Monday, November 18, 2013

Blues need Halak to get back to strong play

Hitchcock will start No. 1 netminder at
Buffalo after pulling him Sunday at Washington

By LOUIE KORAC
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ken Hitchcock won't shy away from the fact that Jaroslav Halak's numbers have slipped in the month of November.

But that won't deter the veteran head coach from going back to his starting netminder when the Blues (13-3-3) resume a three-game trip in Buffalo.

After allowing three goals on six shots and being pulled 15 minutes 41 seconds into a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals Sunday, Halak will be between the pipes, likely against the Sabres' Ryan Miller (4-11-0).

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Jaroslav Halak has a strong record (10-3-2) but the Blues' No. 1 netminder
has seen his goals-against average and save percentage slip lately.
"It was one of the nights for me where everything seemed like it went in," Halak said after an optional skate Monday. "We all have them. Life brings you challenges and throws you obstacles. That was one of the obstacles. There's the next game and still plenty of hockey left, so I can't let that one affect me. I just have to let it go."

One wouldn't think Halak's numbers, particularly his save percentage, have slipped. His 10-3-2 record wouldn't indicate anything. But after allowing only 19 goals on 228 shots, which equated to a .916 save percentage in October, Halak has given up 16 goals on only 121 shots, which comes out to a .867 save percentage.

The last three starts, Halak has allowed three goals in each outing, and of course was pulled in the last one -- the second time this season that has happened. Prior to the last three starts, his GAA was 2.19 and save percentage was at .913. In the last three games, in which Hakak is 1-1-1, he has a 3.95 GAA and .816 save percentage.

Overall, Halak's goals-against is 2.48, which is as high as it's been since his first season here in 2009, and his save percentage is .900 overall. Those numbers are far below what would be considered elite-type numbers for No. 1 goalies.

Brian Elliott, who got the win Saturday against Carolina (a 4-2 victory), came on in relief and stopped 13 of 14 shots Sunday. Elliott is 3-0-1 with a 1.94 GAA and .927 save percentage in limited work.

Blues fans are always clamoring for the guy who's playing the best to be between the pipes, but this is Hitchcock's way of going back to a guy who has played well for him in the past.

"He'll jump back (in) and play well," Hitchcock said. "We need him, especially on the road. Your goalie has got to be your best player. We'll need him to have a good game.

"Brian has played very well. He's given us a chance to win every night. Now it's Jaro's turn."

"I think everybody needs to look at themselves, and it starts with me," Halak said. "I need to look at myself and ask myself if I did my best. I know I can play better."

The Sabres (5-16-1), who cleaned house last week with the firing of their general manager and head coach, have split two games since interim coach Ted Nolan has taken over, splitting a home and home series with Toronto over the weekend.

This will be the Blues' first visit since Feb. 18, 2011. They won here 3-0 with Ty Conklin pitching a 25-save shutout. Ben Bishop was Conklin's backup that night. It also would be the final game for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement in a Blues uniform. Upon returning to St. Louis after the game, the Blues announced they traded Johnson, McClement and a first round pick to Colorado for Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a second round pick.

Patrik Berglund, who sat out Sunday's loss to the Capitals with an upper-body injury, has been ruled out for Tuesday's game as well. He was replaced in the lineup by Magnus Paajarvi, who returned after missing nine games with his own upper-body injury.

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman will pass Garry Unger into fourth place on the franchise all-time games played list when he dresses in his 663rd career game.


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