Elliott shows why he’s Blues’ No. 1 in shutout of Leafs

ST. LOUIS — The Blues’ offense proved more than capable of carrying the team while waiting for its top goaltender to find his form following a knee injury he suffered just before Thanksgiving.

Brian Elliott will take all the help he can get. He finally got a chance to return the favor Saturday night. The 29-year-old paved the way for a 3-0 win over Toronto for his 19th career shutout with St. Louis, just one shy of Jaroslav Halak’s franchise record.

"I just wanted to take the no-prisoners approach, just go out there and just worry about my own game," Elliott said afterward. "Everybody else takes care of the rest and the outside of me and I was able to do that."

Coach Ken Hitchcock called it Elliott’s best game since his return Dec. 30, even though he’s posted a 4-0-1 record and shut out Arizona 6-0. The Maple Leafs scored just once while losing all four games of a tough Western Conference road trip, but they came out firing in Elliott’s first shutout at home this season.

The end result could have been much different had he not saved 14 shots in 16 minutes as his teammates got off to another slow start. Odd-man rushes led to several dangerous chances, and Daniel Winnik even skated in front of the net and beat Elliott with a backhand, only to be denied by the crossbar.

Jonathan Bernier didn’t look nearly as impressive in Toronto’s net when Kevin Shattenkirk’s backhand found room just inside the near post to put St. Louis in front late in the first period. But even when Elliott saw only four shots in the second period, he never appeared to let down his guard.

"Nothing was a worry or felt stressed or anything like that," said Alexander Steen, who scored for the fifth straight game less than two minutes into the final period. "He was just calm, collected and just played his game."

A quick glove save shortly after the insurance goal put to rest any remaining comeback hopes for the Maple Leafs, Elliott’s favorite team while growing up in Newmarket, Ontario. He said that added some significance to a dominant performance that moved St. Louis two points ahead of Chicago for second place in the Central Division.

It marked a nice rebound from Thursday’s frustrating loss to Detroit, when Pavel Datsyuk beat Elliott for the game-winner with 2.2 seconds left in overtime. Heavy pressure helped the Red Wings open the scoring on a rebound, but the Maple Leafs rarely got any second chances.

Hitchcock said last week that Elliott appeared to still be getting comfortable with sight lines on shots after missing five weeks due to a sprained knee. He looked locked in against Toronto, even before his defense tightened up and kept shooters mostly on the outside in the final two periods.

"It’s about being able to step up and look around guys and not get small in the net," Elliott said. "That’s a big key for goaltenders, but it also has to do with how your team’s playing in front of you so that you can step up and challenge and just worry about that one shot and everybody takes care of all the garbage."

That also means more confidence, which is great news for a goaltender who was beginning to solidify himself as one of the league’s best before leaving with a 2-0 lead in the second period against Ottawa on Nov. 25. He hadn’t allowed more than two goals in five straight games, and those efforts are the reason he still leads the NHL with a 1.90 goals-against average.

It could be argued Elliott regained that ability the moment he stepped back on the ice, considering he made 44 saves in a 3-2 loss at Nashville in his return. Even a short start in which he gave up three goals in less than 13 minutes against Carolina could be blamed more on the defense than anything else.

St. Louis certainly never lost faith in Elliott, and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo says Saturday’s win merely represents another example of what their goaltender can do every night. Combine that with an offense averaging more than 3.5 goals per game since his injury and it’s easy to see why the Blues should continue to thrive.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.