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Chris Stewart and Jaroslav Halak: A Winning Combination

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Hopefully we won't have to see Chris Stewart wearing anyone else's sweater again anytime soon.
Maybe you've seen the goal Chris Stewart put in less than a minute into overtime to beat the Blue Jackets, maybe you haven't. If you haven't, go immediately and watch it. I'll wait. Seriously. Go ahead. 

I know, right? That was a serious move, and just one more reminder (as if we needed any more), of why the Blues were willing to give up Erik Johnson in order to bring in a player with Stewart's offensive talents. One goal, no matter how highlight-worthy, does not make a season, of course, nor does it make a trade good or bad. Still, having watched Stewart now wearing a Blue Note for a few weeks, it's easy to see the Blues have themselves a player. He has 12 points (9 goals, 3 assists), in just 11 games for the Blues, and best of all has been an absolute terror on the power play. It's too early to decide long-term whether the Blues did the right thing in trading for Stewart, but the early returns are nothing short of fantastic. 

As impressive as Stewart was, though, there was another performance that was just as impressive, and maybe even more important, that shouldn't be overlooked. 

It was Jaroslav Halak's first game back after missing time with a hand injury, and he gave the Blues just what they needed. The thing is, it doesn't look like a brilliant performance in the box score. Three goals against on just 22 shots, good for a decidedly mediocre .864 save percentage. As is often the case, though, the raw numbers don't tell the whole story. 

All three goals Halak gave up came within the first half of the second period, a flurry of scoring which could easily have buried the Blues. Instead of letting the rust and bad luck push the game into lost cause territory, though, Halak righted the ship and shut Columbus down the rest of the way as his team clawed back into it. Chris Stewart provided the brilliance, but Halak provided the guts and the tenacity. 

While Halak was out, Ty Conklin looked typically shaky and the enigmatic Ben Bishop looked, well, typically enigmatic. Bishop was brilliant in taking over for Conklin the previous game against Columbus, making save after save and stopping the decisive shots in a shootout victory. He also looked overmatched at times, doing nothing to change the perception of him as a physically gifted goaltender who just can't quite seem to put it together. 

With Halak returning, the hope for the Blues is that they'll be able to get some consistency back in net as they make their final, shambling run at a playoff spot. He was brilliant the first two months of the season but has struggled since, with injuries playing an undetermined role. Still, the tenacity Halak showed in weathering the Blue Jackets' storm, not to mention his track record of performance in big games in the playoffs, give the Blues the best hope they have for a team-lifting presence in net. 

The other thing I found really encouraging about last night's victory was the play of the Blues' young defensemen, Alex Pietranelo and Ian Cole. Pietrangelo has been nothing short of a revelation this season, and it was primarily his presence which made Erik Johnson somewhat expendable in the first place. Cole, on the other hand, is still trying to get his feet wet in the NHL, but I like what I've seen from him so far. What really stood out to me in the win last night was both players showing a willingness to shoot the puck, rather than trying to let the play develop too long. Cole's goal in particular was a perfect showcase for the good things that can happen when you put the puck on goal, even if it's not a very high-percentage shot. It was Cole's first goal in the National Hockey League, and it should be just the first of many. 

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