HAZELWOOD, Mo. - In their first practice since learning the news of Brian Elliott’s lower-body injury the feeling around the locker room was sad for their teammate’s bad luck but confident in Jake Allen’s ability to pick up where Elliott left off.
“It's not a surprise to us anymore,” said Allen, Thursday night’s starting goalie. “The way this season has gone we've lost all our best players throughout the year and it's really unfortunate and bad timing but hopefully he heals up quick.”
As unfortunate as it is to lose Elliott, who went 7-2 in February picking up 15 points, the timing couldn’t have been better on the heels of Allen’s return from his own lower-body injury. The Blues have not been forced to use either AHL back-up goalies Jordan Binnington or Pheonix Copley for significant work. Neither has much NHL experience - Binnington played 12:47 on January 14th while Copley has yet to play between the pipes.
“We waited a long time [on Allen],” Ken Hitchcock said. “He probably could have played a week ahead of schedule but we held out to where he was 100 percent so we didn’t have any problems coming back. We waited extra time knowing how well Brian was playing. We didn’t feel any pressure to get a guy back in, so that affords us [some time].”
The goal tending tandem puts St. Louis in a better position than teams like Montreal who rely on one man. The Canadiens began the season collecting all 18 points in their first nine games, but when Carey Price went down with an injury on November 25th the team tanked. They won just 11 of their next 37 games and are now seven points out of a playoff spot.
Elliott’s injury shelves any goalie controversy until the playoffs begin benefiting the club as they sit three points out of first in the Central Division.
“I think that’s just the new day and age in the NHL,” Allen said of the two-man unit. “It doesn’t matter who they are, just two goalies that can play and give teams a chance to win games. I think you’ve seen that with a majority of teams. There might be the odd, scarce team with one guy that’s playing like [Rangers Henrik] Lundqvist or a Price guy like that that plays 75 games. That’s very rare. I think we’re very fortunate to have two guys.”
It’s a transition that makes the other guys on the ice comfortable, as defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk reiterated describing the transition as “seamless.”
“I think we’re all feeling for Brian,” Shattenkirk continued. “It’s a tough break for him, but we get some fortunate timing with injuries with Jake back. It might take a couple of games for him to get adjusted but a lot of that falls on our shoulders to play a pretty strong game in front of him.”
Now Allen won’t have to fight for ice as he gets the chance to get his game back on track following a month and a half tenure on the IR.
“It’s a chance for me to get back on my feet and get comfortable again and give the guys a chance in the final push,” Allen added. “We have 20 games to decide our fate in the division, 20 games to finish on the right note.”
Pietrangelo’s return close
The Blues could see their top defender back by the weekend. Alex Pietrangelo participated in Wednesday’s full practice and according to Ken Hitchcock, “he looks normal.”
“This is really the first full practice from him,” said the head coach. “He’ll get another good one [Thursday], he’s going to get another good one on Friday and then we’ll make an evaluation for Saturday afternoon.”
Pietrangelo was placed on IR February 8th with a knee injury and wasn’t expected to be re-evaluated until next week. However, it’s likely he could return for one of the team’s back-to-back games Saturday in Nashville or Sunday in Carolina.