Maybe the opportunity arrived a little sooner than expected.
But Brian Elliott is going to keep rolling with it. The 23-year-old rookie goaltender will make his second straight start on Tuesday night when the Ottawa Senators face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
"You never really think about that," Elliott said earlier today when asked about his mid-season callup from the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. "In the AHL, you just play like you want to and if your chance comes, you have to be ready."
Elliott surely was on Saturday night, turning in a poised effort in the Senators' 2-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers. He couldn't be deemed at fault on either goal scored by the visiting Blueshirts, but his teammates' continued woes at the offensive win denied Elliott a victory in his second National Hockey League start.
While throwing the franchise's top goaltending prospect into the fire might be seen by some as a desperate move to salvage a flagging season, Senators general manager Bryan Murray has a grander plan in mind.
"He was the goaltender of the month (for December) down there," said Murray. "His record indicated that he deserved a chance and my thought was that for the next couple of games, we'd give him an opportunity to see what he can do at this level. That gives me information as I look around and make decisions going forward."
As the season approaches its midpoint, the Senators (13-21-6) stand 14th in the Eastern Conference, some 15 points shy of a playoff position. They also continue to be the NHL's lowest-scoring outfit. All of which figures to provide a stern mental test for Elliott, the Sens' ninth-round selection (291st overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
"It's not easy to play in this league for any goaltender," Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg said in discussing the environment in which Elliott is being asked to prosper. "I thought Brian showed great poise the other day, not just in the game but in the dressing room and around things. He did a good job."
Murray is eager to see how well Elliott embraces the task at hand.
"He works hard, he's a real competitive guy," said Murray. "More importantly, can he handle this type of situation? Is he mentally tough enough to do it? That's what I want to find out."
For his part, Elliott won't allow himself to be looked upon as the saviour of the Senators' season.
"Everybody says the most pressure that you feel is the pressure that you put on yourself," he said. "The outside pressure, you try not to think about it. You just try to play your game and that's all you have to worry about.
"You just have to keep yourself calm in the net and that's what I try to do ... Two goals against is around the average you want to have throughout the league. That's one game at this level and I want to keep it at the same level."
"(Elliott) works hard, he's a real competitive guy. More importantly, can he handle this type of situation? Is he mentally tough enough to do it? That's what I want to find out." - Bryan Murray
Meanwhile, Murray continues to look to bolster the team's roster with a trade. But while he is looking "to acquire a younger player or two, not a veteran with a big contract," Murray isn't giving up on the season just yet, though he admitted roster changes could be imminent
"We're not in a very good position for a playoff spot, to be realistic," he said. "But we're not giving up yet. We've got 42 games to go, we've had a dreadful first half and we are way back in the standings. We understand all the things that are wrong here. We're going to allow this group to play a little longer and, hopefully, win some hockey games.
"I'm going to watch our team over the next two games and we'll see if some players have to do something other than play for Ottawa."
Added Hartsburg: "We still believe. I believe that this group can win some hockey games and still be a good team."Around the boards
Defenceman Anton Volchenkov (upper body) won't need surgery but Hartsburg said his return is "weeks" away ... Alex Auld
will back up Elliott on Tuesday, making veteran Martin Gerber a scratch for the second straight game ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the matchup with the Hurricanes, while 500 are left for home games Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens and Jan. 20 versus the Washington Capitals.Visit NHL.com for more on Brian Elliott's impressive season so far.