BLUES EXTRAS

Blues seek balance for goaltending duo

Blues notebook • Plan is to keep both netminders strong.
2011-12-22T00:30:00Z 2012-01-08T08:40:23Z Blues seek balance for goaltending duoBY JEREMY RUTHERFORD • jrutherford@post-dispatch.com > 314-444-7135 stltoday.com

DENVER • The six days that Blues goaltender Brian Elliott had off before Wednesday's start in Colorado was actually short rest. Elliott has twice sat out seven consecutive days this season.

Despite leading the NHL in three major categories, Elliott climbed even with Jaroslav Halak in games played this season at 17 after meeting the Avalanche.

The Blues are one of 14 clubs in the NHL that has two goaltenders with double-digit appearances, and it's hard to argue with the success of a few of the tandems. Four of the teams are in the top six in the league in goals-against average: the Blues (Elliott and Halak), Boston (Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask), Minnesota (Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding) and Vancouver (Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider).

"You look at teams like Boston; they've done a really good job with that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You look at Minnesota; they've done a really good job of managing consistent ice time for their goaltenders. And that's what we need to do.

"One of the things that happens when you've got two good goalies, and then you decide to stretch out one, the other guy suffers. Then you end up with one goalie and hoping that he doesn't get hurt because the other guy has lost his mojo. We don't want to do that. We've got two good guys going and we want to keep them both going. And it has to be a routine that they understand, that they're not going to go 15, 16 days without playing."

Over the weekend, Hitchcock gave Halak starts on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, in part, because Hitchcock wanted to see how Halak would respond.

Halak went 1-0-1 in his back-to-back starts, allowing five goals on 52 total shots in a 6-4 victory over Columbus and a 2-1 shootout loss at Nashville. In their win over the Blue Jackets, the Blues rallied from a 3-2 deficit after two periods, after Halak struggled with his glove. But overall, Hitchcock thought Halak played well.

"It was a bizarre game last game when Jaro played ... pucks were bouncing everywhere," Hitchcock said. "The game is 4-3 (in the Blues' favor), and he makes those three saves in a row with 10 minutes to go ... those are winning saves. They allow us to get to 5-3 rather than get nervous and get tied 4-4. The way he played in the third was real impressive."

The upcoming schedule will not force the Blues into using one goaltender. After Friday's game in Phoenix, the club will return from the Christmas break and twice next week play games on back-to-back nights.

"I don't worry about whether the guy is happy or not happy. ... I just expect them both to contribute," Hitchcock said. "I know what the season is like. We have over 50 games to play still. That's a lot of hockey. Our guys are going to have to play a lot. For me, keeping both guys going is really important."

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Despite leading the Blues with 23 points and being in a tie for the club high in goals (11) before Wednesday, Blues forward T.J. Oshie says there's room for improvement.

"I feel like I can play better," Oshie said. "I feel like I can still put myself in more positions to shoot the puck. I think I can still make crisper plays going up ice ... there's a lot of little things I can still improve on."

Oshie had seven points in his last five games before Wednesday and 15 points in 19 games under Hitchcock, who recently said that Oshie is playing more of a north-south game than when he arrived.

"I feel like I'm going more north," Oshie said, "but it's really hard to tell (why he's been more successful). I don't feel like I've made a dramatic change. I feel like I'm just focused more on going toward the net."

INJURY UPDATE

Blues forward B.J. Crombeen, who suffered a broken shoulder in the final preseason game, made his first road trip of the season to Colorado.

"He's still probably 10 days, two weeks away from playing," Hitchcock said. "I think as soon as he gets out of the red (no-contact) sweater, he's going to feel good about things."

Vladimir Sobotka, who has an ankle injury after being hit by a shot in practice, also made the trip, but he will not play in either game. He did not skate Wednesday, opting for the exercise bike.

"Sobi isn't going to take much time," Hitchcock said. "We're hopeful that he can skate before Christmas and see where he goes from there."

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