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Elliott's surprising showing leads to All-Star berth

Monday, 01.30.2012 / 3:05 PM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist


Brian Elliott spent most of the summer looking for a job. He spent this weekend as an All-Star.

There was no more unlikely participant in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game than Elliott, who had to scramble for a job last summer after a dreadful season split between Ottawa and Colorado. He finally found a taker when the St. Louis Blues signed him to a two-way deal and gave him a chance to earn the backup job behind Jaroslav Halak.

Not only did Elliott earn a job, he got an opportunity when Halak struggled in the early going. Elliott made the most of his chance -- he reached the All-Star break leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.69) and save percentage (.938), and second in shutouts with five.

Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 15-5-2
GAA: 1.69 | SVP: 0.938
The Blues rewarded Elliott with a two-year contract, but the biggest recognition of his out-of-nowhere season came Sunday when he stepped on the ice with the rest of the NHL's elite.

Five up -- Five players who've been more productive than their teams could have expected:

James Neal -- After doing almost nothing offensively (1 goal) following his acquisition by the Penguins in February 2011, Neal's 27 goals earned him an All-Star berth -- and he's a major reason the Penguins have been able to survive a barrage of injuries and stake a solid claim to a playoff berth.

Joffrey Lupul -- With 52 points at the break, Lupul is just one shy of his career high for a full season, set with Anaheim in 2005-06. He earned his All-Star berth and is a big reason Toronto has hopes of ending a playoff drought that extends back to 2004.

Alexander Edler -- Departures on Vancouver's blue line meant that Edler had to step up his game -- and he did it well enough to become an All-Star. Edler's 34 points at the break are more than he had last season and just eight short of his career high.

Mike Smith -- Smith's task coming into the season wasn't easy: He had to step into the starting job in Phoenix after Ilya Bryzgalov left for Philadelphia. He's more than filled the bill, going 18-13-7 with a 2.44 GAA and .922 save percentage while keeping the Coyotes in the playoff hunt.

PA Parenteau -- A lot of Parenteau's career-high 53 points last season were attributed to playing with John Tavares. But despite being moved to a different line during this season, Parenteau has already matched his 2010-11 total of 33 assists, and he has 43 points in just 48 games, putting him on pace to shatter last season's numbers.

Five down — Five players who have to give their teams more:

Ilya Bryzgalov's 2.95 GAA average and .895 save percentage are far below his performance levels with Phoenix. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ilya Bryzgalov -- He was a hit on "24/7," but Bryzgalov hasn't been as good as the Philadelphia Flyers expected him to be when they signed him to a nine-year contract last summer. His 18-10-4 record is OK, but his 2.95 GAA average and .895 save percentage are far below his performance levels with Phoenix.

Artem Anisimov -- The New York Rangers reached the All-Star break on top of the Eastern Conference. To stay there, they'll need more from Anisimov, who hasn't had a point in his last 15 games. The Rangers struggle to score; they need Anisimov to start producing.

Ryan Miller -- It's been a tough season for the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner -- he's been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. His 3.07 GAA and .899 save percentage are a big reason the Buffalo Sabres are in danger of missing the playoffs.

Dwayne Roloson -- Last spring's playoff hero for Tampa Bay has struggled all season. He is last among goalies who have played more than 20 games with a 3.63 GAA, and his save percentage is just .882.

Blake Comeau -- The Islanders expected a lot from Comeau after his 24-goal performance last season. Instead, they waived him after he went 17 games without a point. Calgary signed him, and he's managed just 3 goals and 9 points in 29 games as a Flame.

Injuries, news and notes -- The best thing about the All-Star break -- which for most of the NHL was six days -- is that players who have been banged up have a chance to let their injuries heal. Among them is Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who's expected back on Tuesday after missing time with a hand injury.

