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Weekend Wrap: Halak, Elliott duo dominating

Posted on: January 22, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 3:56 pm
 
Halak and Elliott have nine shutouts combined(Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

When it comes to the awards season, not many people pay much attention to the Jennings Trophy. The goaltender hardware that matters is the Vezina, going to the top individual goaltender. But this year the Jennings race could be almost as compelling and debateable.

In case you need a refresher on one of the lesser-known NHL awards, the Jennings goes to the best goaltending tandem for one team. It's a way to recognize the best backups as well as starters in the league.

Now I'm starting to wonder just which duo is going to take the trophy home. It seems to me to be a two-horse race and will likely remain that way through the rest of the season: The Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.

Everybody knows about the Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask pairing in Boston. As great as Thomas is, it's Rask that's having the better season of the two with a 1.69 goals against average and a league-high .943 save percentage. To be honest, they are probably still the favorites.

But don't dismiss Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. The only thing putting them in second place right now is the slow start to the season for Halak. I think it's safe to say he has rebounded just fine.

On Saturday night Halak grabbed another win when the Blues gave the Sabres their 12th straight road loss, 4-2. For Halak it meant a 14-game unbeaten (in regulation) streak. In that time he's an astonishing 11-0-3 and he has three shutouts now in his last five starts.

Let me put it this way to tell you how good this duo has become: On the season Elliott has five shutouts and Halak has four. That means they have shut out opponents in more than 19 percent of their games this season. Just how Ken Hitchcock likes it.

In all, it's part of the crazy trend that we're seeing under Hitchcock in St. Louis and the success of the Blues. In the month of January they are 8-0-1. At home now the Blues are 21-3-3. And check out this one from NHL.com's Brian Compton: With David Perron in the lineup (so stretching back two years), the Blues are 25-1-2 in their last 28 games. Unbelievable.

The return of Halak, though, is the most interesting aspect to me. The Blues brought him in from Montreal after that spectacular close to the season and playoff push with the Canadiens with the hope that he was going to be their feature goalie. It didn't start out that well. Last season was not good up to any starter's standards for Halak and you were left to wonder if this was another example of a playoff cinderella falling back to normalcy.

It was continuing this season, too. Remember back to the beginning of the year when Elliott was the only one winning in St. Louis. It seemed like the backup was on his way to becoming the starter for the Blues. Elliott is the one who earned an All-Star berth and turned a two-way contract into a three-year extension. Halak was becoming an afterthought.

So much for that theory. Apparently all it took was Hitchcock to come to town and bring a system to help Halak succeed. Usually I subscribe to the theory that if you have two starting goaltenders you really have none. That doesn't work in St. Louis, not this year.

It has all led to another unbelievable fact: the Bruins are no shoe-in for the Jennings this season.

All-time Canuck

Speaking of the Jennings Trophy, one of last season's winners, Roberto Luongo (along with his teammate Cory Schneider) took a rare honor home on Saturday after the Canucks' 4-3 win over the Sharks. With it he passed Kirk MacLean to become the franchise's all-time leader in wins with 212.

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The rare honor? He currently holds that record for two franchises as he is still the all-time leader in wins for the Florida Panthers as well.

Not too shabby for a guy who has been treated awfully harshly over the years in Vancouver, particularly in the last year. It's been tough to keep the perspective on things that, yea, Luongo is a pretty damn good goalie.

Of course, he has been blessed enough to play in front of some good teams that can, for example, help him get a win against one of the best teams in the league despite giving up three goals, as was the case against San Jose.

Luongo won't be in the conversation this season for any of the regular-season awards, Vezina or Jennings. But don't mistake that for a goalie that isn't still one og the better netminders in the game.

Wings keep rollin', rollin', rollin'

Seriously, all due apologies for the Limp Bizkit reference a decade after the fact.

But the point stands: If the Detroit Red Wings are playing at home, they are going to win the game. The snuck past the Columbus Blue Jackets in the shootout on Saturday to extend their franchise-record home-winning streak to 16 games.

Imagine that, the Wings have been plowing through the rest of the league this season but need a shootout to get by the NHL-worst Blue Jackets.

Some people criticize when good teams sneak past bad teams. Me? I often take the other approach: Good teams find ways to win games when they aren't at their best. I'd put the shootout win for the Wings over the Jackets in that category. Still, a win is a win and now Detroit is only a couple of games from the NHL record.

One-sided rivalry

That describes the battle of Alberta at the moment.

Nobody is going to confused the Calgary Flames for juggernauts right now, except maybe their rivals in Edmonton.

The Flames continued their dominance over their provincial neighbors on Saturday with a 6-2 beating of the Oilers. You know it's one-sided in the series when Lee Stempniak is recording hat tricks.

For those keeping track at home, that makes nine consecutive wins in the series for the Flames. Man, that really has to sting the fans in Edmonton. They have to be dying for the team to return to respectability, getting dominated by the Flames isn't a sign you're there.

Quote of the weekend

“It’s hard to get shots when you don’t have everyone playing the right way, I guess. It’s going to take 20 guys. Tonight, I don’t think we had 20. It’s hard to say [how many they did have] right after a game. I’m sure it will be clear on video, but we need more. You need four lines if you want to win games in this league, bottom line.

“We’ve got to find more ways to score goals. There’s maybe some guys gripping the stick, but at the end of the day, guys have got to find the back of the net. It can’t just be one or two guys. That’s what it feels like it’s been, at least lately. We need more goals from lots of people." -- L.A. Kings captain Dustin Brown (from L.A. Kings Insider).

Well I know one of those 20 that didn't help in the Kings' 3-1 loss to the Avalanche on Saturday, backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Lame jokes aside, it's a season-long issue that isn't getting much better under Darryl Sutter. The Kings just can't score and it's a massive testament to Jonathan Quick that the Kings are still in the thick of things in the Pacific Division.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

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