The St. Louis Blues have quickly fallen from grace in the Western Conference after a rocking 6-1-0 start to the season that had many buying into the hype that this was a legit Stanley Cup contending team. The Blues could apparently do it all, scoring more than four goals per game to start the season while locking opponents down with a stifling defense and solid goaltending.
Since that hot start, however, the Blues have nearly fallen apart. The Blues have slipped to No. 7 in the West after four straight losses, including a 6-5 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. Brian Elliott has been in goal for all four games during the current losing streak with Jaroslav Halak currently dealing with a groin injury. In eight games this season Elliott has a 3.51 goals-against average along with a disturbing .853 save percentage.
Blue coach Ken Hitchcock is not exactly thrilled with his team's performance over the past few weeks and singled Elliott out on Saturday night after the loss, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com.
"Not playing very good. Not much I can say. He'd be the first to tell you too. He's got to play better," Hitchcock said. "You can't stay in the lineup if you don't play well. I don't care who you are. He's got to play better."
Hitchcock stated that Elliott will not be in goal on Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings and that either Halak will play, if healthy, or the Blues will turn to Jake Allen. Hitchcock clearly states that Elliott's disappointing play will have the same recourse any other player performing poorly would have:
"A goalie's no different than a defenseman or a forward," Hitchcock said. "Guys come in and out of the lineup based on their performance. You can't stay in the lineup if you don't play well. I don't care who you are. He's got to play better."
The Blues enjoyed an incredible turnaround in the 2011-2012 season, replacing Davis Payne with Hitchcock in November after a 6-7-0 start to the season. St. Louis responded immediately, going 7-1-2 in the first ten games under Hitchcock and became the first team that season to hit 100 points. The Blues won the Central Division title and secured the No. 2 spot in the conference, going on to win the first playoff series for the franchise since 2002.
After being swept by the Kings in the conference semifinals, the Blues were seen as a probably Cup contender as one of the stronger teams heading into the 2013 season. The Blues were expected to have perhaps the toughest goaltending tandem in the NHL, with Elliott earning an All-Star bid last season and finishing the year with a 1.56 GAA and astronomical .940 save percentage as the Blues finished the year as the toughest defensive team in hockey.
A year later, that magic seems to have faded. The Blues are a frustrated team and while Elliott has certainly disappointed in net St. Louis has struggled offensively as well -- being outscored 22-10 during the current losing streak.
The Blues did appear to have started to turn things around during Saturday's loss to the Ducks, when it seemed Ian Cole had won the game with 22 seconds remaining in overtime. A goalie interference call would negate the celebration, however, and the Ducks would ultimately win in the shootout.
Perhaps all that is needed is a change in net, a reset for Elliott and for a new goaltender to provide a different dynamic for the team in front. The Blues are just reaching the quarter-mark of the season, however, and time is running out for a team many expected to win the Cup this season.