After an up and down season the St. Louis Blues have rattled off 5 wins in a row and sit just two points out of fourth place in the west with ten games to go. The reason for the turnaround? The return of Brian Elliott circa 2011-12 and a commitment to defensive hockey.
Last season Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were unmovable in net, allowing the fewest goals in the NHL. The duo combined for a league-high 15 shutouts, tying the modern NHL record set by the 1969-70 Chicago Blackhawks.
This season could not have been more different. Through the first 33 games, the Blues have had a carousel in net. Halak has made 15 starts, rookie Jake Allen has been between the pipes for 12 games and Elliott started just 6 times over the first 33 games. Elliott’s struggles landed him in Peoria for two games in March. Those two starts were likely the turning point of his season, as the Blues’ netminder was able to work under less pressure and fix his mechanics. Since being recalled on March 30, Elliott has rattled off four consecutive wins, including back to back shutouts in his last two starts. Over that stretch he has allowed just four goals, stopping 95 of the 99 shots he’s faced.
Of course, some of the credit must also go to the two defensemen acquired by GM Doug Armstrong before the deadline, Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold. Those pickups have turned the Blues into one of the league’s most formidable defensive teams, in the eyes analyst Ed Olczyk.
“Now what has happened with that team as well is getting a top-2 defenseman in Jay Bouwmeester and a top-five guy in Jordan Leopold. You can argue now and say that St. Louis’ defense corps one through six is top-five in the NHL”, Olczyk told ESPN.com. “That’s huge. The new guys, along with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, can skate them out of trouble.”
Both of those players have lived up to expectations so far. Bouwmeester has been especially important because of the way he can just eat up minutes. The Blues defender picked up a substantial amount of ice time in the April 4 win against Chicago after Roman Polak was given a game misconduct for instigating a fight with Viktor Stalberg. Those are the types of contributions that take the Blues defensive unit to another level. Leopold has flown under the radar, but has been just as important in his own right. His play brings a sense of calmness to the ice. He also has the ability to join the offense rush and recover quickly on defense to make sure the Blues don’t get trapped in their own end.
The Blues are playing with a sense of confidence and the best may be yet to come for the boys from the Gateway City.