Hockey’s comeback kid of 2011-12 comes back to where his NHL career began
OTTAWA -- What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Brian Elliott was struggling with consistency whil e playing in goal for an underachieving team.
You couldn’t say the Ottawa Senators were going nowhere. They were already there.
In the few games that the team did manage to win, Elliott was, more often than not, the difference.
But on other nights, the Sens were often out of games five minutes in. Elliott was not immune to soft goals, particularly early-game backbreakers that would come in the opening minutes of a game. He would not finish the season in Ottawa. He would be packaged and shipped off to Colorado in a deal that brought Craig Anderson to Ottawa.
Elliott continued to struggle to find his consistency in Denver.
He was the last player in the NHL that anyone, including Elliott himself, would expect to be back in Ottawa for the NHL All-Star Game.
“The fans here have been great,” said Elliott, who currently leads all NHL goalies with a 1.69 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. “It’s exciting to come back here, where I began my NHL career, to play in the All-Star Game. Everybody has been really encouraging, and I have met so many people who have told me that they are happy for me.”
Elliott found himself in a starting role in Ottawa after the revolving door that the Sens have had in their goal crease continued. Pascal Leclaire, who was acquired from Columbus to be the starter, went down with a hip injury, and Elliott found himself in goal. At times, he looked like a top goalie in the NHL. At others, he looked like he did not belong.
Colorado opted not to sign him, and he accepted a two-way offer tendered by the Blues.
“Everything has fallen into place in St. Louis,” Elliott said. “The fans in that city are great. People feel good about sports there since the Cardinals won the championship. There is a lot of excitement about the Blues there now.”
Elliott used the skills competition to showcase what he could do on a worldwide platform. He had fun, he was entertainment, and he made a few lights out saves on some of the finest offensive talents in hockey.
As the competition began, Elliott received a warm welcome back to Scotiabank Place ice from Ottawa Senators fans.
After spending four seasons with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, the 291st overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft would ease into the NHL after joining the Binghamton Senators. Because of injuries to Pascal Leclaire, Elliott became the starter.
During the 2009-10 season, a bizarre set of circumstances projected Elliott’s status.
The team, struggling, was in New York, and they decided to go for a skate in Central Park. From there, it was over. Elliott and the Sens put together what may have been the most impressive streak in their modern history.
While the streak was a surprise, Elliott’s success was unexpected because of the timing. At the time, he was the only goalie in the NHL not being helped by a goaltending coach,
“A lot of people have asked me about that, but it was coincidence,” he said. “It didn’t really play a factor in our success. It was great to go on that big streak, but it wasn’t because I was playing without a goalie coach. I have had good coaching at different levels before.”
But despite the lack of impact that it had on his success, Elliott found himself reviewing video and learning about the position in a different way.
Now, in St. Louis, Elliott is receiving the coaching that has helped make him one of the top goalies in the NHL.
“Cory Hirsch has really been helping me,” said Elliott. As a result, he is controlling his rebounds, playing strong positionally, he is cuttling down angles on shooters, and he has become the consistent goalie that he was when he was the top goalie in college hockey.
Even head coach Ken Hitchcock, who has the reputation of having a short rope with goalies, has been a fan. Hitchcock has praised Elliott’s ability to look in the mirror and make adjustments. When asked if his coach “likes goalies,” Elliott was candid, though joking.
“I don’t think any coach likes goalies.”
At the break, Elliott has a 15-5-2 record with a 1.69 GAA and a .938 save percentage. He was recently awarded with a two-year contract extension worth close to $4 million.
“St. Louis is a great sports city,” said Elliott. “We are doing well this year. It would be really exciting for the city if we could make a run in this year’s playoffs.”
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after tonight's skills competition
Look for more tomorrow.