Heading into the shortened 2012-13 season, the St. Louis Blues were the smart pick to have a memorable season. After all, the NHL’s best duo between the pipes a season ago was returning to dominate the league again. Two strong goaltenders will give any team a boost in such a condensed schedule.
Those expectations have not been met 11 games into the season.
After starting goalie Jaroslav Halak went down with a lower-body injury last week that kept him from action, the Blues called up Jake Allen, starting goalie for the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen. It was never intended for him to be used for anything more than shots in practice and to open the door for line changes.
With the recent play of Brian Elliott, it seemed after a four-game winless streak that the team had more confidence in the youngster.
“If Jaro is not ready, we’ll play Jake [Allen] on Monday,” said Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock after the Blues’ 6-5 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
Sunday, the team announced that Halak would be ready for the Blues’ match-up Monday night with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
The Blues were attempting to snap a three game losing streak Saturday night as they had dropped two games to the Detroit Red Wings and one game to the Nashville Predators – two division rivals that have both leapfrogged the Blues in the standings during this stretch. Instead, the Blues saw a two-goal lead snapped in the middle of the second period en route to a devastating loss.
At the center of the blame seems to be Elliott, the man who recorded nine shutouts last season, including a streak that spanned 241 minutes and 33 seconds of scoreless hockey just before the playoffs began. Elliott allowed five goals against on 20 Anaheim shots, including the three straight shots that saw the Ducks jump from a two-goal deficit to a one-goal lead in just a matter of one minute and 41 seconds.
The shootout was not much better as the Blues’ three goals were not enough. Elliott surrendered four goals in the six-round skill display.
Since Halak was placed on injury reserve last Sunday, Elliott has played in 149 minutes and nine seconds and has allowed 14 goals on 63 shots, equaling to a 5.64 GAA and a .777 save percentage in that time. His overall 3.51 GAA ranks fourth-to-last while his .853 save percentage places him in last place amongst goalies that have played in at least four games.
“[He is] not playing very good,” Hitchcock said. “Not much I can say. He’s not playing very good. He’d be the first to tell you, too. He’s got to play better.”
This is not the first time that Elliott has had a bad stretch with Halak out of the lineup. During the Western Quarterfinals of the 2012 playoffs against the San Jose Sharks, Halak was forced out of the series after a collision left him with a lower-body injury (unrelated to his current condition). Elliott stepped in and helped the Blues out of the first round but the rink was tilted in the Western Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings. Elliott, along with the rest of the Blues team, seemed outmatched in the four-game sweep, as the Kings outscored the Blues 15-6. Elliott was the victim of a four-goal first period in game two which seemed to dictate the rest of the series for the Kings.
The return of the Slovakian goaltender may result in a better performance from Elliott in the future. With a proven goaltender who is ready to come in relief at any time behind him, Elliott could feel the pressure to perform at a higher level.
At this point, up is only one way for Elliott to go.
Other Team News
The Blues announced on Saturday that 37-year old forward Jamie Langenbrunner will be out for remainder of the season with hip surgery. It was revealed that the two-time Stanley Cup Champion has a torn labrum in his left hip. The rehab process will likely take 5-6 months, putting his 18-year NHL career in jeopardy. Langenbrunner will be a free agent next summer.