OTTAWA – Brian Elliott found himself in the spotlight for all of the right reasons Monday.
The Ottawa Senators are riding a season-high six-game winning streak, and the play of the second-year goaltender has been a big reason for that success.
He and his teammates are enjoying the run – certainly much more than the criticism they were facing just a couple of weeks earlier when the Senators were stumbling along with their goaltending taking a large share of the blame.
“Goaltending is probably the biggest factor in the league these days and when your goalie keeps you in games and gives you a chance to make a few mistakes and make up for them later on, it just kind of feeds through the team,” Senators centre Jason Spezza said after Elliott was named the NHL’s first star of the week. “Ells has done a good job of that lately and the boys have tried to help him out by giving him a little bit of run support.”
The Senators host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night and it’s expected Elliott will be in goal again as the Senators try to win seven in a row for the first time since an Oct. 13-Nov. 6, 2007, a streak in which they racked up eight straight victories.
Ottawa has allowed just seven goals against over the past six games and is benefiting from confidence in its own end.
“You can’t win in this league without goaltending, so it’s obviously it’s been a big part of it, but we’ve played well in front of him, it’s been a real good team effort lately,” said head coach Cory Clouston.
“(Elliott) is playing with more confidence and he’s getting on the top of his crease and just doing what he needs to do. That’s the way we’ve expected him to play for the most part and obviously now he’s feeling good about himself, the team’s playing well in front of him and he’s having success.”
It’s been a roller-coaster ride for both the Senators and the 24-year-old Elliott over the past couple of weeks.
Prior to their current stretch, they had lost five straight games. Elliott had won just once in more than a month of action and the Newmarket, Ont., native had fallen victim to the same habit of giving up at least one bad goal per game that was afflicting the team’s starter, Pascal Leclaire.
Their performance cost goaltending coach Eli Wilson his job, when he was fired on Jan. 13 after Elliott survived 40 minutes of a 6-1 loss at Atlanta to the lowly Thrashers.
But after third-stringer Mike Brodeur got the ball rolling by posting back-to-back wins over the Rangers and Montreal with Elliott out with the flu and Leclaire having suffered a concussion, things have been on the upswing.
In a six-day stretch, Elliott beat Boston twice along with Chicago and St. Louis, allowing just five goals on 115 shots.
“He won the last four for us and has just been playing outstanding,” Senators defenceman Matt Carkner said. “Just to keep his focus through that time, where everyone was carving him and trying to take a notch out of him, he’s just fought through it and got back to his game and is playing well now.”
Elliott, who was a ninth-round pick by the Senators in the 2003 NHL entry draft, insists he’s not doing anything differently now than he was less than two weeks earlier, even if the results tell a different story.
“As a goalie, you just try to play the same way every day and you obviously get better and more confident as you go along – you get starts and everything like that,” he said. “When the team’s playing so well, it reflects well on the goalie.”
Having a full lineup has helped, too, he said.
When Spezza returned from a 20-game absence with the winning goal against the Bruins on Saturday, it left just centre Jesse Winchester, who tested his injured knee by skating before Monday’s practice, out of the lineup on a longer-term basis.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson and left-winger Milan Michalek, who’s tied for the team lead with 17 goals, also recently made goal-scoring returns to action.
Although defenceman Anton Volchenkov missed Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury, he practised Monday and should also play against the Devils.
“We got a lot of key players back. It obviously helps when you have your captain and your top scorers coming back in the lineup,” Elliott said.
In their absence, the Senators have gotten good mileage out of youngsters such as rookie blue-liner Erik Karlsson, who’s making big strides in his development, and Danish centre Peter Regin, who’s picked up five points in the past three games.
Leclaire also skated before practice Monday morning and is nearing a return, but if Elliott continues to shine as he’s done in the past week, he’ll be tough to bump out of the spotlight any time soon.
“I think it’s an honour – there are some good players in the league,” Elliott said of being recognized by the NHL for his play. “You play one good week, you want to play a few more of those.”