VANCOUVER -- It will be a battle of backup goalies playing decidedly better than their team's would-be No. 1s when the St. Louis Blues visit the Vancouver Canucks tonight.
Blues backup Brian Elliott makes his third-straight start ahead of a struggling Jaroslav Halak for St. Louis, while Cory Schneider hopes to pick up where he left off after replacing embattled Canucks starter Roberto Luongo during the second period of Tuesday night's 3-2 loss in Edmonton.
The similarities between the two goaltending situations are as startling as the state of both team's starters.
Luongo, a notorious slow starter in October, is 2-3-1 with a 3.46 goals-against average and .868 save percentage after giving up three goals on 14 shots during a just over five minutes in the second period Tuesday. Schneider, who stopped all eight shots in relief, has a .935 save percentage in four appearances.
Similarly, Halak is sitting out with a 3.47 GAA and .835 save percentage in favor of Elliott, who is sporting the same .935 as Schneider.
If there's a difference, it's that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault insists starting Schneider was always part of the plan for these back-to-back games, which should mean Luongo won't be watching for long. But his counterpart, Blues coach Davis Payne, has clearly deviated from his plan by going with the hot hand over the more proven commodity for three straight games. And while he said that won't last forever, he wasn't ready to talk about when Halak might start next.
"You can't have a guy sitting there forever and then all of a sudden put him in," Payne said. "You’re setting a guy up for a pretty tough spot and we're not going to do that to a guy we know we're going to count on a lot -- and in heavy volume. Jaro is our goaltender, he's a great goaltender and he's going to win a lot of hockey games for us this year."
While Luongo is expected to be back in goal against Washington on Saturday to work out of what has become an annual October funk, Halak sounded less certain about both his next start and the philosophy of not letting him play through the early problems.
"Brian has been playing good, he won some games and obviously the coach wants to ride a goalie that won the game for him," Halak said. "Each goalie would love to play as much as he can but I didn't have a good start and the coach feels more confident with Brian, so here we are. I just need to stay sharp."
While the goalie stays the same, the Blues get their No. 1 center back with David Backes returning after missing the second half of Saturday's win in Philadelphia as the result of a collision with big Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger.
"Precautionary measures," Backes said after skating Monday morning. "Airing on the side of caution with big hits like that is going to become more the norm and because we took precautions like that I am able to be 100 percent tonight. ... There have been some hard lessons learned here in St. Louis."
Vigneault hinted at other possible changes, but with only five players on the ice after playing the night before it's hard to tell if they will be anything more than a continuation of the defensive pairings shakeup that occurred in Edmonton, with Keith Ballard and Kevin Bieksa, who are each minus-7, split up. The rest should remain intact, with David Booth playing his second game on the second line with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins after being acquired from Florida on Saturday.