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A Halak Mea Culpa

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That chewing sound you hear, is me eating my words.

Yes.....Jaroslav Halak!

Back on January 20, I gave Halak the crudest of assessments, rendering that he would never amount to anything more than an adequate backup goaltender. Due to the inconsistency of his play, and combined with being given an irregular schedule of play, I deduced that Halak could not become a threat to Carey Price's stature as the team's top goaltender.

It looks like, for now, I was way wrong.

My point then, perhaps not worded in precise clarification, was not to slam Halak, but only to underline that during Price's eight game absence, Halak did not impress, and that given he may only appear in the odd game going forward, he would also not be given much chance to challenge for the status of number one stopper.

For both Halak and the club, I didn't see that as a good thing. My take at the time, was that an experienced veteran goalie may be better suited for Price's growth than a goalie of the same age with slightly less experience.

Since returning from injury, Price was returned to his designated starter role and looked horrible. The team itself was heading for quicksand as well, and everything about the team from the net out was askew. In summation, there has been so much gone afoul with the club, that pointing fingers is pointless.

Regardless of the shared blame for the team slipping, someone had to step forward and raise the level of their play. One of those players has been Halak.

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It began with a 46 save performance against the Avalanche on February 13, a 4-2 Canadiens win that temporarily halted a four game skid. Halak was back between the pipes two nights later, stopping 29 of 33 shots in Vancouver, while keeping the Canadiens in a game they had no business being in. With 8 minutes remaining in the contest, Carbonneau, sensing a win was out of reach, allowed Price back in before his home province fans.

Price fared better than he had in losses against Washington and Pittsburgh, but it it wasn't enough to help the team win.

Halak returned against Ottawa, and the team burst out to a 4-0 lead before the Senators began to nip at the Habs edge. Halak then stopped 21 of 22 shots in a wild third period that saw the Canadiens take a ridiculous 6 penalties. In a game that at one point looked to become a blowout, Halak stood strong and was awarded the game's second star.

It is evident that Halak has gone to work on his weaknesses, repairing his juicy rebound habits and exhibiting a much greater concentration on knowing where the puck is at all times. As is often the case with teams, strong performances have a cummulative effect, and the Canadiens defense as a result seems much more composed around Halak.

With confidence in their goalie's calm, the defense are playing tigher and in a more reassured manner. The once unpredictable bounces are now being soaked up by the stopper, or easily cleared by a less rattled rearguard corps. It had made work inside the Canadiens blueline much more manageable of late.

From the Ottawa game to last night's effort, there has been visual evidence as to the Canadiens tightening things up. Ten days ago, shots on goal abounded from all angles without warning. Over recent games, the blueliners have begun to limit shots to the perimeter once again, as was their previous habits. While such occurances provided the opponent with a higher number of shots on goal than would be desired, the stabilitization process is moving towards the next logical step. Based on their reacquired confidence behind the blueline, the defenseman are now starting to eliminate shooters at the blueline, well before their shots reach the net. 

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The confidence manifested in Halak will continue to have a residual pronouncement on the play of the team, as it affects it several ways. Not only are the defenseman playing less like headless chickens, but their positional composure allows for better transition, and the forwards are reacting to it with fleeter feet. Rushes up ice, because of these adjustments, are much less haphazard. Defenseman can once again join the rush due to breakouts being less harried and disorganized. With players more likely to be in place to cover anothers moves, the team will soon start to attack the opposite end more ferociously.

Much of this transition is still in evolution. It is only starting to fit back into place slowly. After players on a team lose all confidence in themselves, it takes time to rebuild a certain faith in one another. For now, there is still the sight of hesitancy and fearfulness in the Canadiens game, but things are coming around.

Another way in which Halak's play will benefit the club, concerns Price. With time to work on his game between starts, he can focus on all the details that have gotten away from him since he returned. Without as much pressure, he'll be allotted the time to concentrate and focus his efforts to clearing his head. Price surely knows he is being challenged, and will do all he can to be up for the fight.

As the Canadiens get things together for the final stretch, the outlook is much more positive than one week ago.

Much of the credit for that is owed to Halak for the rock he has been the last few games.