While the Blues continue to solidify their spot as the NHL’s top team, fans are beginning to get very anxious. Many questions have arisen of late as fans try to anticipate the damage the Blues can inflict come playoff time. But perhaps the most intriguing and important question being asked is, who will be the Blues’ main playoff goaltender.
While taking into account that there are four games yet to be played in the regular season, this question is one that should be analyzed since it could be the most important aspect of the Blues’ game when the playoffs come around.
Much of the talk regarding the team of late has been focused on the goaltending. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott currently have only allowed 142 goals this season, which is on pace to break the current NHL 82-game goals allowed record, and have done it while accumulating a league leading 15 team shutouts. The goaltenders have reached these heights together, and have done it without having a defined position on the team. Neither Elliott nor Halak is considered the “go to guy” because both have played well enough to obtain that particular role. Remarkable would not be a sufficient enough word to describe the duo this year as their outstanding season continues to improve even more.
Approximately three weeks from now, Ken Hitchcock will have to decide who he wants carrying the load in the playoffs. Hitchcock could continue with his current strategy of playing the “hot” goaltender, and no one would find fault with that decision, but it is not the usual strategy of a playoff team. In the event that Hitchcock chooses the more common route, let’s take a look at the season that each goaltender has had.
At the beginning of the season when Jaroslav Halak was struggling in net, Brian Elliott took the reins and provided much need relief. Elliott has appeared in 41 of the Blues’ 78 games this season and has a record of 23-9-3. Not only is Elliott’s record good, but the 26 year old goaltender has boasted some serious stats this season as well. Elliott currently leads the NHL in save percentage (.943), goals against average (1.48), and shutouts (9). Elliott has three consecutive shutouts, making the decision even more difficult for Ken Hitchcock. It’s hard to believe that this same goaltender was almost beaten out for the backup job by former Blue Ben Bishop. Instead, the Blues decided to go with the experience of Elliott, and sent Bishop to Peoria. Will they choose to go that route once again and choose the experience of Jaroslav Halak over Brian Eliott?
A mere week ago, Jaroslav Halak was the clear-cut favorite to take the reins for at least the start of the playoffs, Halak was awarded the bulk of the games and did not disappoint. Halak may still be in the lead for the role, going 7-1-2 in his last ten starts, but Elliott has opened up some eyes of late. Keep in mind that Halak has a very impressive playoff resume that will certainly play into the decision. Halak led the Canadiens to the third round of the 2009-10 playoffs putting on a stunning display against the always dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Halak started in 18 playoff games that season and boasted a .923 save percentage against the best teams the league had to offer. He was traded to the Blues the following offseason. After an inconsistent first year with the Blues, Halak has successfully regained the fans’ confidence establishing a .927 save percentage and 1.92 goals against average in 44 games this season en route to a record of 25-11-7.
The Blues have four games left in their regular season, which gives Ken Hitchcock a short amount of time to make his decision. Halak was all but certain to be the goaltender chosen as of last week, but Elliott’s play has made a case for himself as he has done all season. One thing remains certain: the Blues and head coach Ken Hitchcock have a problem on their hands, but by no means does it qualify as a bad problem. Whether Hitchcock decides to go with Halak, Elliott, or both, it doesn’t seem to matter, because both of these players have shown they have what it takes to get the job done. They have been the best all season, so why should the playoffs be any different?