DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 13: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St. Louis Blues in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on October 13, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
There's no denying that the Blues have a back-up on a hot streak in Brian Elliott, and that people are creating a controversy where there isn't one. Planting seeds of discontent might be fun for fans, but what happens when it comes time to sow them?
This might seem like a late entry into the "2011 St. Louis Blues GOALIE DEATHMATCH" stream of articles you've been seeing lately. I held off for a reason, though: sample size. I felt that it was unfair to worry after three, four, or five games into the season. The Blues are now twelve games into the season, however, and that sample size has grown to six wins and six losses - and with the increased sample size, the signs are growing more obvious that something is wrong.
Out of those six losses, five belong to Jaroslav Halak. Out of those six wins, five belong to Brian Elliott, the backup goaltender. This hasn't been because Halak's been nursing an injury; it can't be explained away by any physical problems. That's what makes it so troubling. Why is the starter, the guy heralded as the first stable goaltender since Grant Fuhr, getting off to a terrible, horrible not very good start? Is it mental? Does he not like the thought of having a capable back-up? The Blues've had that problem before in Manny Legace, whose play dropped off horribly after Chris Mason exhibited himself to be superior goaltender in 2008-2009. But at least Legace, for all of his mind issues, was injured. Halak is not (that we know of).
While it would be supremely frustrating yet reassuring to be informed that Halak's played poorly because of an injury, it would just be frustrating to learn that he's been playing poorly because of a conditioning/technique issue. His problems in goal are already well documented - even Darren Pang mentioned on air that he talked to Halak about using his body to come out of the net to challenge. It makes you look bigger, and if there's something Pang needed as a goaltender, it was that. Halak is 5'11", and while not small, it's not large either. He needs to take away space, but he plays so far back in his crease that he's almost in the net. By the time that he gets out far enough to drop, or reacts to make the glove save, the puck's behind him. "High glove side" is probably the usual scouting report. He's not dropping fast enough into the butterfly - too many pucks are sliding in either under his pads or right between his legs. His technique right now has been terrible, and it isn't confidence-inspiring. If you have a goalie behind a defense whose body language says "hi, score on me, I'm not confident," then how do you expect the defense to react?
That's the thing separating Halak and Brian Elliott: confidence. Eliott has it in getting a fresh start on a decent team. Here, more than Ottawa or Colorado, can he show his stuff. He's grasping the bull by the horns and doing all that it takes to show this team that he was a worthwhile acquisition. His positioning's strong, he tracks the puck well, and he positions himself in the crease where he should be based on where shooters are firing from. He has solid fundamentals, and Halak is allowing confidence issues to get in the way of his.
Halak is a perfectly fine goaltender, and when these problems rectify themselves, he's able to lead the Blues down a path to success. However, the issue remains - how long can the Blues afford to wait? Twelve games and ten points in, it's clear that patience is wearing thin.