I have an old theory that may explain the wild and unpredictable swings that have affected goaltenders around the NHL this season and it goes something like this: Any goaltender that gets to the NHL level has to be considered a good goaltender. The competition for jobs is just too great. The training, conditioning and commitment required to land one of the 60 or so positions means that everybody who gets there is qualified on some level to do the job. Often, the only quality that separates journeymen from the elite is consistency – the ability to do it, year in and year out, even if there are some games when even Vezina Trophy candidates look as if they can’t stop a beach ball.
So the distinction you need to make is not necessarily between good and bad goalies, but between hot and cold goalies – which leads us into a discussion of the curious case of Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, prime example of the hot/cold phenomenon. This is Elliott’s season in a nutshell:
Currently: Scorching hot.
Following last night’s 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild, Elliott has now posted shutouts in three consecutive games. Once he got past the 11:48 mark of the first period, Elliott broke Jacques Plante’s team record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal on the road. Overall, his current shutout streak is 189 minutes and 31 seconds; and he is one of the NHL’s players of the week, thanks to an exceptional run that started almost accidentally. He came on in relief of the injured Jaroslav Halak back on Apr. 1 and stopped 19 shots in relief in a 4-1 win over the Wild. From there, the Blues blanked two Central Division rivals – the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings before shutting out the Wild to run their win streak to six games.
Previously: Icy cold.
All of this fabulous work raised Elliott’s stats to 8-6-1 on the season with a 2.68 GAA and an .892 save percentage, which overall isn’t all that remarkable. And it’s all because, back in late March, Elliott some of the worst numbers in the NHL: a 3-6-1 record, a 3.65 GAA and a .851 save percentage. Elliott had essentially lost his job to the Blues’ rookie Jake Allen. St. Louis is the only team in the league with three goalies who’ve started 10 games or more, a significant development in a shortened season. In the middle part of the season, he had one start in a 22-game span and even drew a two-game conditioning stint in AHL for the Peoria Rivermen (his first minor-league assignment since Binghamton in 2008-09). Mostly though, he was sitting in the press box, watching as Allen took over. The Blues were hovering on the edge of playoff contention in the tightly bunched middle of the Western Conference pack, a long way from where they were last year when they challenged for the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s overall champions right up until the final weekend of play.
Last year was also the year Halak and Elliott shared the Jennings trophy for the best overall goals-against average in the league (an astonishing 1.86, Los Angeles was next at 2.03). Personally, Halak was at 1.97, Elliott at an eye-popping 1.53. But as any fans of the Ottawa Senators (or the Colorado Avalanche) would note, that was a far cry from the numbers he posted the previous year, which cast an eerie resemblance to his first month this season. With Ottawa, he was 13-19-11, 3.19 GAA, .894 save percentage. Flipped to Colorado for Craig Anderson, it went from bad to worse – 2-8-1, 3.83, .891.
The reason Elliott was available to sign with St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent that summer was because Colorado had already determined he wasn’t their goalie of the future after that awful cameo. So what is Elliott, a good goalie or a bad goalie? The answer is neither. He is a hot goalie at the moment, after being an ice-cold goalie earlier in the year. The real test will come in a little more than two weeks, assuming the Blues hang on and grab a Western Conference playoff spot.