2011-12 Pivotal for Jaroslav Halak
Entering the second year of his four-year contract with the St. Louis Blues, Jaroslav Halak needs to step up following what most would label a disappointing first season as a regular starter. This has been a preaching point for the majority of the summer and will likely be the driving or faltering point behind the team's success, but now it is time to dive deeper into the stats and see where Halak needs to improve.
The final tally for Halak in his first season was a 27-21-7 record with a 2.48 GAA and a save percentage of .910 in 57 starts. He ended with seven shutouts on the year. All in all, these numbers aren't awful but they also aren't spectacular. Frankly, they are very average. However, if you were able to watch the majority of games this season you'd know the story isn't that simple and the ride for Halak resembled that of a roller coaster rather than anything predictable.
Now as he quickly approaches the midway point of his contract with the Blues it is time for Halak to show what he is really made of. Was the first year one we can overlook or was it a sign of things to come?
Halak at Home
As expected, Jaroslav Halak performed better in front of his home fans - no shock here. At the Scottrade Center, Halak started 32 games and went 17-10-5 with a 2.11 GAA. To be a bit more specific, Halak allowed 68 goals in the 32 games he started at the Scottrade Center. He added a save percentage of .923 and tallied five of his shutouts in front of the home crowd. He wasn't always dominant but overall he was solid and more importantly, reliable.
Though he did post what essentially is a .500 record (17-15, when counting OT losses as a loss) his GAA and save percentage was more in the range of what is expected from a number one goaltender.
Halak on the Road
The road was a different story for Halak. Away from St. Louis he allowed the exact same number of pucks to get past him - 68. Unfortunately, these goals were allowed in a much smaller size of games - 25. The end result was a win/loss record of 10-11-2 and a GAA of 3.01.
We'd expect a goaltender to have a more difficult time on the road but perhaps the difference between Home Halak and Road Halak was a bit more divided than any of us predicted.
Diving in a bit further, it's interesting to see where Halak specifically struggled on the road. In big games against big opponents we didn't see Halak at his best when the team could have used him most. What is most puzzling is that while Halak crumbed under certain environments against tough opponents, other times he rose to the challenge.
Where was he?
Detroit: 1-2-0, 4.70 GAA, .874 SV% (3 games)
San Jose: 0-1-0, 6.35 GAA, .821 SV% (2 games)
Nashville: 2-1-0, 1.64 GAA, .934 SV% (3 games)
Los Angeles: 2-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .976 SV% (2 games)
It's truly amazing just how inconsistent Halak's 2010-11 season was. For instance, in Colorado against the lowly Colorado Avalanche, Halak imploded (0-2-0, 5.08 GAA, .818 SV% in 2 games).
Can He Improve?
The four-year, $15 million question. I think most fans are willing to give Halak a pass on his first season in St. Louis as the number one goaltender. They won't be able to overlook two consecutive mediocre years. We've seen him be outstanding and unbeatable at times yet it's quite difficult to forget the times he has been out of position and beaten repeatedly from similar angles.
The talent is there. We saw Halak's insane run with Montreal in the playoffs in 2009-10. The question is, can he stretch that magic out and be a consistent number one capable of stealing games on a regular basis? Or will it be more of the same, Halak standing on his head one night while appearing lethargic the next?
My own personal view is a bit more pessimistic than those I've seen on Twitter. I think Halak can be great, I truly do. However, I don't see him being the type of starting goaltender everyone hopes he will be. Expectations were much too lofty from the start and how he is left trying to live up to hype that I'm not so sure he was ever able to reach.
The above arguments aren't entirely fair as Halak's numbers are influenced by how well the team in front of him plays. However, the inconsistencies, struggles, positioning and soft goals are items we can lay squarely on his shoulders.
Let's also not overlook Corey Hirsch, the St. Louis goaltending coach. The 2010-11 season was Hirsch's first with the Blues after a one-year, unsuccessful spell with Toronto. While most of us aren't aware what goes on behind the scenes it's safe to say that Hirsch has done little that has made me feel confident in his ability as a goaltending coach while with the Blues. Late last year news reports stated that he was busy with Halak, making positioning a key part of their focus. Unfortunately, Halak's struggles had been going on for quite some time and could have used said intervention well before one took place.
Goaltending coach aside, the pressure is squarely on Jaroslav Halak. His performance in 2011-12 will likely dictate whether his contract is still up for debate or one we can look at as a failure. Halak enters this season on a much shorter leash from the fans. The warm, fuzzy feelings and blissful optimism is long gone and in its place are feelings of concern and cautious optimism.