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Elliott's return to grace completed in Ottawa

by Dave Lozo
OTTAWA -- It was less than a year ago when Brian Elliott was sitting on the bench for the Ottawa Senators during a home game against the Boston Bruins, about to have the course of his future changed forever.

Elliott, the owner of a 13-19-8 record with a 3.19 goals-against average and .894 save percentage, was summoned into the Senators offices by GM Bryan Murray in the middle of the game. Elliott had spent his entire career in the Senators organization since he was drafted in the ninth round in 2003, but that was about to change.


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He was being traded to Colorado.

"It's obviously a new experience," Elliott said. "It's kind of hard to take. You don't really know what to do. You're like, 'Do I take off my equipment and get out of here or what?' "

Things didn't improve for Elliott during his brief time with the Avalanche. He made 12 appearances, went 2-8-1 with a 3.83 GAA and .891 save percentage and was not brought back during the summer.

Elliott said he spent time looking in the mirror, trying to figure out how he had fallen so far, so quickly. He didn't completely start to doubt his skills, but some insecurity entered his mind after his worst season a professional.

"There's always that question in your mind," Elliott said. "I talked to mentors and friends and family, you think about what you did to get where you are in your career, just go back to being that guy. Don't put too much pressure on yourself and try to be a hero every night and try to carry the team."

That attitude has served him well in St. Louis, where his season-saving first half has earned him an All-Star berth -- which, ironically, comes in the city where it all began.

With incumbent starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak stumbling out of the gate, the Blues went with a goaltending tandem in the early going. As Halak continued to struggle, Elliott earned more playing time after Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench for Davis Payne. Halak has rediscovered his form, but without Elliott (15-5-2, 1.69, .938) the Blues might not be fighting for the top spot in the West.

The difference between the support Elliott is receiving in St. Louis compared to what went on during his last season in Ottawa isn't blatant, but it's noticeable to the 26-year-old.

"It feels a little bit different. It's not a big difference," Elliott said. "When you're seeing shots and guys are keeping the pucks to the outside, you have a good chance of making saves. Your job is to make the saves you should and a couple you shouldn't and you should win the game. That’s what I've been trying to do."

The Blues rank first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed at 26.2 per game. Last season, the Senators were giving up 31.2 shots per game on their way to finishing No. 13 in the East.

Elliott has four ex-Senators teammates playing in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, all of whom will be his teammates once again as members of Team Alfredsson. All four players expressed their happiness over Elliott's turnaround and new two-year contract, and they all admitted their culpability in his horrific 2010-11 season.

"Last year we didn't have a very good season, the whole team," defenseman Erik Karlsson said. "Being a goalie on a team that played like we did last year, it's not going to be easy no matter who you are. It's tough. He got some heat last year that maybe he didn't deserve. I think for him to bounce back this year and show that this year he's a good goalie, we knew that here."

"We all played bad. You can't blame one guy," forward Milan Michalek said. "If the players in front of the goalie aren't doing a good job, it's really hard for the goalie. Now he's doing great, so good for him."

There were some more surprises for Elliott during Thursday's Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft. Not only wasn't he the last goalie selected -- Detroit's Jimmy Howard was -- but he received a warm ovation from the Ottawa fans who weren't exactly his best friends during his final days with the Senators.

"I thought I was going to be the last goalie picked and getting a little cheer too," Elliott said. "I got some texts from my brother and friends and family saying that was pretty cool. You sit back and realize everyone's pulling for you … unless you're a Maple Leaf (fan). It's a great hockey city and they appreciate everybody."

Team captain Daniel Alfredsson said he was happy to take his former teammate, mostly because he deserved the recognition.

"I think his story is a great story," Alfredsson said. "I know he struggled with us last year. To see him bounce back like this, I know how competitive and how hard he works and how much he prepares himself all the time. He's a really good guy. I was really happy to pick him for my team.

"I thought we all took the brunt pretty good last year. You can't single out anyone. That's definitely not fair. He gets to show this year he's an elite goalie. I'm very happy for him for the start he's had this year and for the contract."

As low as Elliott was when he left Ottawa in February, he can't be much higher than he is for his return.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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