Life as the backup goaltender is not easy. For Tampa Bay Lightning backup Brian Elliott it’s made more difficult because starter Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best in the NHL.
Elliott has taken it in stride and been a solid, if not above average, netminder behind Vasilevskiy. That gives Lightning head coach Jon Cooper confidence should his starter need a night off or have a tough game.
The numbers bear this out. In 14 starts this season, Elliott is 9-3-2 with a 2.90 goals against average and a .904 save percentage.
If that isn’t impressive enough, Elliott did not lose a game from October 22 to December 15. That seven game win streak spanned nearly two months and gave the Lightning time to turn around a shaky start to the 2022-23 season.
When the calendar turned to 2023, Elliott has held his own. His 2-1-2 record could be better if not for a little adversity and some tough puck luck for the team in front of him.
Speaking of adversity, making back-to-back starts in this league is rare. That’s part of the reason why teams have backups. Elliott had the unenviable task of doing that on January 3 and 4 in Chicago and Minnesota, respectively, when Vasilevskiy fell ill.
The results were what one might expect. Elliott made 25 saves on 26 shots against the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks to start things off. He then allowed four goals on 32 shots to a Minnesota Wild team that occupied a playoff spot the next night.
His last start, February 15 in Arizona, was one of his best, even though the Lightning lost the game. Elliott matched Arizona Coyotes netminder Connor Ingram save for save through 65 minutes of a scoreless game but gave up one more goal in the shootout. He still got a shutout, so the shootout means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Can Elliott continue coming up big as this season wears on? If so, the Lightning could have a rested Vasilevskiy, which would be key to another deep playoff run.