Elliott stays hot, breaks franchise shutouts record in Calgary
Just in case anyone needed reminding, Brian Elliott showed Tuesday night why he’s not only the Blues’ primary goaltender, but also one of the best in franchise history.
A 4-0 win at Calgary gave Elliott his 21st shutout for St. Louis, surpassing Jaroslav Halak for the team record. Elliott made 25 saves to carry the Blues, while St. Louis’ offense came alive with three goals in the last two periods — but not before the 29-year-old netminder withstood a heavy barrage from the desperate Flames.
"They do a good job shooting through screens and using D-men as their screen and I just tried to see the puck," Elliott told FOX Sports Midwest analyst Darren Pang and play-by-play announcer John Kelly on the Blues Live postgame show. "It was just everybody coming back, working hard for each other. It was a pretty fun one."
Elliott tied Halak’s record with a 65-minute shutout against Philadelphia last week, but Elliott has been at his best on the road. In his past six starts away from home, he’s posted an incredible .965 save percentage and given up more than a goal only once, in a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia on March 5 that included an empty-netter.
Improved backchecking from the Blues’ skaters and great positioning by Elliott often make his job look easy, but his teammates know better than to take his efforts for granted. They’ve praised him all season, even when he went through a slump that included three goals against in seven of nine games following the All-Star break.
Now, after failing to score more than two goals in eight of Elliott’s nine starts to close out February, the offense has finally started to offer him more support again. Elliott made sure the Blues never lost the lead Tuesday by stopping two shots by Mikael Backlund from close range, and the post preserved a shutout when Elliott finally got beat by Joe Colburne’s one-timer with less than three minutes left.
"These guys play a really skilled game and for the most part kept them to the outside and have five guys back," forward Alexander Steen said. "The few times that we did make mistakes we had (Elliott) in the back, who’s been playing great."
Elliott followed up Jake Allen’s shutout Sunday at Dallas to give the Blues their first back-to-back shutouts since they had three straight in April 2013. They lead the league with 10 shutouts as a team this season, a big reason St. Louis moved back into first place all alone atop the Central Division for the first time since Chicago beat Calgary on Dec. 14.
The Blues also tied the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy with less than a month before the season ends. Thirteen games remain for St. Louis, beginning with the final four of this six-game road trip.
As dominant as Elliott has been away from St. Louis, that could be a very good thing.
• Starting defensive. Scoring early doesn’t appear to be much of a priority for the Blues lately.
St. Louis went into the first intermission at Calgary tied 0-0 for the fourth straight game after yet another cautious, defensive first period. Heavyweights Ryan Reaves and Brandon Bollig threw down their gloves and delivered some serious punches to provide the highlight of 20 minutes that featured only 14 combined shots on goal.
Hardly any of those threatened the goaltenders, but the Blues at least managed to avoid the lackluster starts that have plagued them often the past few weeks. That hasn’t happened nearly as often on the road, where St. Louis has scored first in 14 of its past 15 games, and in all of the past nine.
• Steen back on track. The Blues’ leading goal scorer last season showed more signs of returning to form in his second multi-goal game of 2015.
Steen scored his first game-winner since Nov. 22 with a blistering wrist shot in the second period, beating Calgary goaltender Jonas Hiller high on the glove side. The last of the Flames’ comeback hopes burned out when Steen’s slap shot off a faceoff went into the upper right corner, putting the Blues ahead 3-0 with 10:22 to play.
Even though he just missed a hat trick when Kris Russell blocked an empty-net attempt in his own defensive zone, Steen appears to have banished all the bad luck that kept him scoreless for 13 straight games. After scoring two goals in his past three games he might not reach his career high of 33 a year ago, but three more would give Steen 25 for only the second time in his career.
• Stastny reaches milestone. St. Louis hopes center Paul Stastny’s latest milestone will be far from his last in an already-impressive career.
Stastny played his 600th game Tuesday night in Calgary, more than nine months before his 30th birthday. After playing his first eight seasons and 538 games in Colorado, Stastny signed a four-year contract with St. Louis during the offseason.
A shoulder injury set him back early in the season, but Stastny has become a valuable piece of a deep offense full of dangerous forwards. He failed to get an assist after scoring in the previous two games, but he continued to lead a physical third line that wears down defenses and makes things easier for its teammates.