Elliott, Fleury facing some questions

Fair or not, Brian Elliott and Marc-Andre Fleury face questions heading into the postseason. Getty Images

The Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne and the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price are holding court as the elite goaltenders in their respective conferences, though one could make the argument that latecomers like Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and rookie sensation Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators are stealing the second-half spotlight from the aforementioned Vezina Trophy front-runners.

But how about a pair of underrated goalies? The St. Louis Blues' Brian Elliott and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury won't square off when their teams meet Tuesday night, but each plays behind one of the most talented, dynamic teams in the league, and their value should not be overlooked just because of the star power that surrounds them.

Despite a knee injury sustained in November that sidelined Elliott for over a month, the 29-year-old has delivered a strong season thus far. He ranks fifth in the league with a 2.16 goals-against average and has posted a 24-12-3 record with a .921 save percentage. And though he was yanked in a loss to Minnesota over the weekend, Blues goaltending coach Jim Corsi said it was due mostly to uncanny deflections for which Elliott deserved little blame.

"It's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it," Corsi said. "Numerically it looks like, ugh, but if you watch the game all [four] pucks were deflected, either by us or by them or by both."

Elliott seemed unfazed by the outing and stressed the importance of having a short memory in moving forward.

"You gotta have confidence in yourself that there's some stuff that's not really in your control," Elliott told ESPN.com. "If you worry about the things you can control that's the best way to look at it."

Fleury is 32-16-7 this season with a .923 save percentage, 2.21 goals-against average and a whopping nine shutouts, tied with Price for the league lead. He's has yielded more than usual lately as the Pens have struggled, however, giving up 11 goals over the past four games. He has given up three goals or more in five of his last nine starts.

Numbers aside, both goaltenders have endured their fair share of scrutiny, and that will only persist until they shut people up with some playoff wins.

In Fleury's case, that seems a bit unfair considering his name is on the Stanley Cup in honor of the Penguins' championship run in 2009. However, he has had some well-documented meltdowns in the playoffs in recent years -- particularly against the New York Islanders in 2013 -- and that has tarnished his reputation, regardless of how good he's been in the regular season.

He hasn't always deserved the brunt of the blame, but he's had to shoulder it anyway.

"The big question you're going to have with Fleury is all his breakdowns he's had in the playoffs before," said one NHL goaltending coach. "And those were legitimate breakdowns."

Still, Fleury has played a vital role in helping the Pens remain one of the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, holding the club together through rough patches and some devastating injuries this season. His work on the penalty kill alone deserves recognition.

Though the Pens are one of the worst clubs in the league in giving up chances while shorthanded (405 shots in total and 58.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes, according to hockeyanalysis.com), Pittsburgh leads the league in shorthanded save percentage at .916. That should not go overlooked.

Elliott, meanwhile, will be questioned for his lack of playoff experience as he heads into the 2015 postseason with just 18 playoff games -- and only six wins -- on his résumé. But the goaltending coach dismissed that knock on Elliott as overstated:

"Everybody talks about not having experience or that he's a streaky goalie; sure, he's up and down like any other goalie, but the whole playoff experience thing is bulls--t. How are you supposed to get it if you're not given the chance?"

After playing second fiddle to other guys in recent years past, Elliott will finally have the chance to run with it for the Blues, though with youngster Jake Allen waiting in the wings it remains to be seen how long of a leash Elliott will be given. But those who know him well said his mental makeup will allow him to thrive in this sort of pressure-packed situation.

"He's a good goaltender with sick numbers who has won a NCAA championship. He doesn't get rattled. He's not a nervous or anxious guy," said one person close to Elliott. "I think he's going to be great. He'll either get a lot of praise or a ton of criticism depending on how they do."

Corsi feels Elliott's game is on point heading into the postseason.

"He's an elite goaltender. There's no question about what he's done over the year. I've always had the feeling he was a good goaltender, but he's at that right age now where his game is complete," Corsi said. "He's become a pillar for our team."

Elliott has already had his mettle tested this season while rehabbing and recovering following the injury, but he feels good about where he's at right now heading into the playoffs.

"When I do get in there, it's taking that opportunity and make the best of it," Elliott said.

Whereas Elliott has been pushed this season by Allen, whom many see as the future for the Blues between the pipes, Fleury's position on the depth chart is uncontested.

The 29-year-old Thomas Greiss will back him up, but it's a completely different dynamic than when Tomas Vokoun was at the ready in 2013, taking over midway through the first round of the playoffs after Fleury's well-documented implosion against the Islanders. Whereas Vokoun offered veteran experience in the crease, Greiss has appeared in only one playoff game, for the San Jose Sharks back in 2010.

That means it is all on Fleury to change the perception that he is a potential liability come playoff time. One of the most consistent regular-season goaltenders in recent years -- and one of the most beloved teammates in Pittsburgh, surely -- will have plenty of eyeballs on him this spring.

"Everyone knows Fleury is good, but he must have a ton of pressure on him because they've had a chance to win and he's [screwed up] a couple of times," said the goaltending coach.

Both goaltenders find themselves in a similar situation heading into this spring in that they have something to prove.

Elliott must show that this is his team and his starting job to lose, despite Allen pushing for the top spot. Fleury may not have that same level of internal competition, but he has to show that he isn't going to self-destruct. He needs to play like someone the Penguins can count on with the season on the line.