Honeymoon Over: Halak Painfully Average
The free ride is over. It’s time to get serious and cover an angle that has been mostly ignored this season. Jaroslav Halak is struggling and it is costing this team wins. Believed to be the savior when the Blues brought him over, Halak has been given the benefit of the doubt during a season that saw him start off with an incredible run just to follow it up with a couple mediocre months. Those mediocre months in November and December have led to a dreadful January. The loss in Colorado marks the seventh time in January that Halak has allowed four goals.
That’s seven times he has allowed four goals in a contest in his last 10 appearances. Expanding the numbers, he has allowed three goals or more in 12 of his last 16 appearances. That’s not just bumpy – that’s brutal, especially for a team that has trouble scoring.
I’m one of the guilty parties that likely ignored some of the early signs of this slump leading up until now, but part of that is because of Halak’s very unique approach to goaltending. His relaxed approach makes it pretty tough to determine what’s a soft goal and what’s not.
The numbers however aren’t soft. They’re a hard, cold fact that can’t be ignored. Halak’s play has been very, very average for a significant amount of time.
Before I go too much further, it is required to say that I know it isn’t all of his fault and that’s not the argument I’m trying to make. The defense and special teams could definitely improve. However, one telling number is save percentage. Halak’s has been below .900% in seven of his 10 starts in the month of January. A save percentage of .900% is pretty pedestrian which shows Halak just isn’t stopping that many shots despite the other woes the Blues have on special teams.
Unfortunately, outside of his heroics for Montreal in last year’s playoffs, the book on Halak is pretty short.
His only “full” season came last year where he appeared in 45 games, posting a 2.40 GAA with a .924 SV%. Pretty solid numbers. His numbers prior to last season are pretty all over the place.
2008-09: 34 games played, 2.86 GAA, .915 SV%
2007-08: 6 games played, 2.11 GAA, .934 SV%
2006-07: 16 games played, 2.89 GAA, .906 SV%.
As you can see, there isn’t much of a track record or definable pattern. The numbers just scream mediocrity.
Coming into St. Louis, expectations were enormous. Halak was supposed to steal wins for this team even when the rest of the squad is dinged up or not firing on all cylinders. That’s why the Blues splashed out to get him and why they signed him to a four-year deal. He is supposed to be the face of the organization and the impenetrable last line of defense. Sadly, neither have been the case so far.
Now, before everyone goes running to the hills or before anyone starts labeling his signing a bust, it is important to keep a calm head about all of this. There is still a chunk of the season left and Halak does have the ability to go on a streak where he legitimately looks like the best goaltender in the NHL.
The issue is that the media has mostly given Halak a free pass so far, despite the fact the numbers are indicating something is definitely troubling in net. While other issues such as effort, injuries and offense are the leading discussed topics, few are pointing out Halak’s glaringly weak play for basically the last month and a half.
So … what are the Blues to do? There really isn’t much to be done. Halak needs to step up and make some big saves when this team needs him. Backup Ty Conklin hasn’t faired any better this year, so it isn’t as if there is a hot hand waiting in the wings. Halak is paid starting money and should act like the backbone of this club as he is paid to be.
Before you go blaming injuries and other factors when the Blues allow four goals, be sure to keep an eye on Halak in net. If his play doesn’t turn around in a hurry, you can cross the Blues out of the playoff race – if you haven’t already.