Is Brian Elliott the New Number One?

Is Brian Elliott the New
Number One?

Brian Elliott

The instant reaction to this question following the Blues 4-2 win over the Flyers Saturday and their 3-2 win over Carolina on Friday is that it’s a no-brainer – Brian Elliott should be the starter. It’s pretty tough to find an argument against Elliott receiving the #1 work following his recent work and Jaroslav Halak’s struggles that have carried over from the 2010-11 season. While he may be the obvious answer currently, is Elliott truly the new number one man in net?

The answer might not be as obvious as we all think.

First, let’s give Elliott his due. He really couldn’t ask for a better way to start his time with the St. Louis Blues. Through three starts and four appearances, Elliott is 3-0-0. When you add in a tidy 2.06 GAA and a .935 save percentage, you get a guy that has all but ousted Halak from the starting role – for now.

By comparison, Jaroslav Halak has started five games and gone 1-4-0 with a 3.47 GAA and a save percentage of .835.

The numbers do a great job of telling this story but let’s go one step further. Consistently, Halak has been out of position and sloppy with his controlling of rebounds. Often, when the team needs a big save Halak comes up empty. By comparison, Elliott has loomed in net, keeping opponents at bay and making timely stops to help the Blues to three wins under his watch. Elliott has made tremendous saves along with the ordinary saves. He has made stops that have been the difference between a win and a loss. For all these reasons Elliott has successfully planted himself in the mind’s of every fan as the real number one starter.

This has been a fantastic story for the Blues in what has been a very mixed start to the 2011-12 season. The question is, will the story with Elliott last?

Currently, Elliott is the obvious man you need to ride in net. As the saying goes, use the hot hand in goal when it emerges. However, Halak is the man making the starting salary and was the man the organization believed could be the true #1 for the Blues. Through a full season and a handful of games Halak hasn’t been what the fans and the organization thought he’d be. That doesn’t mean that the door on Halak is closed nor does it mean Halak won’t find his groove and reclaim his role that he has been displaced from.

Do I sincerely believe Halak is this bad? Not a chance.

Do I sincerely believe Halak is able to be as good as he was with Montreal in their playoff run back in 2009-10? Not a chance.

The true Halak lies somewhere in between and it remains to be seen if that middle area contains a successful starting goaltender or a struggling goaltender.

Simply put, we haven’t seen the last of Jaroslav Halak. Elliott’s success has put Halak on the back burner but we all know that Elliott will eventually look human to an opponent. We also know that regardless of his success, Elliott isn’t going to start every single game moving forward which will allow Halak to get back between the pipes and give him an opportunity to right the ship.

I think we can all agree Elliott should be the main man as of this very second. Is he a long-term solution? That’s a much more difficult question to answer.

Looking back Elliott has had stretches of success. By the same account he has also had stretches of shaky play. He is a man trying to get his career back on track and back to the winning ways he enjoyed with the Ottawa Senators back in the 2009-10 season. While he is on fire right now one big defeat might make everyone come down from this high and look a bit less harshly at Jaroslav Halak.

Point of the matter is we shouldn’t be too quick to anoint a new “starting goaltender” by definition. We are barely scratching the surface on the 2011-12 season. It’s far too early to run Halak out of town and far too early to label Elliott the savior.  Right now, the Blues should just go with what’s working, hope Halak sorts out his issues and constantly reassess the situation without making any hasty long-term decisions.