Monday, April 8, 2013

Blues' goalies stepping up in a big way

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: April 8, 2013| Contact  |

When goaltender Jaroslav Halak went down in Minnesota with an apparent lower-body injury, it was a worrisome sight for the Blues. Halak had seemingly rediscovered his game and was doing a nice job of keeping pucks out of the net. Fellow goalie Brian Elliott had just returned from a two-game conditioning stint in Peoria with the Blues’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Peoria Rivermen, and had a long way to go if he wanted to regain the confidence of the Blues. However, Halak’s injury forced Elliott into the game against the Wild, and Elliott didn’t disappoint. Since then, it has been Elliott and rookie Jake Allen manning the net for the Note, and both are playing impressive hockey.

 Elliott has started two games, one against the Chicago Blackhawks, and one against the Detroit Red Wings. Elliott also played 40 minutes in relief of Halak against Minnesota. All three of those games were on the opponent’s ice, and all three ended up in the Blues’ win column. In those three games, Elliott stopped 80 of the 84 shots he saw, and was able to put together a notable performance in each. Most recently, Elliott shut out Detroit in arguably his best game of the season. The Elliott that was manning the net earlier in the season is nowhere to be found, which is a good thing for the Blues.

Perhaps Elliott’s stint in the AHL did him some good. He certainly looks rejuvenated, and he has regained his confidence, which has been lacking since early in the season. Last season was Elliott’s career-best. He led the league in save percentage and goals against average after barely making the Blues’ NHL roster. Together, Elliott and Halak won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL. The duo, however, was split up in the first round of the playoffs, and that is where Elliott’s plummet began.

The Blues were swept by the Los Angeles Kings, and Elliott was easily solved. Elliott is in a similar situation now, feeling immense pressure to turn his game around and lead the team into the playoffs, and potentially though the postseason if Halak doesn’t recover quickly. This time, Elliott is not carrying the entire load.

As a goalie that has paid his dues coming through the Blues’ system, Allen isn’t about to lose perhaps his only shot at making an impact with the parent club. The Blues called up Allen earlier in the year, and it may have saved their season. Allen has been sent down to Peoria on multiple occasions this year, but rarely does he even have time to settle in. Halak’s injury has been nagging him for the better part of the season, so Allen’s services have often been needed. Thus far, Allen has nine wins in 11 starts. His overall record is 9-3-0, and he boasts a .911 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average. Allen’s most recent game came against the surging Columbus Blue Jackets. Allen was lights out in that game, allowing just one goal on 27 shots.

Allen currently leads all rookie goaltenders in goals against average and is a close second to Florida’s Jacob Markstrom in save percentage. Allen’s nine wins are best among all rookie goaltenders as well. Allen’s consistency has been present all season, so there is a good reason for the Blues to feel confident with him in net.

Halak is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks with what is speculated to be a groin injury. By the time Halak returns, the season will be over, or in its final days. It’s not as if the Blues have a choice, but they will have to rely on both Elliott and Allen during the crucial final stages of the season. In the final month of the season, the Blues have only eight remaining off days. Both Elliott and Allen will have their fair share of starts. Goaltending has always been a huge part of any team’s success and it will be no different in this case. The Blues have upgraded their defense at the right time, but it’s up to the goaltenders to make the key stops. Head coach Ken Hitchcock will choose the goalies on a game-by-game basis and as long as both remain healthy and consistent, the Blues will be fine.

The Blues are hoping they can get Halak back for the playoffs and that the netminder can find remaining magic from the 2010 playoffs. If not, one has to believe that as hot as the Blues’ goalies have been of late, the team would be okay with Elliott and Allen. If the Blues found themselves deep in the playoffs with Elliott and Allen leading the way, it would certainly make for quite the conclusion to a wacky season the Blues have had in net.