At the heart of every solid NHL penalty-kill unit is a hot goaltender.
Few NHL goaltenders are playing any better right now than Brian Elliott, now 10-3-2 during a career-high 15 straight starts with a 1.42 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
The Blues edged Dallas 2-1 in overtime Tuesday and both Elliott and the penalty-kill unit were front and center in the victory. While Elliott had to face only 18 shots, many of the saves were high-leverage chances for the Stars and the Blues’ penalty kill unit was a perfect 7-for-7 against the dangerous Dallas power play.
“He’s as good as they come right now,” Blues forward Troy Brouwer said of Elliott, who has been fantastic since Jan. 8 when the Blues lost goaltender Jake Allen to a lower-body injury, “He was phenomenal for us at the beginning of the year and then Jake started to take over a little bit. You’ve got to ride goalies when they’re hot, right?”
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The Blues (33-17-9) remains five points behind Dallas and four behind Chicago in the Central Division. They return to action at home Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
During seven games in February, Elliott is 5-1-1 with a 1.42 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. Elliott’s red-hot run has Blues fans and the media wondering which goalie the team will turn to once the playoffs begin.
Perhaps fortunately, there is no crying need for any goaltender depth chart analysis right now though every hot streak by Elliott (15-7-6 overall, 2.03 goals-against, .933 save percentage) seems to spark another one. Scoring remains a bigger concern since the Blues’ offense ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.4 goals per game.
Defense hasn’t been the problem on most nights since the Blues are third in the league in goals-against average (2.30) and lead the NHL in penalty killing (87.1 percent).
“He’s been around for a while and I know he’s gotten the short end of the stick a few times with ‘dueling goalies’ I’ll call it, but he’s got as much confidence as I’ve ever seen in a goalie,” Brouwer said. “He’s playing well, making those timely saves, those big saves that we need him to.
“We try not to put him in those situations, but when we do we know he’s there to back us up.”
Dallas is one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive teams and the Blues held the Stars to a season-low 18 shots.
During seven games in February, the Blues have killed off 31 of 32 opponent power-plays. Recently they have been doing so without injured star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, an integral part of all Blues’ special teams units.
“Some of the individual elements have been great,” Blues associate head coach Brad Shaw said. “Brian, since Jake got injured there, has really stepped in and done a fantastic job in net. We’ve had guys pick up the slack with Petro getting hurt.
“He’s been a big part of our PK (penalty kill) the last few years. We’ve just started slotting guys up and they’ve taken the extra minutes and really executed well through it.”
Shattenkirk was an easy fit into Pietrangelo’s spot in the top defense pairing with Jay Bouwmeester. After that, the Blues have turned to Carl Gunnarssson with rookie Colton Parayko and Robert Bortuzzo with rookie Joel Edmundson.
“You put guys in and then you expect the best to happen,” Shaw said. “Shatty’s really done a great job ... he’s been a big part of it anyway, but to get more ice time for Bortuzzo and Parayko on that right side (is big) now that we’ve sort of split it up a bit.”
Shaw said a big key to the recent PK success has been using three defense pairs to spread the minutes around.
“Edmundson and Bortuzzo have deserved more ice time,” he said. “They’ve taken what we’ve given them so far and they’ve shown that they’re ready for more — and that’s great. Internal competition is always a good sign.”
The Blues also rely heavily on veteran forwards on the penalty kill and Tuesday it was David Backes with Alexander Steen and Brouwer with Paul Stastny.
“They’re savvy on the ice in all situations and it really helps,” Shaw said. “That’s a game (the win over Dallas) where they can stay engaged.”
That’s because there was so much of the game spent on special teams. The teams combined for 12 power plays, including seven by Dallas.
Brouwer, Backes, Steen and Stastny all were on the ice for more than 18 1/2 minutes led by Stastny’s 20 minutes of ice time.
“I thought we did a great job of staying with it,” Brouwer said. “There were a lot of guys that probably didn’t get to play as much as they should have because of the penalties. It disrupts the flow, it disrupts the fluency on the ice and how we can just continuously roll the lines out there.”
Blues assign Jaskin
Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin has been assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. It’s likely a move to create more playing time since Jaskin had been held scoreless in 13 of his last 14 games and had been relegated to healthy scratch status lately.
The 23-year-old winger has only three goals and 10 points in 49 games a year after generating 13 goals and 18 points in 54 games.