Blues defying the odds by winning with No. 1 goalies
Most NHL teams, especially successful ones, have a defined No. 1 and No. 2 goaltender. The St. Louis Blues are defying that trend this season.
The Blues started with Jaroslav Halak as the clear No. 1, backed up by Brian Elliott. But when Halak struggled in the early going and Davis Payne was replaced as coach by Ken Hitchcock, Elliott got a chance to show what he can do -- and has carved out a nearly even share of playing time. Elliott enters the weekend leading the NHL with a 1.63 goals-against average
Halak hardly has been a slouch, however -- he's 5-1-0 in his last six starts after beating Edmonton 5-2 on Wednesday, and is fourth in the NHL with a 1.94 goals-against average.
The win at Edmonton was Halak's 20th of the season; Elliott reached the 20-win mark Feb. 18. They are the first pair of goaltenders in Blues history to win 20 games in the same season, and the first in the NHL since Nikolai Khabibulin (25) and Cristobal Huet (20) did it for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008-09.
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With a quarter of the season still remaining, each member of the Blues' duo has six shutouts, the first time in NHL history two goaltenders on the same team have had a half-dozen shutouts in the same season.
Easy pickins' -- Though the Blues' goaltenders have a combined 12 shutouts, the most by any team, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist enters the weekend leading the NHL with eight -- and the most recent one was the easiest of his career.
Lundqvist had to stop just 13 shots Monday in the Rangers' 2-0 win against New Jersey. It was the fewest saves he's ever had to make in a shutout, and the fewest by a New York goaltender since Ed Giacomin faced only 13 shots while blanking Chicago in March 1968.
Not that the Rangers were bombarding Martin Brodeur -- they managed only 15 shots (one into an empty net for the clinching goal). The combined total of 28 shots was by far the fewest in an NHL game this season, well below the previous low of 35 by the Islanders and Minnesota on Columbus Day -- and was the fewest in a game since Philadelphia and Montreal managed a combined total of 28 on Dec. 7, 2009.
Can't hang on -- There are two aspects of winning games -- getting leads and holding them. The New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets appear headed for the draft lottery at least in part because they haven't mastered the second part.
The Islanders' 3-2 loss at Washington on Tuesday in a game they led 2-0 with less than four minutes left in regulation marked the seventh time this season they led a game by more than one goal and didn't go home with a win -- the most in the NHL. In contrast, they've overcome a deficit of two or more goals just once; ironically, that also came against Washington, back in November.
The Jackets have yet to overcome a deficit of more than one goal to win a game, and they've blown six multi-goal leads, the second-highest total in the NHL this season.
Not coincidentally, the Blue Jackets and Islanders are 1-2 in failing to close the deal when leading after two periods. Columbus has lost six games in regulation when taking a lead into the third period -- no other team has lost more than three, and there have been only 39 such games all season -- and have dropped two others in which they had to settle for a single point after losing in overtime or a shootout.
The Islanders have lost only once in regulation when leading through 40 minutes, but they've dropped a League-high six games in overtime or shootout when taking a lead into the third period.
Comeback kings -- The Nashville Predators are the polar opposites of the Isles and Blue Jackets -- they're a tough team to put away. Nashville has overcome seven multi-goal deficits to win games, the most in the NHL this season.
The Predators also have two of the most impressive comebacks of the season. They trailed Columbus by three goals in the second period Dec. 22 and Minnesota by three in the third period Jan. 31 -- and won both games in regulation. Only one other team -- Florida against New Jersey on Nov. 21 -- has trailed by three and won without giving away a point.
Philadelphia leads the NHL in really big comebacks -- the Flyers are the only team to overcome three-goal deficits to win on three different occasions, most recently in Calgary on Saturday.
New Jersey was a period away from equaling the Predators' League-leading comeback total -- the Devils overcame a 2-0 deficit in Boston on Thursday and led 3-2 after 40 minutes, but allowed the tying goal in the third period and lost in overtime.
Ottawa's surprising performance this season has been fueled by its ability to rally. The Senators have won six times after trailing by more than one goal, and haven't lost a game when they're able to get up by more than one goal.