ST. LOUIS — If the St. Louis Blues' current goaltending scenario seem familiar, it should.
Brian Elliott has taken over starting duties after Jaroslav Halak was placed injured reserve Sunday with a groin strain.
The Blues have home games Tuesday (Nashville), Thursday (Detroit) and Saturday (Anaheim). There's a good chance Elliott could start all three depending on Halak's availability by the weekend.
In the playoffs last spring, Elliott was forced into action in Game 2 of the Blues' first-round victory over San Jose when Halak was sidelined with a high ankle sprain.
Both times, goaltending prospect Jake Allen was summoned from Peoria to serve as the backup.
This time it's a groin strain that has led to extending playing time for the 27-year-old Elliott. He came on in relief of Halak in the Blues' 5-3 loss at Detroit on Friday, stopping 17 of 19 shots.
Elliott won his two previous starts before the relief stint, beating Columbus and Minnesota.
Elliott said he gained valuable experience last spring after taking over as the playoff starter following Halak's injury. Elliott is 3-2 this season with a 2.34 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
"It's just trying to be comfortable out there, seeing the guys and having that communication on the ice," Elliott said Monday. "That's what helps you when you're in there for longer stretches. It's that confidence and that swagger that you have to have when you go out there."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the lockout created a tough scenario for all players because of the short training camp and condensed schedule.
But he feels the transition was even tougher for goalies, many of whom were not playing games during the lockout. Halak played briefly while Elliott did not play at all.
The pair combined to win the NHL's Jennings Trophy last season for posting the league's lowest goals-against average. While the Blues still rank eighth overall in goals-against, they have allowed 13 goals in the last four games and neither goalie has a save percentage above .900 (Halak is at .889).
"I think they are the ones that suffered the most from the lockout," Hitchcock said. "Their positioning, their getting up to speed...there's a lot of goaltenders that have had a tough go of it. The ones that recover nicely are going to have success, but I think there's a lot of guys that have really struggled because it's just been a frantic pace."
Elliott said it has been a gradual process of seeing more shots and becoming more in tune with his teammates.
"I feel pretty good," he said.
Hitchcock wants to see a more aggressive Elliott.
"You've got to be aggressive, you've got to stay square; those are the things you kind of let slip because you haven't played very much," Hitchcock said Monday. "When he plays aggressive like he has this year at times, he's really good.
"I think he recognized that. He's had two wonderful days of practice getting ready to play ,so I see no reason why he's not going to play really, really well."
Most goalies prefer to see a lot of pucks to establish a rhythm. That's tough to do with the Blues, who are allowing a league-low 21.6 shots per game.
"Sometimes it's difficult because when you do face a shot, it's more of a major breakdown than just a minor one," Elliott said. "It makes it a little difficult because you're facing grade-A scoring opportunities and you're counted on to make those big saves. That's our job and that's what we train for."
As a result, developing solid communication and coordination with the defense is of the utmost importance.
"Sometimes they want to block all the shots and it's hard to see out there, stuff like that," Elliott said. "It comes down to the trust and everybody doing their little part. When you put all those pieces together, that's when you really start clicking."
Elliott and the Blues were clicking throughout the 2012-13 season. He was 23-10-4 and led the NHL with a 1.56 goals-against average and .940 save percentage, finishing second nine shutouts.
Elliott wasn't as strong in the playoffs, winning three of seven decisions, but in fairness the entire Blues' squad played below-average in the four-game sweep against the Kings.
Playing only Central Division and Western Conference rivals because of the shortened schedule, the Blues will be seeing the Predators for the third time in the last eight games.
"Obviously it creates a little animosity between the teams because you see them so often," Elliott said. "It's kind of like a college atmosphere actually, because you're facing them so often in such a small period of time. Those games are the fun ones, you really get into them and they get into them.
"I definitely think the crowd will be into it, so it will be a fun one to play."