Brian Elliott might be the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. He may also be the best goaltender, and the St. Louis Blues are reaping the benefits.
Elliott figures to be in net looking to keep the Blues red-hot in their only meeting of the season with the visiting New York Rangers on Thursday night.
St. Louis (17-9-3) signed Elliott to a one-year contract July 1, expecting him to act as a backup to incumbent No. 1 Jaroslav Halak.
He's already far surpassed those expectations, leading the NHL with a 1.46 goals-against average, four shutouts and a .947 save percentage while going 12-2-0. That's an incredible turnaround from 2010-11, when he went 15-27-9 with a 3.34 GAA and three shutouts with Ottawa and Colorado.
Elliott is outplaying Halak, who is 5-7-3 with a 2.37 GAA
"I'm not asking any questions, I'm just going out there and playing," said Elliott, who is 7-1-0 with a 1.37 GAA at home. "You have to take (the win), put it in your back pocket and move on to the next game.
"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself. Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."
Elliott's stunning success has helped the Blues go 11-2-3 overall and 8-2-1 in St. Louis since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach for the fired Davis Payne last month.
He made 24 saves in Saturday's 1-0 victory over San Jose, the third straight win for St. Louis.
"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the lone goal versus the Sharks. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."
Elliott is 0-3-1 with a 3.00 lifetime GAA against the Rangers (17-7-4).
New York is also getting excellent goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, who is 10-3-1 with a 1.85 GAA and one shutout over his last 14 games.
Lundqvist didn't get much aid from his teammates Tuesday, as he made 27 saves in a 1-0 home loss to Dallas. He also hurt his collarbone on a shot from Sheldon Souray, but remained in the game.
He claims he's capable of starting Thursday, but he's lost both of his career games against the Blues while allowing six total goals.
"I will be focusing on the game, not on the pain." Lundqvist told the Rangers' official website. "It's not the first time I've been hit on the collarbone. I'm just glad it didn't break because at first you are not sure, you can't really feel anything.
"You're in pain, but you don't really know what's wrong. I'm just glad it wasn't worse than it is."
If the Rangers opt to rest Lundqvist, they'll turn to Martin Biron, who is 5-1-0 with a 1.79 GAA. He stopped 24 shots in a 2-1 win at St. Louis on Jan. 8, as the New York salvaged a split of last season's two-game series.
Marian Gaborik, the club leader with 15 goals, has three during the Rangers' four-game road winning streak, and has 10 goals and 16 assists in his last 18 meetings with St. Louis.
New York is trying to win five in a row on the road for the first time since Nov. 10-21, 2007.
Center Brad Richards, whose 25 points are tied with Gaborik for the Rangers lead, has seven points in his last four visits to Scottrade Center.