Allen's ascension from Peoria and Jaroslav Halak's up-and-down games and subsequent groin injury.

The Blues carried a three-goalie carousel along with Halak for the better part of the last six weeks but elected to send Allen, who was 8-3-0 with the Blues with a 2.45 GAA, .906 save percentage and one shutout, back to Peoria and give the Halak-Elliott tandem the work for the rest of the season.

"It's up to Jaro and Brian. It's their ball. They've got to run with it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after Sunday's practice. "... Jake's come in and ... I don't want to say saved it, but he's done a heck of a job. He's come in and given us a real opportunity to stay in this race. Now it's up to these two guys to get us to the finish line, get us in the playoffs. They're going to have a real opportunity to come in and play really well. They're going to get every chance to do what they do best. Hopefully they can do it.

"It doesn't matter if it's Jaro or Brian. These are the two guys we're going to roll with. Hopefully they get the job done. I don't want to dismiss that Jake came in and did a great job in keeping this thing going. When Jaro was injured, Brian was struggling, Brian went down and got some games in, felt good about the way he played down there. So that's a good sign, but at the end of the day, both guys have got to help us win some hockey games."

Elliott admitted it's been a unique and tough season, especially being a healthy scratch and relegated to the press box much of the past six weeks. But he's continued to work at his game in practice and hopes that playing two games in Peoria and playing well will get him on the right track again.

"It's definitely hard, but you want to be out there helping your teammates," Elliott said. "When you see things go well, you want to be out there. When things go bad, you want to go out there. Sometimes it's a little tough to take, but we were playing well for a stretch there. I was happy for the team. I just want to contribute as much as possible. Hopefully I have a chance here coming up.

"It's a process, and I think it was a positive step in the right direction going down and playing and seeing some pucks."

Hitchcock wouldn't say if, or when, Elliott would get a start. The Blues have 15 regular season games remaining and will take it one game at a time.

"I really want to get out there, get back into that game atmosphere," Elliott said. "It's fun to play in front of these fans. I want to get back out and contribute.

"Like it says on the wall here, 'You've got to win the day.' It doesn't matter when it is. We're going to do that to the last day."

* Oshie ruled out -- Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who is nursing a bruised foot after blocking a shot during Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, did not accompany the team on the trip to Minnesota and has been ruled out of Monday's game, Hitchcock said.

But the Blues coach did say Oshie, who did not practice over the weekend, is better today and is hopeful he can play in the next game, which is Thursday in Chicago.

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