Rule #1 of playing team sports: if one player is playing poorly, the rest of the team must elevate their play to make it unnoticeable.
It’s hard to do this when that teammate is the goaltender, but the Blues have to the best of their abilities.
Starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak has begun the season in a sub-par fashion. Halak has allowed just three goals in two games (not including Nashville’s empty-netter), but his save percentage is a measly .844.
His rebound control has been an enormous problem. Craig Smith made that obvious when he scored his first period goal Saturday night after Halak could not grab the rebound from an attainable Shea Weber shot. Halak laid on his stomach while Smith knocked it out of his reach and snapped it into the gaping net.
Halak allowed 3 goals on 15 Nashville shots in the 4-2 loss.
Time to panic?
Not yet. This team has rallied around Halak and given him the support to allow him to pick himself back up. Halak rebounded Monday afternoon against the Flames, earning his first victory of the season. He started off shaky in this game as well, allowing an early goal to Curtis Glencross of the Flames. The Calgary forward received the puck in the high slot and fired a wrist shot that seemed to deflect off of Blues forward Andy McDonald. Even though deflected, Halak had enough time to react to the shot but it still found its way through Halak’s legs to give the Flames a 1-0 lead.
Halak was still having problems covering rebounds, but played well enough to earn a 5-2 victory. He made 15 saves on 17 shots.
The Slovakian goaltender will likely still get the start in Dallas Thursday night, as he seemed to play a lot steadier late in Monday’s game. Still, the numbers are stacked against Halak after two games.
That’s why rule #1 has been so important to start the season.
The Blues’ defense has been impeccable. St. Louis has allowed just 33 shots in both games, or an average of 16.5 shots per game. That is, by far, the lowest in the league (Anaheim comes in at 2nd with 20.0 shots against per game).
Many of the shots against have been savable ones for Halak as well. The Blues have done an impressive job of keeping the opposing teams on the perimeter and out of the slot.
Team plus/minus has been a great statistic for the Blues as well, as only Nikita Nikitin is a minus on the team (minus-2).
The only problem that comes from the team defense may be the penalty kill. Three of the five goals against (excluding the empty-net goal) have been power-play goals. If the Blues tighten up the penalty kill, as well as take less penalties-per-game, they should come away from this upcoming four-game road-trip on the better-end of .500.
With the strong defense in front of him, Halak will come out of this slump. I do expect to see Brian Elliott get a start in the next couple of games which may even push Halak further to pick up his level of play.
It’s only two games, Blues fans. There is no need to start worrying just yet. Every goalie faces slumps. We have seen Halak break out of a slump before.
It will happen again.
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