By his own admission, Brian Elliott
's battle to win a roster spot with the St. Louis Blues
this season was nothing new.
"It's something that I've gone through my whole career," the 26-year-old Elliott said. "In college, I came in and backed up the first two years (at the University of Wisconsin), but I definitely pushed for that starting spot. When I got the chance, I ran with it."
Elliott seems to be running with it again.
After a 32-save performance in the Blues' 3-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks
on Wednesday, Elliott is 4-0-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .950 save percentage, both good for third in the League.
So now the Blues are riding the hot hand -- he'll make his fourth straight start Friday when the Blues visit the Calgary Flames
-- although it's not the one they expected.
It was assumed Elliott would be available to occasionally spell Jaroslav Halak
. However, Halak has not lived up to the billing of a No. 1 goalie thus far this season, struggling to a 1-4-0 mark with a 3.47 GAA and .835 save percentage.
Goalie - STL
GAA: 1.59 | SVP: 0.950
"Timely saves are something that saves your hockey team," Blues coach Davis Payne
said. "The last couple of games, games have been tight or we've gotten out to a lead and we've had to face some pressure.
"It doesn't matter the position. You need to have guys that can step in and perform when needed or necessary or when called upon. That philosophy exists in every position on the ice."
The confidence the Blues have in Elliott, who recorded his 10th career shutout Wednesday, is obvious.
"Ells has been great for us," Blues forward Matt D'Agostini
said. "He's made key saves, and when you do that, it just rubs off on the whole team.
"We have two capable goalies in here. We know Jaro is a good goalie and he'll work through it and get back to playing like we know he's capable of."
It's been quite a feat so far for Elliott, who seemed to be regressing last season. He was 13-19-8 with a 3.19 GAA and .894 save percentage for Ottawa before being shipped to the Colorado Avalanche
, where he went 2-8-1 with a 3.83 GAA and .891 save percentage.
But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Elliott remained positive and embraced the challenges.
"That's the toughest part, not letting yourself get down or being too hard on yourself, trying to do too much," he said. "When you do that, that's when things get even worse.
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"You just put it out of your mind, come every day and work hard. If you think about it too much, that's when you start messing with yourself mentally and ultimately playing poorly. I just tried to come every day, be happy, have a smile on my face and work hard."
That's always been Elliott's blueprint. After Wisconsin, the goalie had to prove himself again with the Sens after being selected in the ninth round (No. 203) of the 2003 draft. However, he became the go-to goalie in Ottawa in 2009-10, posting a career-high in wins (29), as well as a 2.57 GAA and .909 save percentage.
But things took a turn for the worse last season, and Elliott was in a bit of a goaltending crisis this summer, an unrestricted free agent searching for a contract with few options available.
When the Blues presented a one-year, two-way contract worth $600,000, Elliott felt it was his best option -- even though there was no guarantee he would be on the team's opening-day roster.
"There were definitely opportunities out there, but things went really quick for goalies," Elliott said. "You kind of just had to make a decision. Teams were waiting on different people to get answers back. Obviously here, they were pretty interested in me. They wanted to get me, and it's nice to know you feel wanted and to be a part of the team."
Halak was the clear-cut No. 1, so Elliott's job was simple: Beat out Ben Bishop
for the backup role.
Halak didn't have the strongest training camp, so the Blues went with what they felt was a viable insurance policy and kept Elliott.
"The decision was based basically on experience," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said. "... At the end of the day, there wasn't enough to differentiate between the two (Elliott and Bishop) in our mind and we decided to go with the experienced guy to start with."
Still, the line of thought remained that Halak would get the majority of the starts -- up to 65 games perhaps.
That plan has not panned out, though.
Halak, who went 27-21-7 with a 2.48 GAA and .910 save percentage last season, has not played a game this season in which his save percentage was higher than .875. He hasn't played since allowing four goals on 18 shots and getting pulled in the third period of a game against Los Angeles on Oct. 18.
"Obviously, it's not the start that I was hoping for, but here we are," Halak said. "I've played five games and I'm 1-4. Obviously I need to work on my game. But it's a long season. It's only October. We've got so many games coming up. You just need to stay positive and work hard in practice."
Halak's time will come again. Until then, he will wait and watch.
"Brian has been playing good for us. He's won some games and obviously (Payne) wants to ride the goalie that won the games for him. We are in a situation that I didn't have a good start and the coach feels more confident with Brian, so here we are. We got a hot goalie, so he deserves to play. I just need to stay sharp in practice, and when I get a chance, try to win the game."
-- Jaroslav Halak
"Brian has been playing good for us," Halak said. "He's won some games and obviously (Payne) wants to ride the goalie that won the games for him. We are in a situation that I didn't have a good start and the coach feels more confident with Brian, so here we are. We got a hot goalie, so he deserves to play. I just need to stay sharp in practice, and when I get a chance, try to win the game."
Those wins will come, insist the Blues.
"He's a good goaltender," Payne said of Halak. "Sometimes, things need to get focused in on or repetitions. These guys are workers and they understand that creating that is the first step. He's going to be fine."
Until then, Elliott will continue to work hard and battle for his team, proving once again that long odds are no match for his work ethic.
"They say it's really hard to come to the NHL, but it's harder to stay," Elliott said. "You just have to work hard and be a team guy.
"As a goalie today, I think you have to prove yourself basically every day you're out on the ice. There's no difference here. I want to be the best that I can be on any given day. It's just a matter of making stops. If you do that, you'll solidify your spot in the League. You'll always go through trials and tribulations. It's just how you handle them and move forward. That describes the type of player you are."