Out -- Nashville was without forward Jerred Smithson and defenseman Francis Bouillon due to upper-body injuries for its last pre-break game. … Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht didn't play in the Sabres' last game due to a concussion; he's been plagued by concussion-related problems for most of the season. … Carolina's Chad LaRose was cut by a skate last Monday and may not be ready when the Canes resume Tuesday.

Jamie Benn
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 42
SOG: 124 | +/-: 10
Returning -- Dallas' Jamie Benn (appendectomy) took part in All-Star Weekend and will be back in the Stars' lineup when they resume play on Wednesday. … Chicago expects forward Patrick Sharp (wrist) to return to the lineup this week during the Hawks' trip through Western Canada. … New Jersey's Adam Larsson (wrist) and Adam Henrique (groin), both of whom sat out All-Star Weekend to nurse injuries, are expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. … Phoenix got defenseman Adrian Aucoin (lower body) and center Daymond Langkow (upper body) back for its last pre-All Star game on Tuesday. … Edmonton defenseman Ryan Whitney, plagued by ankle problems for most of the season, was in the lineup on Tuesday for the first time since Dec. 22. … Islanders goaltender Al Montoya played Tuesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 20.

Still out -- Calgary goaltender Henrik Karlsson (knee) has resumed practicing and will head to AHL Abbotsford after the All-Star break. … Montreal captain Brian Gionta hopes to return before the end of the season; he's recovering from surgery on his torn right biceps earlier this month. … New Jersey center Travis Zajac, sidelined with a sore Achilles tendon, has not resumed skating and there's no timetable for his return. He hasn't played since Jan. 2. New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene, sidelined with a broken foot, is slated to resume skating on Monday. … Pittsburgh placed center Jordan Staal (knee) on long-term injured reserve, but he's eligible to return as soon as he's healthy. … Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov had knee surgery last week and won't return until March at the earliest.

The week ahead -- The All-Star break ends with a bang -- there are 13 games on the schedule when action resumes Tuesday night.

Games to watch:

Chicago at Vancouver (Jan. 31; TSN) -- The Blackhawks start their nine-game road trip with a bang as they visit Rogers Arena, where the Canucks have been among the NHL's toughest home teams this season.

New York Rangers at Buffalo (Feb. 1; NBCSP/TSN2) -- The Sabres, who finished a seven-game road trip in Montreal on Tuesday, welcome the Rangers in their first game at home since Jan. 14.

Detroit at Vancouver (Feb. 2) -- The Wings, like the Hawks, spend the first week after the break in Western Canada -- giving the Canucks a tough pair of back-to-back home games.

St. Louis at Nashville (Feb. 4) -- Two of the hottest teams in the NHL get together at Bridgestone Arena as the Blues come to Music City in a battle between half of the four teams jousting for the Central Division lead.

Boston at Washington (Feb. 5; NBCSP) -- The Caps, who've been far better at home than on the road, welcome Boston to the Verizon Center for their third straight Super Bowl Sunday game.

Tough week ahead:

Chicago Blackhawks -- The Hawks won't see the inside of the United Center for nearly three weeks as they begin a marathon nine-game road trip. This week's installment runs through Western Canada, beginning with a playoff rematch in Vancouver.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- If you're trying to climb out of last place, there are easier ways to do it than re-starting your season with three games in four nights in California, which is what the Jackets do beginning Tuesday in San Jose.

Winnipeg Jets -- If the Jets are going to make a playoff push, they'll have to survive this week, which will see them play four games in six days while visiting Philadelphia, the two Florida teams and Montreal.

Easy week ahead:

Calgary Flames -- The opposition (Detroit and Chicago) may be difficult, but the Flames get to ease their way back into the schedule with only two games, both at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Phoenix Coyotes -- What could be nicer than a week in the desert in the middle of winter? If you're the Coyotes, it's a schedule that has them playing only two games (Anaheim and San Jose), both at home.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Bolts continue a five-game homestand with three games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, with Washington, Winnipeg and Florida coming to town.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round