Penton: St. Louis fans not singing the Blues
The 2011-2012 National Hockey League season will be remembered long-term for the arrival of the Jets in Winnipeg and the ongoing concussion problems of superstar Sidney Crosby, but the biggest on-ice story has to be the performance of the St. Louis Blues.
The NHL awards people may as well give the coach-of-the-year trophy to Ken Hitchcock right now because he took over the Blues in November when they had a 6-7 record and now they’re battling it out with the powerful Bruins, Red Wings, Rangers, Blackhawks and Canucks for No. 1 overall.
And, while plaudits are being tossed Hitchcock’s way for his behind-the-bench miracles, save some for goalie Brian Elliott, who is the undisputed feel-good personal story of the 2011-12 campaign.
Elliott, the poster boy for NHL ‘journeyman’, was brought in supposedly to play a handful of games in relief of No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Instead, he has equally shared net duties with Halak and the pair have turned into a combination of Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.
It’s a nice chicken-and-egg situation for the Blues.
What came first?
Hitchcock’s coaching style, with its emphasis on defence, that led to sensational puck-saving numbers for Elliott and Halak?
Or, was it the goaltenders’ sudden reincarnation of Mr. Zero, Frankie Brimsek, that has turned Hitchcock into the NHL’s 2012 genius?
Hitchcock’s style of play has the Blues surrendering the fewest shots per game, so it’s probably a combination of both.
Since becoming the every-other-game goalie for the Blues, Elliott — whose numbers with Ottawa and Colorado last year bordered on lousy — has posted a 15-5-1 record and a 1.68 goals-against-average.
Halak hasn’t been too bad, either, with an average in the 2.00 range.
He got off to a slow start, partially leading to former Blues’ head coach Davis Payne’s demise, but went undefeated during a recent 13-game surge (10-0-3) that helped vault the Blues into the league-leading stratosphere.
The solid play of the two goaltenders, Hitchcock’s coaching approach, and the Alex Pietrangelo-led defence have been key components to the Blues surge that have fans reminding themselves that in hockey, the general rule of thumb is that defence wins championships
We’ll see in May and June whether that mantra holds true.
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