|Senators goaltender Brian Elliott, who went 4-0-0 last week including a pair of shutouts, has been named the NHL's first star of the week for the second time this season. He stopped 116 of 120 he faced (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
With the playoffs clearly moving within sight, Brian Elliott's game is rounding back into top form.
Not coincidentally, so are the fortunes of the Ottawa Senators.
On the heels of a four-game winning streak, Elliott has been named the National Hockey League's first star of the week for the second time this season. The 24-year-old goaltender turned aside 116 of 120 shots he faced and recorded a pair of shutouts as the Senators broke out of the funk that had engulfed them since the end of the Olympic break.
Now Ottawa is pushing closer toward nailing down an Eastern Conference playoff berth after missing the post-season altogether in 2008-09. The Senators (41-30-5) need only five points in their remaining six games to get the job done, starting with Tuesday's matchup with the Capitals in Washington (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
"When you’re given an opportunity to do something like that and give the guys a chance to win, you try to be as solid as you can back there and try to take advantage of it," Elliott said of the Senators' surge in the last week. "That’s what I’ve been trying to do and it’s been working lately. We’ve just got to keep bringing the same focus and energy to each game and just play like a team, like we have been.
"We just see all the teams ahead of us (in the conference) have clinched a playoff spot, so we want to be next on that board. But we can’t look too far ahead. It’s just game by game right now and once we get to the playoffs, we’ll focus on that."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston believes Elliott and his teammates are making the most of improved overall play as a group.
"We’ve built off his strong play but I think he’s done the exact same thing — he’s built off our strong play," Clouston said after the Senators' practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "Which comes first? I’m not sure. But both the goaltender and the players are feeding off each other right now."
"When you’re given an opportunity to do something like that and give the guys a chance to win, you try to be as solid as you can back there and try to take advantage of it. That’s what I’ve been trying to do and it’s been working lately. We’ve just got to keep bringing the same focus and energy to each game and just play like a team, like we have been. We just see all the teams ahead of us (in the conference) have clinched a playoff spot, so we want to be next on that board." - Brian Elliott
It appears Elliott has taken to heart a chat he had with general manager Bryan Murray, who pulled the goaltender aside when he was struggling along with his teammates during their 1-7-1 post-Olympic skid. The message, Murray said, was rather basic.
"Just be Brian Elliott," Murray said of the tone of his message. "Be big in the net, get out and play your angles a little bit better. Don’t be tight when you start off. Show the team that you’re a confident guy. Very definitely, he’s done a heck of a job.
"He’s more comfortable now. I think for awhile, he was putting so much pressure on himself to be the guy. He was trying so hard and from what I could see, it was almost as if he wasn’t playing as big as he should. Now the comfort level is different ... The biggest thing it takes is just a good attitude and Brian has that."
Elliott agreed keeping a level head at all times is vital.
"As a goalie, you’re not going to make it very far if you get rattled very easily," he said. "You just have to keep that even keel that we always talk about and not get too high and not get too low.
"It’s tough, but that’s why they say experience only helps with goaltenders. You look at everybody who’s played a long time as a goaltender ... they don’t worry too much about anything. They know if they struggle, they’ll come back the next night and play like they usually do."
Around the boards
Defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who departed Saturday's game against the Florida Panthers early after colliding with fellow blueliner Andy Sutton, didn't practise today and is listed as "doubtful" for Tuesday's matchup with the Capitals. Brian Lee has been summoned from the Binghamton Senators (AHL) ... Captain Daniel Alfredsson
and forward Alex Kovalev took maintenance days off practice today but will be in the lineup in Washington ... Milan Michalek
's recovery from a left leg injury is progressing well and Clouston said it's possible he could return to the lineup next week. "Hopefully, he can play the last two or three games of the year if he progresses the way he has so far," he said ... The Senators are back home Thursday to face the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for the game, which has been designated as Fan Appeciation Night, with a number of giveaways planned.