Jaroslav Halak has given the St. Louis Blues a chance to win in every single game he has played this season, which is largely why the team is off to their great 7-1-2 start. He has been the Brickwall Bull as the paint job on his new helmet suggests, and has already shown more stamina this season, than in years past. As of late Jaro has shown some signs of trouble tracking the puck, but is it a cause for worry? And the true question is, can he right those small problems and keep up this great play all the way to and through the playoffs?
Halak It A Lot
So far this season Blues fans have had a lot to cheer about on and off the ice as the Notes have come out of the gates flying, and putting up significantly more goals than in recent seasons past. Let’s just get this out of the way early: Alexander Steen is on fire, the guy is finally showing the world why the NHLPA has voted him among the most underrated players in the entire league the past few seasons. Steen is currently leading the NHL in goals (11), is tied for 5th overall in total points (16), and is getting plenty of help from his line-mates David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
This is a huge relief for Halak, as he no longer feels pressured to get a shutout every game to ensure a Blues victory. This support has given the Slovakian netminder even more confidence to kick the puck out and make key save after key save. His net presence has vastly improved and he can be seen at or near the top of his crease cutting down the shooter’s angle with that confidence on every play. That has been the main reason Jaroslav Halak has made timely save after timely save in most every game this season.
From Dryland Duster To Gymnasium Geronimo
Halak had not been previously known for having an amazing work ethic off the ice, but always made sure to put in the needed effort to stay at the top of his game on it. After getting into some injury trouble over the past few seasons, and having his health brought in to question by many, Halak decided to train harder than he ever had before this past offseason, so that he could (hopefully) finally put those injury plagued years behind him.
— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) October 30, 2013
As this retweeted post shows, Halak’s numbers speak for themselves, and for his offseason work ethic, so far this season. He looks like a more nimble version of his Montreal playoff self, and up until recently, has had a specific sharpness to his game that gives every player and fan that good, safe feeling they look for in a true number 1. His flexibility has obviously improved, and his added muscle strength shows in every backside recovery and post-save response he makes, giving him the edge over many of the superstars who have tried to snipe him so far this year. Now we come to the million dollar question, will recent small errors lead to a bigger problem down the road?
Halaking It Up
The above video confirms (courtesy of NHL.com) Halak’s prowess between the pipes for St. Louis this season, and shows his lateral mobility beautifully. What it also shows is a small problem emerging in his game play. If you watch his head closely in these highlights (and in the previous few game’s as well) you can see that only about 70% of the time is his head following the puck post save. The other 30% of the time he is struggling to find the rebound after he makes the initial save (which is the cause of Winnipeg’s first goal), something he has had problems with in past seasons.
This should not be a concern for anyone as of yet, as it has only happened in a small amount of situations so far this season, and Halak has managed to make plenty of highlight reel saves game to game. If the problem does start to get worse however, then the Blues may have a tough decision on their hands given Brian Elliott’s inconsistent performance to date. Everything about Halak’s play so far this season has been stellar, and when you add in his greatly improved off-ice habits and work ethic, don’t look for this to become an ongoing problem as it has been in the past. Look forward to a long season of awesome stops by Jaro and great overall team play by the Blues.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.