Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 11/19/14

By Jose Simoes

Many fans in Montreal were wondering what new GM Pierre Gauthier was thinking when he traded 2009-2010 playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak, to the St. Louis Blues for young forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. After coming off a season in which he split starting duties with incumbent Carey Price, he posted a 26-13-0-5 record with a 2.40 GAA and .924 SV% to Prices 13-20-0-5, 2.77 GAA and .912 SV%. Many thought if either would be traded it would be Price but in a “big picture decision” the Habs saw a higher potential in Price than in Halak.

Following a dominant season and three rounds of playoff experience, Halak shipped off to St. Louis, giving fans visions of the playoffs, dancing in their heads. However, being a starting goalie, and more importantly, playing a starter’s share of minutes would prove to be a difficult adjustment for Halak in his first season with the Blues. After starting the season 8-1-1 in his first 10 games, Halak would see three consecutive runs of four winless games, broken up by two runs of back-to-back wins. This wasn’t exactly the start Blues management, or fans had envisioned, rather.

He would continue this bad run with only three wins in 13 games to start the new year. With the Blues sitting nine points out of the 8th playoff seed, their hopes quickly faded. A hand injury would then sideline Halak for most of February, making only four starts. Upon returning from injury, Halak would win his first four games before posting inconsistent efforts and winning only three of his next nine starts. He finished the season on a strong note by winning his final three games including a season ending shutout but by then the damage was clearly done.

In 2010-2011, the Czech netminder played and additional 12 games more than his previous season with Montreal but would only win one more game, rising from 26 to 27. What happened with those other 11 games? Eight more regulation losses and two more OT losses — not exactly the improvement one would hope to see from a #1 goalie. His GAA would rise as well from 2.40 to 2.48, a minuscule difference but his save percentage plummeted from .924 to .910; average numbers for any starting goalie in the NHL but a decrease from the previous seasons numbers and certainly not elit.

Numbers alone were not a major cause for concern as young goalies often have fluctuations in their numbers. However, this season’s play certainly alarmed the team’s brass.

To start the 2011-2012 NHL Season, Halak holds a 1-4 record with a 3.47 GAA and .835 SV%. By contrast, he didn’t record his fourth loss last season until November 17th –definitely not the same start he had to his St. Louis career. Here are where the numbers get troubling: in his four losses, he has given up 14 goals for a 3.87 GAA and an .825 SV%. By comparison, in the two losses of his first five games in 2010-2011, he gave up 7 goals for a 3.41 GAA and an .873 SV%. The numbers simply spell disaster.

When Halak is good, he’s very good. Through all the inconsistency that was his ’10-’11 campaign he still managed to allow one goal or less in 19 games including an impressive seven shutouts. However when he’s bad, he’s very bad — not giving his team any chance to win. During his first four-game win-less streak of 2010-2011, he allowed 19 goals for a 5.46 GAA and an .800 SV%. In addition, he gave up four goals or more in 12 of his 21 losses and 15 times total which includes seven games in January alone (when the Blues were fighting for a playoff seed).

Has Halak shown he is better suited for a 1-1a situation as opposed to a clear cut #1?

He thrived in Montreal when he was pushing Price for the top spot but likely hit his plateau in St. Louis with Ty Conklin and Ben Bishop posing no real challenge in ’10-‘11. While he is too good to sit on the bench as a #2, benched for 50+ games a year, he could find his comfort level playing between 45-55 games a year. This rest would also allow him to be fully rested when the playoffs start, ready for another long, perhaps surprising run.

Tonight, Brian Elliott will get the call between the pipes against the Vancouver Canucks. The former Ottawa Senator and short-lived Colorado Avalanche has challenged the native of Bratislava for playing time and outperformed him in the early going. Has Halak worried about his role? Not necessarily. From The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“Obviously, it’s not the start that I was hoping for, but here we are,” Halak said. “I’ve played five games and I’m 1-4. Obviously I need to work on my game. But it’s a long season. It’s only October. We’ve got so many games coming up. You just need to stay positive and work hard in practice.

“It’s always better to have a slow start than a slow finish. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We played 82 games. Good thing we don’t play 10 games a season.”

While Elliott may hold less accolades than Halak, he certainly is trying to push the 26-year-old. In return, Halak should reward his team with better play down the stretch — when it actually matters. He has the right attitude and the potential to succeed in the NHL so his doubters may just need a few weeks to go away. Either that, or Halak would become synonymous with Jim Carey, Steve Mason and those who came before them.

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