Grading the 2011-12 Blues
Welcome to the new series “Grading the 2011-12 Blues” where I go through the entire St. Louis Blues roster from the year that was and grade them based on their performances in the regular season and in the playoffs. These capsules will serve as a way to measure just how well an individual player performed in 2011-12 as well as give a bit of insight of what’s to come in their career. The series starts today with Jaroslav Halak.
Prior to 2011-12
Heading into 2011-12 we knew the season would be a pivotal one for Jaroslav Halak. The previous year saw Halak post fairly mediocre numbers in the first year of his four-year, $15 million contract. Fans were uneasy, expecting Halak to make a bigger splash upon arriving in St. Louis. His second year, the 2011-12 season, would be a better indicator of whether the Blues got a good netminder for their money or overpaid based on Halak’s previous playoff success.
Things started out pretty bumpy for Halak. This isn’t to say he was bad but it is to say that Halak, and his teammates, all were playing in a pretty low gear under Davis Payne.
October was a month to forget for the St. Louis Blues and it was an especially forgettable one for Halak. In six games Halak went 1-5-0, allowing 20 goals on just 127 shots. The Blues needed a boost. Halak needed a boost. Their prayers were answered in the form of two rather unlikely sources – Ken Hitchcock and Brian Elliott.
We saw Halak take his game to a new level once Hitchcock took over in St. Louis. This sentiment is true for the entire St. Louis roster but it is especially true for Halak who followed up an ugly October with an improved November and December.
Halak’s season continued to improve as the year wore on. Pushed by a suddenly steady and reliable Brian Elliott, Halak knew that in order to see time between the pipes he would have to raise his game. The two pushed each other all season long which resulted in the Blues featuring arguably the best goaltending duo in the league. The pair combined to allow the fewest goals of any team in the NHL.
Things all came together for Halak in the month of January. He won seven of the eight games he played in which included a streak where he won seven consecutive starts. Halak allowed just 11 goals on 203 shots. His January featured three shutouts. It’s safe to say Halak had turned a corner on his slow start.
This success continued through February and the early stages of March before slowly evaporating at the end of March as the Blues struggled to close the year out.
Final numbers: 26-12-7 with a 1.97 GAA and a save percentage of .926%.
Regular season grade: A
Summarized – Halak entered the year with a ton of pressure after a mediocre first season with the Blues. The Lokomotiv plane crash hit Halak close to home and likely played a role in his fairly poor first stages of the season. It’s easy to empathize with Halak as the crash claimed the lives of some of his friends, haunting Halak’s mind as he tried to stay focused on the games at hand. As time passed and Hitchcock’s new approach took hold, Halak benefited from the improved defense in front of him and elevated his personal game to the best level we have seen in St. Louis. Halak quieted the concerns about 2010-11 with a tremendous 2011-12, giving hope that his four-year contract will ultimately be a bargain.
Jaroslav Halak’s 2012 playoff run was pretty brief. He played 104 minutes in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before Barret Jackman inadvertently collided into him, causing an ankle injury on the St. Louis netminder that sidelined him for the remainder of the team’s run. Halak earned the loss in Game 1 but picked up the win in Game 2 despite only playing 24 minutes.
Final numbers: 1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and a save percentage of .935%.
Playoff grade: N/A
Summarized – Ultimately Jaroslav Halak’s exposure in the playoffs was too brief to grade accurately. He played in just over one playoff game which is too small of a sample to draw any solid conclusions from. That being said, Halak’s play in Game 1 was mostly solid aside from some moments of uncertainty as the game approached the end of the third period and ultimately concluded in overtime. As the pressure mounted Halak looked a bit more shaky. These impressions shouldn’t be looked at too seriously as we only saw Halak for a little over a period in Game 2 before his 2012 playoffs came to an end.
Halak has now completed two years of his four-year contract. Brian Elliott will once again back him in 2012-13 though it seems like the two have more of an equal partnership than a #1/#2 relationship. Fans should hope on seeing 2012-13 play out like 2011-12 when it comes to St. Louis goaltenders. Realistically, things could not have gone much better. Plan for the Blues to use Halak and Elliott in a rotation like they did this past season in the hopes that each goaltender will push the other forward to bigger and better things.