ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues are off to the best start in franchise history and keep finding ways to win despite a roster that hasn’t been at full strength for much of the season. But there’s still that one nagging question that no one knows the answer to, the query that likely can’t or won’t be answered for another few months.
Maybe until it’s too late.
Do the Blues have the goaltending to make a run at the Cup?
On Tuesday night, the answer was a resounding … um, maybe?
The Blues leaned on goalie Jaroslav Halak against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes and somehow withstood a furious third period frenzy to escape with a narrow 2-1 win in front of 16,571 at Scottrade Center.
"This is a game where our goalie saved us," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "We wanted to play a different game than was out there and our goalie saved us. He was terrific from the start to the finish. He made three big saves in the third period early and this was a game, probably, if you look at it, we didn’t deserve to win."
Hitchcock wasn’t very happy when he met with the media late Tuesday, which could lead to some unhappy Blues players at practice on Wednesday. But he was content with his goaltender, who has now pieced together two very strong starts after being beaten down by the flu two weeks ago.
You remember that, right? When Brian Elliott won six straight games and it looked like, yes, he was finally ready to answer that big question, the elephant in the room?
Well, about that.
"He’s been great," Hitchcock said. "The last two games he’s been outstanding. We needed him in both games and he’s made big save after big save when the game’s been on the line. … He’s gotten himself healthy. We waited the extra three or four days so he was 100 percent and he’s come back really rejuvenated. It’s good to see."
Halak felt it too.
He faced just four shots in the sleepy first period and then nine in the second before the Coyotes (21-16-9, 51 points) turned up the heat in the third. Halak opened the final period with an improbable save on a point-blank shot from David Moss and finished it off with a flurry.
"I felt good tonight," Halak said. "They didn’t test me the first two periods a lot but I got some shots in the third. I’m glad I was able to stay focused and stay in the game the whole time."
The Blues didn’t give their goalie much wiggle room. They weren’t able to add to the two goals from T.J. Oshie and found themselves digging deep late in the third period.
After surrendering a power-play goal late in the second period, St. Louis was able to kill a late penalty in the third. But the final horn wouldn’t sound without a few anxious moments first — like when Radim Vrbata ripped one off the crossbar with 4:13 left or Oliver Ekman-Larsson was turned away in front with 3:02 remaining.
You could just feel this one slipping away, couldn’t you?
"We knew they were a tired team," Halak said. "They played last night. You have to give them credit. They came out really hard in the third. They played their game. I think for our first two periods we played better but in the third we backed off. I’m glad we got two points but we all know that we can play better."
Halak’s teammates were thankful.
"He had an unreal game," Oshie said. "He made some big saves for us. … He made some huge saves. I think that game could have been easily turned the other way to a 5-2 victory for them."
It still remains to be seen if Halak is the answer to the bigger question nagging the Blues going forward, but judging by his performance on Tuesday night, it certainly looks like he’s capable.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter @natelatsch or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.