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‘A Beaten Man’, Canucks Halak Hits a Wall

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Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils
Jesper Boqvist of the New Jersey Devils jams the team's 4th goal past Jaroslav Halak of the Vancouver Canucks Monday night in Newark.

While the Canucks season as a whole turned around with the arrival of new head coach Bruce Boudreau in early December, the campaign for Vancouver Canucks back-up goalie Jaroslav Halak remains somewhat of a personal disaster.

Through the first half of the season his team wouldn’t score him any goals, at least not enough for him to earn wins. Lately however, Halak’s hit a wall.

His confidence appears to have disappeared, and based on their performances when he starts, so has his team’s confidence in him. Twice during the postgame media availability after Halak and the Canucks were shelled by the New Jersey Devils 7-2 Monday night, with Halak allowing the first six goals, references were made to his effectiveness as a teammate and his hard work in practice. Practice?!

“Jaro’s a great goalie, great teammate, great guy, for us to play like that in front of him, you know it’s not acceptable,” Canucks forward Conor Garland said. “It’s tough to do that to him, he works so hard in practice, and doesn’t get in as much, and to get in and (us) not to play well in front of him is kind of a bad look.”

The Canucks fell behind 3-0 in the first period. The first goal from Devils forward Jack Hughes was smoked past his glove hand. Halak might think he should have had it. He didn’t have much chance at all on the next two as his teammates struggled with New Jersey’s speed and puck movement down low. The third goal came on the power play.

When the Canucks scored early in the 2nd period it appeared they were back in the game and establishing momentum. They then needed a save. Instead, Jesper Boqvist beat Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes in a foot race and jammed the puck against Halak’s pad and snuck it over the goal line for a 4-1 Devils lead. It came just 1:32 after Vancouver had got on the board.

“I gotta think, that after the first period was over, and what was said (by Boudreau in the dressing room), you know, we needed a save in the second period,” Boudreau said. “We scored the first goal (in the 2nd), I think we’re starting to skate, and then they score that one, I think that was a back-breaker, and then they get the next one, in off one of our guys. The sixth one, he at that point, was done. It was just a simple shot that he missed.”

In came Thatcher Demko to replace Halak trailing 6-1 just 6:19 into the 2nd period.

“The last thing you want to do is pull the goalie, but when the sixth one went in, it looked like he was a beaten man,” Boudreau added. “So you’re doing it for his sake, and the team. 6-1 is pretty hard to come back from, so you don’t know if you’re going to win, but you’re doing it for a guy who practices hard for you every day and is obviously going through a tough stretch.”

Halak was also pulled in his previous start against the New York Islanders at Rogers Arena back on February 9th. He made 12 saves, gave up five goals and was yanked at the 16:19 mark of the 1st period. Oddly enough, his next appearance came on February 19th in relief of Demko when the latter was bombarded by the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena. Halak played the final 35-minutes and gave up two goals on thirteen shots in the 7-4 loss.

HIs save percentage over the last three games, .583, .818., .571.

When acquired in the summer for one season, 36-year-old Halak appeared to the be the perfect compliment to his decade-younger partner and team number-one Demko. A recent winner of the William Jennings Trophy with Tuukka Rask in Boston for the NHL’s lowest goals against average, Halak, a two-time winner of the award, brought a consistent, calm, veteran presence. When the losses started to accumulate in the first half of the season, slowing his goal of reaching 300 wins for his career, the frustration may have started to weigh on him. Over ten starts and twelve total appearances Halak has a grand total of two wins, now 283 for his career.

Halak has earned a $1.25-million dollar bonus for making ten starts, while his other $250K bonus opportunity, posting a save percentage at or above .905, is in obvious danger. For the season he’s at .883. Halak has a no move clause, and at this point his stock has dropped, so the need to waive that clause to facilitate a move isn’t in the cards.

For a goalie who’s earned $46-million over his NHL career, the save percentage is the last of his worries. Halak wants and needs wins, as do the Canucks. It’s why Demko will likely start the next eight games.

The name of the game is goalie.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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