SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Curtis McElhinney's introduction to the Blue Jackets organization was not as orthodox as he may have hoped, but few were more relieved to be back on the ice last night.
When Columbus made a handful of trades at the trading deadline, McElhinney was one of the pieces that came in return from the Phoenix Coyotes -- but he was unable to play. He was seen as the element of the deal that balanced out the 50-contract limit, but it was an unfair distinction.
The 29-year-old goaltender spent the summer rehabbing after he was limited to just 25 games with the Portland Pirates last year, and thrilled to get a call early in free agency from the Blue Jackets.
They needed a veteran presence to hold down the fort in Springfield and help young goaltenders like Allen York and Paul Dainton. After an encouraging summer in which he got healthy, McElhinney came to Springfield's camp in terrific shape and prepared to earn the No. 1 job.
Larsen announced shortly before game time last night that McElhinney would get the opening-night start, and 23 saves later, he backstopped Springfield to its first win of the year.
McElhinney admitted to some rust early in the game - to be expected - but he seemed to get better as the game wore on.
"It's been quite a bit of time since I got into a regular-season game," McElhinney told BlueJackets.com. "It was difficult for the first couple of periods, but fortunately, the goal support added a little bit of confidence to my game."
And having not played a regular-season hockey game since February, McElhinney said he knows he has to take it one day at a time, even if it means accepting that results might not be consistent or playing time may not be as regular as he'd like.
"Things are feeling better and better each day," he said. "It's really been encouraging, and this was certainly a good way to start the year, as well."
McElhinney was stuck in that awkward spot for a goaltender early in the game: the Falcons were dominating the opening period, leading in shots by a 10-3 margin after one period and spent most of the opening 20 minutes in the IceCaps' zone.
St. John's struck on the power play with Carl Klingberg's first of the season, and it was only the second shot on goal for the visitors. Not only was McElhinney making his first start in almost nine months, but he had to fight to keep his focus as his teammates were carrying the play at the other end of the rink.
"Yeah, I mean it was tough (to not have a chance to feel the puck early)," McElhinney said. "They got within a goal there in the third, and then we put on in the back of the net (to make it a 4-2 game), so it's certainly nice to see as a goalie, for sure.
"We did really nice work with perimeter shots and scrambling stuff down low. It was still a pretty close game there until midway through, but it was a great start for us and a nice way to begin the year."