Monday, December 22, 2014


Elliott inching closer to return; falling short in the third; Allen in goal Tuesday

DENVER -- A lot of questions from Blues fans, and rightfully so, want to know when Brian Elliott heals from the knee injury sustained Nov. 25, what happens when he returns?

After all, three's company when it comes to netminders.

Or is it?

With Jake Allen and Martin Brodeur manning the pipes in the meantime, the Blues will eventually need to make a decision.

Elliott, who is on the Blues' current three-game trip that wraps up with a Central Division game Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), continues to practice in hopes of a return on the horizon.

But before the team departed San Jose, where the Blues have been since losing to the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday, they practiced Monday before heading to Denver. Elliott was on the ice, took shots and more importantly, was an active member of on-ice drills.

"I had before Christmas time as a goal for myself," Elliott said. "Being able to get back and practice fully and not really think about anything -- just play and not second-guess yourself -- I've hit that goal and now I want to start getting back into it."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock had all three of his goalies actively participating in drills Monday and was impressed with Elliott's 

"I know this might sound dumb, but I couldn't tell the difference between him and Jake when we're running drills ... they both looked the same to me," Hitchcock said. "I had to ask the question at the end of practice: 'Was (Elliott) in the net for the (small-ice drill)?' Marty, you can distinguish him, but I was shocked that Brian was in the net for the 2-on-2 thing."

"You really have to get in those little drills at the end of the practice -- 2 on 2 tight-area game where you've got to react -- stuff like that so you can test it and make sure everything is good," Elliott said. "It's been feeling good, so everything is looking good, knock on wood. It's just a matter of trying to find ... there's only two nets out there, three guys. You try to get enough time in the net as possible to try to get back in the lineup."

Elliott, who is week-to-week and was placed on injured reserve, was put on long-term IR, which was confirmed by general manager Doug Armstrong, which helped the team in regards to salary cap savings. Armstrong said that Elliott's return is on the horizon. There's actually a light at the end of the tunnel. The Blues just aren't sure when that exactly will be.

"This is as close to a full practice as he's had," Armstrong said of Elliott. "We thought it would be around this time when he'd be back on the ice, so he's on schedule. It's good having just one game left and then a break. We'll get back through Christmas and New Year's and he'll be able to really ramp it up at that point and see where he's at."

The Blues in all likelihood will keep all three goalies in the short term as a safety net to make sure Elliott is fully healed. 

* Closing games -- The Blues come into against Colorado, which they beat 3-2 in overtime Dec. 12 on T.J. Oshie's goal, 0-1-1 (one point) during a trip they can easily say they could have had four points.

Against the Kings, the Blues blew a 3-0 lead, still led 4-3 after two periods but were outscored 3-0 in the final 20 minutes. 

Saturday against the Sharks, they led 2-1 in the third, lost the lead in the final 21 seconds and lost the game in the final 38 seconds of overtime.

"The last two games, we've had both teams on the ropes, and our inability to check at the right time -- body position and everything -- has hurt us," Hitchcock said. "When you check properly with the offense that we have, we're going to win games. We missed the boat checking again, two games in a row."

The Blues have shown the ability to play with the big boys, and have beaten them this season when that mettle has been questioned following three successive playoff exits, must display a consistent ability to close games out ... especially with third-period leads.

They were 10-0-1 with a lead going into the third period prior to losing the past two games.

"For us, if we want to not pretend that we're an upper-echelon team, (but be) an upper-echelon team, we have to close out games," said forward Steve Ott, who scored his first Blues goal against San Jose. "The San Joses, LAs, they're the cream of the crop. Those are the teams that we want to be, if not better, and for us to do so, we have to find a way to sacrifice to win games."

* Win before the break -- After Tuesday, the Blues will have three days off for the Christmas break before two home games -- their only ones in a stretch of seven road games out of nine. They return to the ice and host the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

After Nashville's 5-1 win at Columbus on Monday, the Blues sit in third place in the Central Division, three points behind Chicago (48) and one point behind the Predators (46).

Allen, who made 30 saves in the loss to the Sharks, will get the start Tuesday against the  Avalanche, a team the Blues have beaten twice in as many tries this season. However, both needed extra time. 

The Blues won 3-2 in a shootout on home ice on Nov. 1 before winning here in Denver 10 days ago. The teams will play again Monday in St. Louis. 

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