It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Jaroslav Halak.
After taking the team through a very respectable 6-2 run while Carey Price was out nursing an ankle injury, Halak made his 9th consecutive start last night in Atlanta against the Thrashers.
By the time the game was 30:58 seconds old, Halak was on his way to the showers after surrendering three goals in a 4-2 loss to the lowly Thrashers.
Clearly Halak didn’t bring his “A” game to the Phillips Arena. But then again, neither did his team mates; certainly not through the opening period of play. It was perhaps Montreal’s most listless, uninspired period of hockey all season: a period which saw the Thrashers go ahead 2-0 on goals by Erik Christensen at 5:02 and Chris Thorburn less than two minutes later. Halak did not look like a Vezina-Trophy winner on the first goal; a harmless-looking shot that eluded the Habs’ netminder. He couldn’t really be faulted for the Thorburn goal, as his defencemen on the play, Roman Hamrlik and Josh Gorges deserted him.
This was a long night for Gorges, who finished the game at minus three, and who has struggled of late. Hamrlik had his problems last night as well, and blew a tire on the play that led to the goal by Rich Peverley that made it 3-0 just 3:48 into the second period.
Exit Jaroslav Halak: enter Carey Price, earlier than expected. Price, out since the end of December, had been pencilled in by Coach Guy Carbonneau to return to action tonight in New Jersey against the Devils. But Carbo had clearly seen enough of Halak, prompting an early return to action by Price.
The Canadiens responded with goals by Max Pacioretty at 4:54 of the second, and Steve Begin some 90 seconds later, to pull the Habs to within one, at 3-2.
But the Thrashers, led by goaltender Kari Lehtonen, weathered a third-period storm and put it out of reach at 8:55 of the final period: a goal by Zach Bogosian that came on the very first shot on Price over the final 20 minutes of play.
It’s was pretty evident that the Canadiens were looking ahead, perhaps to the Devils, perhaps to the All-Star break, at a time when they should have been taking the Thrashers a heck of a lot more seriously. But then again, the Habs, on too many occasions, have played down to the level of their competition on nights like this.
The result: two points, out the window.
The verdict on Halak and his play as the team’s number one goalie during Price’s stay in sick bay?
First off, give credit to The Coach for getting the most out of Halak at a time when the Canadiens could have been in serious trouble during this injury-riddled stretch. In fact, give The Coach credit for getting the most out of ALL his players, (many of them fresh out of Hamilton) with the team forced to deal with this rash of injuries.
As for Halak, well, you can’t argue with his 6-2 record. But he gave up a lot of goals during that stretch. Fortunately for number 41, his team mates, on most nights, scored more than he surrendered: hence his impressive winning percentage during his stint. Which is more than you can say about Halak when, through the opening weeks of the season, he was a .500 goalie who LOOKED like a .500 goalie.
However, any way you slice it, he’s no number one goaltender.