Halak back on track; fourth line shines against Jackets
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues made the decision to trade for Jaroslav Halak and make him the No. 1 goalie for this franchise moving forward, they did so banking on Halak being able to carry the load as the top guy despite never being in that role previously.
Halak, who took over Montreal's top spot during the playoffs, split time with Carey Price through much of the regular season. Halak played in 45 regular season games a season ago, which is 11 more than his previous career-best.
So as Halak got off to a torrid start for the Blues, he cooled off for a stretch and there was a panic in the air of the Gateway City.
But Halak has gotten himself back on track in the last three games and has solid numbers overall (12-7-3 with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage).
The question that many Blues fans still carry around is whether Halak can carry the burden of being the top guy.
Blues coach Davis Payne believes he can.
"You can say he's never been that No. 1 guy," Payne explained. "Ok, but he was the No. 1 guy in the Olympics (for Slovakia in 2010), he was the No. 1 guy (for Montreal) in the playoffs and played pretty good in that situation. You can talk about the 40 (regular season games), but he did play 70 last year. ... When you look at the 40, plus the 20 playoff games and the Olympic Games, that's a lot of hockey and he was able to handle that."
Halak, who signed a four-year, $15-million contract after his trade from Montreal to St. Louis, started the season 8-1-1 with a 1.46 GAA and .944 save percentage that had Canadien fans and media crying for Montreal general manager Pierre Gauthier's head. He allowed 15 goals on 268 shots.
But then a 2-6-1 stretch where Halak struggled, allowing 30 goals on 232 shots and sporting a 3.53 GAA and .871 save percentage had Blues fans feeling spurned.
In the last three games, Halak has seemed to get his game back on track, going 2-0-1 with a 1.67 GAA and .935 save percentage. He's allowed five goals on 77 shots.
"The last three games, we've been playing better hockey," said Halak, deflecting credit to the entire team. "We need to do this every night to win games."
Halak was especially good against Columbus and seems to have found his stride again.
"For me, it's like any ebb and flow," Payne said Friday. "Guys are not going to run hot for an entire course of a season. It's consistency and trying to create that high level of consistency that every guy needs to have. (And) making sure that the peaks scrape greatness and the valleys are good enough there to give your team a chance. He was good last night ... really, really good for us."
* Fourth line shines -- Not much is expected from the fourth line other than to maybe provide some physicality and a jolt to kick-start a team.
But for the Blues' Cam Janssen, Dave Scatchard and Stefan Della Rovere, they did more than jolt the Blues Thursday. They were able to contribute in all areas.
Janssen, who got into a spirited fight with the Jackets' Jared Boll, almost scored his first goal since the 2008-09 season, with Scatchard hitting the post on the backhand rebound of Janssen's attempt.
"They made some real good decisions," Payne said. "I thought they created some good energy. Positionally, they were sound. They made some plays with the puck that are prescribed for the way our games looks right now. ... I thought they gave us chances to play in the offensive zone, I thought they executed in their own zone and reclaimed their territory. That's exactly what they're supposed to do."
* Spotless with extra rest -- There are teams, when winning, they'd rather get right back on the ice immediately. There are also teams who would rather go right back at it after a loss.
The Blues have had stretches of the season where they would have extra days off. It's been pretty common through the first part of the season.
But the Blues seem to thrive off of extended periods of time between games.
After Thursday's 4-1 win over Columbus, the Blues are now a perfect 5-0-0 when they have three days off between games.
They own wins over Chicago (4-2), Nashville (3-0), San Jose (2-0), Nashville again (2-1 in a shootout) and the Jackets in games which were played with three days' rest in between.
"Credit this group for the fact that when we have and haven't gotten things done, if there's things to correct, we come in, we go to work and these guys are willing to do that," Payne said. "They're willing to come in and say, 'OK, how do we improve today.' That's one of our standards is to make sure we're looking for opportunity and working at that opportunity to get better every single day. We know through the course of 82 games and six-and-a-half months, that's what we have to do."
* Blues' success against the East -- The Blues, who entertain Carolina tonight at 7 (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), are 12-1-0 dating back to last season against Eastern Conference foes.
The Blues had a 12-game winning streak snapped against the East with a 4-1 loss on Dec. 1 against the Washington Capitals.
The Hurricanes (11-12-4), who lost 2-1 in a shootout at Dallas Friday, will visit Scottrade Center for the first time since 2008 when the Hurricanes won 1-0.
The Blues won the only meeting between the two teams a year ago, winning 5-2 in Raleigh, N.C.