Halak Enjoying Success, Strength of Opponents Questioned
First, as I mentioned above, it is key to give Halak credit where credit is due. Overall he has been giving much better efforts than we saw at the beginning of the year. Whether Halak has made these adjustment himself or if one of the members of the coaching staff helped make an adjustment, the fact remains that Halak has improved.
Let's take a look at how Halak has performed over his past eight starts dating back to November 29th.
Nov 29th - @ Washington (2-1 win) - 1.00 GAA, .947 SV%
Dec 2nd - @ Colorado (2-3 OT loss) - 1.85 GAA, .943 SV%
Dec 8th - vs. Anaheim (4-2 win) - 2.00 GAA, .913 SV%
Dec 17th - @ Nashville (1-2 OT loss) - 0.92 GAA, .950 SV%
Dec 18th - vs. Columbus (6-4 win) - 4.00 GAA, .875 SV%
Dec 26th - vs. Dallas (5-3 win) - 3.00 GAA, .870 SV%
Dec 30th - vs. Nashville (1-2 OT loss) - 0.92 GAA, .971 SV%
Jan 3 - vs. Phoenix (4-1 win) - 1.00 GAA, .971 SV%
Just by looking at these numbers, you can tell Halak has mostly been pretty solid in his last eight efforts. Barring games against Columbus and Dallas, Halak has kept his GAA under 2.00 for over a month.
However, it's important not to let these numbers give you a false sense of security. Halak has been good, yes, but are these numbers a bit overly inflated? Has his performances truly been as good as the numbers indicate?
A lot of people on Twitter have discussed that Halak's recent run is mostly due to the quality of opposition he is facing. As of the date of this article, Halak's opponents stack up as follows:
Washington - 7th Eastern Conference - 44 points
Colorado - 8th Western Conference - 45 points
Anaheim - 14th Western Conference - 26 points
Nashville - 7th Western Conference - 46 points
Columbus - 15th Western Conference - 25 points
Dallas - 10th Western Conference - 43 points
Nashville - See above
Phoenix - 11th Western Conference - 42 points
Average rank of opponent - 9th. This average would be considerably higher had Halak not faced Nashville twice during his last eight games.
Average points for opponent - 39.6. Just for fun, this average of 39.6 points for an opponent ranks 12th in the East and 13 in the West. Main reason this average is so low is due to Halak facing the two worst teams in the NHL during this eight game streak.
Clearly, a sound argument can be made that Halak's recent run is partially inflated due to the strength of the opposition he is facing. He has faced two of the worst teams in the league as well as several sides that have struggled to find their identity. Still, in my opinion, there are no easy games in the modern NHL and any team can win on any given night.
With that sentiment in mind it's important that we don't assume Halak has put all his issues behind him. In several of his most recent games Halak has been guilty of allowing a soft goal or a questionable goal at a crucial moment of the game.
Against Dallas, Halak allowed two late goals that brought the Stars within one goal late in the third period. Against Phoenix, though the Blues walked with a "W", Halak allowed a questionable goal that brought the Coyotes back within one as the first period closed. Granted, the defense is responsible as well, but ultimately the stat lies over Halak's head.
To be clear, it's expected Halak will let pucks past him. That's common sense. However, it is the timing and manner of these goals that give merit to the idea that his recent numbers are inflated. He is still allowing goals that probably should be kept out and is still struggling to make the big, critical save when he is counted on most. Easily, a few of his recent wins could have had different outcomes had his teammates not responded to the challenge and overcome sudden shifts in momentum.
It's great to see Halak enjoying a run of success after starting the year on such a mediocre note, amplified by Brian Elliott's outstanding play. I truly hope Halak's success continues, however, I warn those that are touting his recent numbers to be cautious in their optimism. Halak has gone on similar runs in the past only to have things go south in a hurry.
In order for me to be completely sold on Halak in his second full year with the Blues, Halak will need to maintain some consistency in his play, specifically against tougher opponents.
Jaroslav Halak has been enjoying a recent wave of success, rattling off five wins in his past eights starts with each of the three losses occurring after the Blues had already secured a point. It's important to give Halak credit where credit is due but are his recent performances a sign of him improving or just coincidental due to the nature of the opponents he faced?