(HockeySTL)-- There is not a hotter topic around St. Louis than Vladimir Tarasenko. But without the flashy offense Tarasenko has provided, the Blues’ net presence would be making waves.
If there was a perceived weakness in the Blues’ lineup heading into the season, it was their goaltending. Led by Brian Elliott, who has been a backup since he joined the Blues in 2011 as a depth signing, the view around the league regarding the team’s last line of defense was that it was vulnerable, especially with an unproven 24-year-old Jake Allen as the only backup to Elliott.
The Blues are a scorching 9-4-1 after a slow start to the season and are coming off of a recent seven-game winning streak. Their impressive record comes despite the club scoring two or fewer goals eight times this season. Elliott and Allen have stabilized the team, combining for three shutouts, which is tied for the league-lead.
“Our goalies have been the story of the season so far,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’ve been giving us a chance to win every night, and that’s what we need right now.”
As of Monday, Elliott and Allen were near or at the top of the NHL in almost every goaltending statistic. The duo is third in goals against average (1.93) and has allowed the fewest number of goals this season (27). Both goalies have been solid, but Allen has the flashier numbers.
The rookie goalie has two shutouts in his last three games. Overall, he is 4-1 with a 1.40 GAA and a .944 save percentage. His GAA is first in the league; his save percentage is third.
“Jake is on fire,” Elliott said. “You want to come in the same way and be the backbone, same thing we do all the time. Everybody plays their role and it should work out. You want to put extra pressure on yourself.”
But Elliott hasn’t been too shabby himself, posting a 5-3-1 record, a .923 save percentage and a 2.06 GAA.
The 29-year-old goaltender signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract this offseason under the premise that he would have a legitimate shot at being the team’s No. 1 netminder. He has played four more games than Allen and the expectation is that he will continue to have the larger piece of the split.
“I said this last year; He’s a good goalie,” Hitchcock said. “He’s solid, he’s consistent. He has the right disposition that you need in the league this year that he’s humble, he’s really hard-working. He’s a guy who never cheats you on a day. He’s ready for practice, pre-game skates and he’s ready to compete. I think he’s the perfect example of professionalism and what young athletes go through and what happens if you stick with it. He’s exhibiting that.”
In four seasons with the Blues, Elliott is 60-27-8. The main difference this year is that he is the main man. In past years, Elliott has been second to Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Miller. The Blues traded away Halak in a deal that brought Miller in last season and then opted to part ways with the latter in the offseason which left the door wide open for Elliott.
Ironically, Miller’s old goalie coach, Jim Corsi, was hired by the Blues in the offseason to replace former goaltending coach Corey Hirsch. Corsi is now advising Elliott and Allen and has played a large role in their success.
“He’s a positive guy,” Elliott said. “I don’t think I have heard him say anything negative. You always want to keep your confidence when you have a bad drill or a bad game. He’s there to talk about the good things. I think that’s definitely key for a goalie coach. He’s a jokester around the locker room and it’s always good to have one of those.”
Corsi spent 16 seasons in Buffalo prior to joining the Blues. The coach is responsible for inventing the “Corsi Rating”, a widely-used analytic, so it’s no surprise that he is very focused on the things some may overlook.
“I think it’s pretty clear he only cares about his goalies,” Elliott said. “The guys joke with him about that. We want to think about the little things. Jake and I are both focused on our details and we try to do everything right, almost perfectionist style. He definitely helps with those and building them into your game.”
Hitchcock says Corsi bring another veteran mind to the coaching staff, and for a young player like Allen, that can be immensely beneficial.
“I think where Jim really helps is can ask the tough questions,” Hitchcock said. “When you get to be a veteran coach, you can ask those questions. He does it without confrontation. Ten minutes after (last Thursday’s) game, he’s sitting with Jake going over a couple of things in the goals that went in. He can have that conversation whereas a lot of younger guys are afraid to have that conversation. The player knows he’s not offended by it and he can come up with that discussion on a proper basis.”
So far, there hasn’t been much to criticize as the Blues’ goaltending roles on. While many critiqued the goaltending situation this summer, the Blues felt comfortable enough in what they had to allocate money elsewhere. Right now, that decision is looking sound.
“I think with Brian there was a lot of confidence that he was going to be able to play and the limelight wasn’t going to bother him,” Hitchcock said. “(In regards to Allen), we looked at probably 20 guys who had been stars in the American League and they all had great NHL careers, or good NHL careers. So, we’re pretty confident we had the right two. It’s still a small sampling but both guys have (played well).”