OTTAWA -- St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott joked that he would have loved for his first All-Star Game to happen in a warmer climate.
Other than wishing he was away from the snow in Ottawa and somewhere with sunny skies and warm temperatures, Elliott has been soaking in the experience of All-Star Weekend, enjoying a well-deserved honor for his superb first half.
Jaroslav Halak started the season as the Blues' No. 1 netminder, but when he struggled, Elliott, who signed a two-way deal over the summer, took advantage of his opportunity to start and reeled off 13 wins in his first 15 starts and. Along with Ken Hitchcock's arrival on Nov. 7, Elliott has helped propel St. Louis into the mix atop the Western Conference.
So what's been the difference for the Blues post-Davis Payne's firing? Elliott credits Hitchcock's presence with keeping a young team from falling apart.
"Having Hitch and his experience is a little bit of a calming effect for all the guys, including myself," said Elliott. "To know that when he comes in the locker room, he's not going to yell and scream, he's going to give it to you straight and tell you what you need to do to win. If you go out there and do what he thinks needs done, you'll probably get the win. We've had good success this year. When you have good success early with a coach, you kind of just get on a roll and guys are believing in what we're doing and that's half the battle."
Elliott's early success was the catalyst for his new, two-year, $3.6 million deal, announced last week. He's struggled in his past seven starts, winning just twice, but Halak bounced back, posting a seven-game winning streak to keep the Blues from falling down the standings.
The typical case in 1a and 1b goaltending tandems is that the competition between the two creates success for both. In Elliott's case, he credits Halak's presence for helping him this season.
"We kind of go back and forth," said Elliott. "Even in practice, it's a healthy competition. You're trying to stop pucks, he's trying to stop pucks. It's good to have something like that. You always have to be on your toes. You have to want to get back in net and help the guys win."
The Blues are 20th in NHL in scoring, averaging 2.51 goals per game, so -- as the Los Angeles Kings have also learned -- strong goaltending is needed. But the lack of dominant scoring also creates an environment requiring production from more guys, not just the stars on the team.
"We don't score a lot of goals compared to a lot of teams, but we don't let in a lot either," said Elliott. "Our scoring is spread out so much throughout all the guys, everybody contributes on any night. It doesn't add up to individual stats for the guys, but when you have everybody doing well and everybody pulling for each other we're going to have a different hero every night. It's not going to be one or two guys. That's what makes our team good and that's what we're stressing right now, that everybody can step up and take that role."
Last year wasn't too kind to Elliott. He struggled in Ottawa before being dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in February, where he finished the season 2-8-1 in his final 12 starts. Almost a year after being traded away from the Senators, Elliott returns to Ottawa an All-Star, an honor he credits to perseverance.
"You just have to trust in yourself, trust in your abilities," said Elliott. "You can go through some struggles, but you gotta keep that level head. You have something like this where you get picked in an All-Star Game and you have to keep your feet on the ground and not get too high on yourself."
"This is pretty special for me. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy