Posted by: mdegeorge | May 25, 2010

Better lucky than good: Halak’s fortunate ride finally over

When I wrote about the Penguins’ Game 7 defeat at the hands of the Canadiens, I refrained from remarking about the sheer luck that Jaroslav Halak used to survive the onslaught by the Pens and Capitals. I thought better of the comment, not wanting to look like a bitter, sore loser.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=jaroslav+halak&iid=8902937″ src=”3/a/2/1/Philadelphia_Flyers_Mike_7ccc.jpg?adImageId=12985692&imageId=8902937″ width=”500″ height=”279″ /]

But damn it, I was right. And with that luck having run out against the Flyers, I can now sit back and rejoice in his trip to the golf course (or soccer pitch or whatever the Canadian/Slovakian equivalent of offseason recreation is).

The numbers say it all:

Against the Caps: 14 goals allowed on 231 shots (.939 save percentage)

Against the Pens: 16 goals allowed on 219 shots (.927 save percentage)

Against the Flyers: 13 goals allowed on 112 shots (.884 save percentage)

So, to what to we owe this sudden turn of fortunes which transformed Patrick Roy into Jocelyn Thibault?

The exhaustion of the defense may have played a part in it, rendering it less able to block 186 shots per game as it had through the first two rounds. But Halak faced significantly fewer shots on goal per game from the Flyers than either of the two series (22.4 shots per game, as opposed to 31.3 from Pittsburgh and 38.5 from Washington).

Sure, some of it was the fact that they had a red hot Flyers team fresh off a Game 7 triumph on the road. Not that Les Habitants didn’t have one of those too.

But it’s not just how many goals he allowed, but the types of goals he allowed. With the exception of two breakaway goals in Game 4, ALL of the goals he gave up were softies. It’s quite remarkable for a guy who, outside of Game 1 to the Penguins, gave up one goal that could have been deemed questionable the entire series.

Suddenly, he’s stunned by shots at oblique angles, he’s got holes in his catching glove, or he’s losing his mind on the horror show for the first goal in Game 5 for which he deserved a primary assist just as much as Claude Giroux. The Caps and Pens must have been watching that saying, “Where the @$%& was that when we played!”

What it comes down to is that all the bounces that had been going his team’s way for the first two rounds finally caught up to him. All the posts that the Pens hit and the rebounds that magically stayed under his glove and the interference calls that Hal Gill got away with finally came back and bit him right on the ass.

Maybe that’s the reality of playoff hockey: it’s such a long road to the Cup that the winner has to be the one of the luckiest teams just by the nature of the beast. And yeah, gun to my head, I still think BOTH the Caps and the Pens would beat the Flyers in a seven-game series eight out of 10 times.

The bottom line is, before you rioting Canadian masses decide to deify this unbelievably lucky and fortunate goaltender, let me remind you of another goaltender you might remember. His name is Carey Price and two years after being a playoff darling, he’s got one foot out the door and will need some breaks to finish with a career that ranks somewhere between David Aebischer and Patrick Lalime.

I can only hope the hockey gods consign Halak to the same fate.

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