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New month sees striking turnaround by Elliott

Friday, 04.19.2013 / 9:22 AM / Inside the Numbers

By John Kreiser - Columnist

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New month sees striking turnaround by Elliott
It's hard to imagine a more remarkable turnaround than the one Blues goaltender Brian Elliott has undergone in April, posting an 8-1 mark and three consecutive shutouts at one point.

It's hard to imagine a more remarkable turnaround than the one St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott has undergone this month.

After a career year in 2011-12 (1.56 goals-against average, .940 save percentage), Elliott played the first 10 weeks of the new season looking more like the goaltender who had to sign a two-way contract with St. Louis in the summer of 2011 and barely made the Blues' roster. He had a 3-6-1 record, a 3.65 GAA and a save percentage of .851 through the end of March, and was sent down to the American Hockey League late last month for a brief conditioning stint.

Whatever Elliott worked on with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL must have made a huge difference, because he's been a completely different player this month.

Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 10-7-1
GAA: 2.42 | SVP: 0.904
Elliott stopped 33 shots on Thursday night in a 2-1 shootout victory against the Phoenix Coyotes, improving his record this month to 8-1-0 -- the most ever wins by a St. Louis goaltender in April. His goals-against average this month is 1.03, and his save percentage is a surreal .961. He posted three consecutive shutouts, all on the road. His goals-against average is down to 2.42; his save percentage is up to .904.

More important, the Blues have gone from a team scuffling to make the top eight in the West to a club that will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and could make a lengthy run.

More shots, better results -- If the Columbus Blue Jackets manage to make it to the playoffs, it will be because of the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky. The third-year goaltender, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers last summer, has been carrying the underpowered Blue Jackets on his back -- and the more shots he faces, the better he seems to play.

Bobrovsky has faced 30 or more shots (not including shootouts) in 18 games this season -- and Columbus has gotten points in all 18 of them, winning 12 and losing six in overtime or shootouts, with a 1.52 goals-against average. In the 17 games in which he's faced fewer than 30 shots, Bobrovsky is 6-11-0.

Since the beginning of March, Bobrovsky has gone 15-5-3 while lowering his goals-against average from 2.90 to 2.01 and improving his save percentage from .899 to .931 -- second in the NHL and best among goaltenders who've played more than half of their team's games.

A tale of two streaks -- The New Jersey Devils saw their playoff hopes all but vanish when they lost 10 games in a row, matching a franchise record. The Washington Capitals catapulted themselves from also-rans to Southeast Division leaders by winning eight consecutive games.

But if you were to judge both teams by the number of shots they took and allowed, you'd think the roles would be reversed.

The Devils managed to lose 10 straight games (four after regulation) despite outshooting their opponents 310-202 in that span -- an average of more than 10 shots per game. New Jersey outshot its opponent in nine of the 10 games and did it by 10 or more shots in seven of those games -- including two in which the margin was more than 20. In five of the 10 games, the Devils held their opponents to fewer than 20 shots. New Jersey had back-to-back games in which it had 65 shots on goal, allowed 24 -- and lost both.

So what happened?

The losing streak coincided with an injury to the Devils' best offensive player, Ilya Kovalchuk. Before a 3-0 road victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, New Jersey was 0-6-4 since Kovalchuk went down with a shoulder injury and had managed just 17 goals on 310 shots, a 5.5 percent success rate. In contrast, the Devils allowed 27 goals on 202 shots, or 13.4 percent. It's no accident that the Devils' save percentage for the season is just .894, better than only the Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers -- even though their goals-against average of 2.46 is 13th.

In contrast, the Capitals' surge coincided with the re-emergence of Alex Ovechkin as a premier scorer -- something that enabled Washington to make the most of its chances. The Capitals were outshot 273-234 during their winning streak (which ended with a 3-1 road loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday), but outscored the opposition 31-18 -- largely because Ovechkin scored 10 times during the streak, making him the first player in seven years to reach double figures in April.

Ovechkin scored his 10 goals on just 42 shots (23.8 percent); as a team, the Capitals connected on 13.2 percent of their shots. In contrast, Washington's goaltenders (Braden Holtby played six games, Michal Neuvirth was in goal for the other two) had a save percentage of .934.

Streak busted: In terms of the outcome of the game, the power-play goal scored by Dion Phaneuf in the final minute of the Toronto Maple Leafs' 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday didn't mean anything. But it did end the Islanders' streak of allowing two or fewer goals at nine games, matching a franchise record set in 2001. It's the second-longest streak in the NHL this season -- Pittsburgh went 11 consecutive games last month without allowing more than two goals.

The Islanders are on their best run in more than a decade; the victory at Toronto gave them a 10-1-2 record in their past 13 games. One reason for the hot streak has been a sharp improvement in their play in the third period. Before the streak, the Islanders had been outscored 47-30 in the third period; since then, they've outscored opponents 14-5.

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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