St. Louis Blues Player Previews: Jaroslav Halak
After a dismal performance in goal two years ago, the St. Louis Blues management knew they had to find an established goali of the future in order to get this team on the right track. During the playoffs, they found that player in Jaroslav Halak, whose outstanding performance in Montreal made one of their young netminders available to be had. Conventional wisdom said that Carey Price was the guy man heading out but to everyone’s surprise the Canadians dealt the standout Halak to St. Louis for Lars Eller among others.
Fans of the Blues were ecstatic about the move and expectations were high for Halak and the Blues. Alas, after a 9-1-2 start, the Blues and Halak struggled with injuries and inconsistant play falling out of the race quickly before ending the year on a run as hot as the start. In his first full season as the number one goalie, Halak struggled to adjust but still put up decent numbers.
This year Halak HAS to take that next step to become, not an elite goalie, but one who wins the games he must and lead the team to the playoffs. In order to do that, Halak is going to have to improve some aspects of his game from last year but also keep consistant some of the promising flashes he showed as well.
A lot of times, Halak looked like he would stop everything thrown his way, as evidence his 7 shut outs, but there were times he looked lost too. In back to back games Halak gave up 6 goals to Colorado, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, and 7 to Detroit, a conference rival. It was also Detroit who gave Halak most of his troubles last year as well. Halak appeared in 6 games against the Red Wings and allowed 26 goals for a 4.33 goals per game average, by far the most per game against any team he faced.
If Halak wouldn’t have had to face Detroit, he would have led the Blues to a Central Division crown due to his work against the rest of the division. Halak was 10-6-3 with a 2.75 GAA vs the Central but after taking out the games against Detroit, he was 8-3-2 vs Chicago, Columbus, and Nashville.
Halak was also lights out at home for the Blues, in 32 games at Scottrade Center, Halak was 17-10-5 with a sparkling 2.10 GAA and 5 of his 7 shut outs. On the road, by contrast, Halak was 10-11-2 with a still decent 3.01 GAA but a sub par .894 save percentage.
This season Halak must improve in a few catagories: he must erase the demons of Detroit and have more consistant play against the top team in the division, if he fails it could be the knife in the back the slowly bleeds the Blues season. Halak must also focus more on the road, while his record is in line with most goalies road records, in order to be the goalie who leads his team to the playoffs he must steal more games away from home ice.
While Halak improves on those tasks, if he can keep steady some of the positives from last year, it could pay huge dividends. Halak was outstanding versus the rest of the Central and if he can continue his mastery of the rest of the division on top of handling Detroit, the Blues could be in for a big year. Halak must also continue to play strong at home, fans will give him the support and want him to succeed but if he starts to falter they could turn very fast.
Last year it seemed that Halak as looking over his shoulder at Ty Conklin, the backup with a good starting record, and may have been distracted by another Carey Price situation. With Brian Elliott or Ben Bishop backing up this year, he should not have to worry about someone taking his spot and allow him to focus on his game. Being only his second full season as THE starting goalie, look for even more improvement in Halak’s game.
With the team in front of him this year, look for Halak to put up even better numbers. I predict his line will read 35-25-10 with a 2.55 GAA, .930 save percentage and 8 shutouts. That kind of play will put the Blues in the playoffs and give fans a reason to hope for a championship soon in the city.