Around a month ago, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock anointed Brian Elliott as the incumbent. It "is Brian's job, he's earned the right, he's improved every year, he's waited patiently...it's his turn." He further commented that "this is the first time Brian gets to carry the ball for a little while and I think you're going to see Brian play better because he knows he's going to be really counted on now". These seem like normal statements when you realize they pertain to a goalie who has a 1.86 goals against average and a 92.7% save percentage over the last three regular seasons but this is Brian Elliott we are referencing.
When you take the temperature of Blues fans, you will hear many varying opinions from people wanting to turn the goalie reigns over to Jake Allen, those expecting goaltending to be the Achilles heel this season per perhaps the playoff season, and those worried about the lack of depth behind Allen and Elliott. What won't be a popular answer is that people are excited to give Elliott a chance at being the true number one goalie and carrying this team to the Stanley Cup Finals. Many people just don't have that level of confidence in him. Based on his body of work with the Blues over the last few years, I think he has earned the right to use Dangerfield's patented line - "I don't get no respect."
I must say that I firmly stand with Hitchcock in that he has earned the right and waited his turn while being a great teammate. Unfortunately, part of me fears the masses are right in being leery of whether or not Elliott can get the Blues those 16 wins they so desire. The fear isn't necessarily grounded in anything truly tangible but rather is just a feeling, a gut, a hunch or the like. In many respects, Elliott won't let the fear be grounded in reality by his history of work.
Over his three regular seasons with the Blues, Elliott has 1.86 goals against average and a 92.7% save percentage. Yes I repeated the numbers as they seemed worthy of repeating. His 64% winning percentage is also impressive. I'm old school so that is a true winning percentage, not giving him any credit for overtime or shootout losses. All he did doing those years is consistently outperform Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Miller consistently and often by a somewhat significant margin (yes I am looking at your Ryan Miller).
Many people that I have talked to about Elliott seem to imply that he is a benefactor of the team and system. While I believe that all of the Blues goalies in the last three years have been the benefactor of the team and system, I looked for a way to evaluate his play in regards to this and looked to his record in one goal games. In the 2011-12 season, he was 10 and 6 in one goal games (even including 1-0 losses). He improved to 8 and 2 in the 2013 season and continued to be impressive at 10 and 4 in 2013-14. Overall he was 32 and 16 in one goal games, providing a winning percentage of 70%. Look at that closely, very closely. His winning percentage is higher in one goal games than overall. Is this a sign of his clutch potential? I extended this analysis and looked at his overall playoff record and one goal games.
In the playoffs, he only has a 38% (5 and 8) winning percentage though his one goal game winning percentage is much higher at 50% (4 and 4). It appears that these statistics may be where the doubt begins to appear. Perhaps, but I find it hard to fault a guy who has a 2.16 goals against average and a 91.1% save percentage in playoff games with the Blues even while playing two of the games with a serious injury that affects balance, vision and concentration. In fact, if you remove those two games from his playoff statistics, his goals against average drops to 1.76 and his save percentage increases to 92.8%, numbers that mirror Halak's two game totals with the Blues and far exceed the weak numbers put up by Ryan Miller. While his numbers have been impressive, those numbers (ever after adjustment) are only better than the most recent cup winning goalie in the last five years. This statement is what drives my fear. How much higher is his ceiling and will it be good enough to get those 16 wins? I'm not sure but I do think he has earned the right to try. If he can get those elusive 16 wins, he'll finally get his respect.