Usually, giving up 4 goals in a night is not a good sign for a goaltender.
I present to you the very rare exception. Jaroslav Halak, who gave up 4 goals on 30 Oiler shots in St. Louis’ 4-2 loss Sunday night in Edmonton, saw his first start in 12 calendar days. The reason for this is that backup Brian Elliott has been lights-out in net while Halak has struggled out of the gate. Elliott was undefeated until his first loss as a Blue came Friday night in Calgary.
Halak came back with a vengeance Sunday, showing why he is still considered the #1 goaltender in St. Louis.
4 goals-allowed or not, Halak played a well-rounded game. The biggest saves that he made were at key situations in the game.
The first memorable save came after Barret Jackman threw the puck up the middle, causing a turnover. Oilers forward Ben Eager one-timed the puck after it hit off of a skate. Halak was alert and caught the puck in his chest to cover up for the face-off. This kept the game at 3-1 Oilers.
After the Blues’ penalty kill allowed yet another power-play goal to make the game 4-1, the Oilers broke in on defenseman Roman Polak with a 2-on-1 late in the second period. Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle was able to get a pass to teammate Taylor Hall, who one-timed the shot. Halak got over and kicked the puck out while sprawling on the ice. The Blues already had a treacherous mountain to climb; if Halak allows that goal, the Blues were standing at the bottom of Mount Everest without any sherpas to help them along.
Just minutes after making a breakaway save on skilled Oiler forward Magnus Paajarvi, Halak came up big while the Blues’ offense was on full-power late in the game. After the Blues failed to enter the Edmonton zone, Paajarvi carried the puck into the zone and then dropped it to teammate Sam Gagner. After getting around Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Gagner went from Halak’s left to his right and fired a backhand. Halak slid over and made the save, trapping the puck somewhere in his body. The Blues could not muster another goal, but they poured everything on the Oilers after that save occurred.
These saves were fun to watch, but it did not translate into a win. So why is this so noteworthy then?
Halak played in his greatest game of the season. He started the season off cold as ice, allowing 16 goals on his first 97 shots-faced (that adds up to an abysmal .835 save percentage). The numbers are not quite as telling as the situation on the ice, though.
Halak was not making the saves that he had to. There were many times that the young Blues’ defense left Halak to hang out and dry. Those are the plays that differentiate between good goalies and star goalies; the good goalie has a chance to make some of those saves but the star goalie comes up with huge saves to swing the momentum in favor of his team. Halak was not the latter to start the season.
He showed signs of becoming that star goalie again Sunday night. Flashes of his playoff performance in 2010 were very apparent.
Halak still needs to be better to guarantee more victories for this team; he may be hitting a stride that could propel him to the next level. If Halak plays as he did Sunday night, the team playing in front of him can have more confidence to push up the play and get more scoring chances.
If the Blues can be confident in Halak’s abilities to bail them out in key situations, this team could pick up the pace and jump right back up the standings.