The ninth and final round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft has turned out to be a very good one for the St. Louis Blues, almost nine years later.
Both Blues goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak were two of the final players drafted in 2003, but both of them are two main reasons for St. Louis’s surprising success this season. The two goalies have a combined 1.96 goals against average this season, as well as nine shutouts — both league-leading totals. As a result, the Blues, as of Jan. 26, were two points behind the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings.
For Elliott, this season has been a turn-around. After earning the starting job in Ottawa for the 2009-10 season, the team struggled the following year and Elliot was traded to the Colorado Avalanche Feb. 18 2011. During that season, he only recorded 15 wins in 55 games played, a 3.34 GAA, and a save percentage of .893. After the Avs decided not to give him a qualifying offer, Elliott signed a one-year/two-way contract with the Blues worth US $600,000 and had to compete with Ben Bishop for the backup job.
This season, Elliott has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Despite having played only 23 games, he’s managed 15 wins. As of the all-star break, he has a 15-5-2 record with five shutouts and the league leading in GAA (1.69) and save percentage (.938). He has been even better at home, with a 1.40 GAA and a .946 save percentage, and was rewarded with a new US $3.6 million two-year contract extension, and his first invitation to the All-Star Game.
Halak has been no slouch either, and has been playing some of his best hockey since being traded from the Montreal Canadiens following the Habs’ sensational playoff run in 2010. He has a career-best 2.04 GAA (sixth in the NHL), while racking up a .918 save percentage and four shutouts in 27 games. The performances of each of these goaltenders will be crucial going into the home stretch if they are to lead St. Louis into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
The play of both goalies has not been the only reason for St. Louis’s success. After a 6-7-0 start to the season, the Blues relieved head coach Davis Payne and hired Stanley Cup winning coach Ken Hitchcock. It has arguably been the league’s best mid-season coaching hire. St. Louis has played better and the Blues have given up the least amount of shots per game and giveaways in the league thus far this season.
They will have to withstand a very competitive Central Division with teams like the Red Wings, the Nashville Predators, and the Chicago Blackhawks all jockeying for playoff position. But good goaltending and good coaching can help a team go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Right now, St. Louis has both.