When things are not going right for a hockey team, it’s easy to point fingers at the goaltender.
It is true in this case when it comes to puck control. Two games in a row, Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak has misplayed the puck, almost directly resulting in two goals against. Friday, he was caught behind the net, resulting in an easy goal for the Wild. Saturday, he shot it out of play, resulting in a delay-of-game penalty. The very next play, Minnesota took control and scored a goal. Simple solution; Halak needs to stop playing the puck. Completely.
That is where the finger-pointing should stop. Taking puck-handling out of the equation, Halak is proving that he can be a number one goaltender. He just needs a better defense in front of him.
I’m as tired as you are of watching the Blues lose big games that they needed to win. Since the start of 2011, the Blues are a dreadful 4-9-4 and have shown a strong lack of drive. Blues writers and fans have been pointing a lot of fingers at Halak. He is the number one goalie who is supposed to pull the Blues out of their slump and raise them into the standings by shutting teams down.Is it really the job of the goaltender to completely lead a team into the playoffs? When did this game become a one-man game?
When looking at the statistics, the Blues’ defense does not look too shabby. Shots-against-per-game is a low number, as well as their total plus/minus. But statistics don’t always communicate the full volume of what is actually going on.
Friday night, the Wild’s first goal came when Erik Johnson could not seem to get the puck to settle on his stick, then defensive-partner Alex Pietrangelo turned the puck over behind his net. At this point, the Blues forwards were already skating up, leaving Cal Clutterbuck wide open in front of the net for the easy tap-in goal.
The last goal in regulation was a half-Halak and half-defense mistake. With the goalie pulled, Minnesota was buzzing around the St. Louis goal. Minnesota veteran Andrew Brunette threw the puck to the net. At this point, Halak could have covered the puck but had trouble with two Wild players standing over him. Martin Havlat tapped the puck in, while Eric Brewer and Roman Polak watched and shoved him long after the puck was already in the net. Plays like that demand the defense to truck anybody standing near their goalie.
Last game, the first goal should have been averted by Vladimir Sobotka clearing the zone just before the goal was scored. The second goal, Antti Miettinen was left untouched gliding to the net, and he snapped in an easy one-timer for the goal. Once again, Sobotka left his man open. Barret Jackman and Roman Polak did a poor job leaving the passing lanes open too.
Am I just nitpicking and finding miniscule defensive breakdowns to justify Halak’s play? It‘s possible. But let’s not forget that Halak did make 12 saves in the opening period last night. Many of them were brilliant saves that left Minnesota scratching their heads.
Halak does need to pick his game up, but thinking that this guy will be Curtis Joseph from the early 1990s is blasphemous. He needs his defense to start playing like an NHL-defense. Forwards have to back-check, and the defense has to pick up every guy around the goal.
Watch a New Jersey Devils game from one of their Stanley Cup runs. Martin Brodeur was great, but a lot of that was due to Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko clearing out the area around the slot.
Halak has to get confidence from his teammates. Luckily, they still believe.
"We’re all in the same boat,” Jackman said after Saturday’s loss. “We’re all playing together, we’re trying hard … everybody wants to play well. Some nights it’s just not working. Jaro is battling for us. We know he’s going to be there. We’ve just got to pick each other up.”
As said by Jackman, this is a team problem. Everyone has to try as hard as everyone else. Not one person is going to lift this team through the ranks.
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