Jaroslav Halak

Can Jaroslav Halak pull out all the stops for St. Louis to make the postseason?

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We all recall two years ago when Jaroslav Halak made himself a household name in Montreal by helping lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals. After being traded to St. Louis last offseason and going through what some would say was a bit of a disappointing year for the Slovakian netminder, the Blues enter this season with a lot of hype.

After all, the Blues come into the new season healthy with all of their youthful big guns ready to show what they’re made of in the NHL. David Backes starts the year as the team’s new captain and guys like T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, Matt D’Agostini, and Kevin Shattenkirk are looking to be the guys that bust things up in the West. The keys to doing that, however, my rest in Halak’s hands.

After a disappointing preseason, Halak is hoping it’s not a sign of things to come and he knows the pressure is on him to pull it together and get the Blues to the playoffs. Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch has the story.

Still, there is some concern about how the Blues’ No. 1 netminder will respond in his second season with the club after a preseason performance that won’t show up on any of his personal highlight reels. He was 1-2 with a 2.68 GAA and .869 save-percentage.

“No one ever won the league in the preseason,” Halak said. “I know everybody wants to see the wins and no one wants to lose. … I only won one (game) … so what can I do? It’s only the preseason, so let’s turn the page and focus on our practices right now and especially Saturday’s game.”

They’ll need Halak to be on top of his game because things aren’t confidence-inspiring when it comes to his backups. Brian Elliott beat out Ben Bishop for the backup job in training camp and while Elliott has been a starter in Ottawa and Colorado, those weren’t exactly the greatest teams. Elliott split time with Pascal Leclaire in 2009-2010 when the Senators went to the playoffs, but the wheels came off the train last year in Ottawa and he was dealt to Colorado for Craig Anderson. Things didn’t improve in Denver and the Avs allowed Elliott to walk as a free agent.

Suffice it to say, it’s Halak or bust in St. Louis. Provided Halak can stay healthy all year and show the kind of game he had in Montreal that made the Habs an impossible team to face in the postseason, the Blues figure to be equally difficult to deal with. They’re skilled, they have pesky and tough defensive players, and they’re young and brimming with confidence. It’s the perfect mix for St. Louis to be a postseason hopeful this season. Halak will hope that a poor preseason is just that and he can take care of business when the games count beginning on Saturday.

Goalie nods: Niemi expected for Stars against Penguins

Antti Niemi, Jonathan Toews
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Talk about getting thrown into the fire.

Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.

Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.

Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.

We’ll start to find out tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.


Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.

Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.

Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.

Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.

Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.

Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Flyers want to prove doubters wrong

Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux
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Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.

“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly. 

So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.

That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”

The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.

“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”

That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.

Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen