Blues counting on Halak, Elliott as the playoff push begins
Pittsburgh Penguins' Chirs Kunitz (14) sets to score the game winning goal in a shoot out against St. Louis Blues' goalie Brian Elliot (1) in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce) By Bill Boyce
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 05: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St. Louis Blues in goal against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on March 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) By Harry How
By Scott Bierman
ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 1: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against Ben Eager #55 of the Edmonton Oilers at the Scottrade Center on March 1, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) By Dilip Vishwanat
The Blues’ goaltending situation has been anything but normal this season. Following a season in which the Blues’ net minders were the best in the National Hockey League (NHL), the Notes’ goaltenders have hardly been up to the task this season. However, as the season winds down, head coach Ken Hitchcock has elected to give his two NHL goalies a chance to prove themselves and lead their team into the playoffs.
The most intriguing part of the Blues’ current goaltending discussion is that it took form after a routine call-up. When goaltender Jaroslav Halak was sidelined with a groin injury earlier in the season, the Blues were forced to call up rookie Jake Allen from Peoria. The move was intended only for backup purposes. Allen was never supposed to lead the Blues onto the ice, or man the team’s net; he was there only for a worst-case-scenario situation in which Brian Elliott was unable to fulfill the role as the team’s goaltender. However, much to everyone’s surprise, Elliott was ineffective in net and the Blues gave Allen a shot.
Allen ran with the opportunity and went on to play in 12 games for the Blues, looking composed in net and comprising an 8-4 record, along with one shutout. Allen’s play was remarkable. He came to the Blues and stopped the team’s bleeding, and was starting over both Halak and Elliott. Unfortunately for Allen, the Blues traded to acquire Jordan Leopold, which put them at the roster limit and Allen was sent down. His play wasn’t taken for granted by Hitchcock, but the veteran coach says it’s time for Halak and Elliott to do the job they are paid to do.
“It’s up to Jaro and Brian; it’s their ball and they have to run with it. It’s not just going to be Jaro, it’s Jaro and Brian. Jake has come in and has done a heck of a job. He’s come in and has 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, and into the playoffs.”
Recently, the Blues sent Elliott to Peoria on a conditioning assignment. The purpose of the assignment was to give Elliott a chance to shake off the rust he had surely acquired during his extended hiatus courtesy of Allen’s play. In his two games with Peoria, Elliott posted a 1-1 record, stopping 53 of 56 opponent shots for a .946 save percentage. His one win was a shutout. Elliott returned to the Blues on Saturday, and appears to have been given a second chance by Hitchcock.
“Brian went down (to Peoria) and got some games in there and felt good so that is a good sign,” said Hitchcock. “He had an okay first game and a great second game which is what we expected. He got rid of the jitters and he played really well. Like he said, it is a different game down there but overall they were impressed with him and he was really happy that he was able to get some game-like competition so he feels a bit sharper now. At the end of the day, both (Elliott and Halak) have got to help us win hockey games.”
The Blues have 15 games remaining, and look to get back on track on Monday night against the Minnesota Wild. With a recently-acquired defenseman in Leopold, the Blues are hoping for a better showing in front of their goaltenders. Halak will get the start on Monday as the playoff push begins. Because of their lackluster effort lately, the Blues are in a tough spot with teams well within reach of snatching the last remaining playoff spot away from the Note. A strong performance by the goalies is as important as ever. The Blues need their goalies of last season to return if this season is to be a success. Hitchcock has faith in Halak and Elliott and they must rise to the occasion or the Blues may find themselves watching games this postseason rather than participating in them. The Blues’ next few games are critical and the goaltenders are expected to lead the charge.