Halak, Blues visit Montreal

Halak, Blues visit Montreal

Published Jan. 10, 2012 8:06 a.m. ET

Jaroslav Halak was part of a potent goaltending tandem in Montreal, but he was the one who led the Canadiens on an unlikely playoff run two seasons ago.

A few weeks later, he was gone.

Now part of a dominant duo in St. Louis, Halak will be in net Tuesday night as his surging Blues make their first trip to Montreal since acquiring him via trade.

The Canadiens had a pair of promising young netminders during the 2009-10 season, but Halak outperformed Carey Price and stopped at least 37 shots in six different wins during the eighth-seeded club's surprising surge to the Eastern Conference finals.

Halak, however, was a restricted free agent that summer, and Montreal decided it couldn't keep both players. On June 17, 2010, Halak was traded to St. Louis for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.

Teammate Brian Elliott beat Colorado in a 4-0 win Saturday, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Halak will still start in Montreal, where he figures to be warmly received.

"This is once-in-a-lifetime," Hitchcock said. "Ideal situation, you want to support the shutout, but I mean, come on. First time going back. In fairness to Jaroslav, he had a heck of a time there, and I think it would be dismissive of me to not recognize that."

While Elliott leads all West goalies with a 1.62 goals-against average, Halak has been almost as good since a shaky start to the season. He hasn't lost in regulation in his last nine starts and is 8-1-5 with a 1.81 GAA in 14 outings since Hitchcock took over Nov. 6.

Halak got one chance last season to face his former team March 10 in St. Louis, outdueling Price with 27 saves in a 4-1 victory.

"Obviously, when you play for a team and then you get traded, you want to beat them every time you play them," Halak said after that game. "We play Montreal only once a year, so that was my chance this year. I needed to make sure I gave it my best."

The Canadiens have certainly been satisfied with Price, who tied for the NHL lead with 38 wins in 2010-11. His numbers aren't quite as good this season, but he's hardly been the biggest problem for the disappointing Canadiens.

He made 23 stops Saturday as Montreal (16-18-7) beat Tampa Bay 3-1 for its second straight win following a 1-7-0 stretch.

"It's a good start to the year for us," said captain Brian Gionta, who played his first game after missing 11 with a lower-body injury. "This January we knew was going to be a big swing month for us and that's the way we wanted to start."

Eller powered the first victory with four goals and an assist during Wednesday's 7-3 win over Winnipeg. Perhaps as a result, he saw a season-high 20:00 of ice time Saturday but went pointless, having a goal disallowed because he directed it in off his skate.

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had two assists for his third consecutive multipoint game Saturday, setting up a power-play goal by David Backes for the second straight game. St. Louis went 5 for 13 on the man advantage while sweeping a three-game homestand.

The Blues (24-12-5), though, are 1-3-2 away from home since the start of December. Halak is 1-5-3 in road games this season but has allowed only eight goals in his last five.

"We've played very well on the road, but we haven't seen it come out in wins," Hitchcock said. "We have to start to see that if we want to be a top team at the end of the day."