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Team Europe

Jaroslav Halak, Team Europe capable of earning upset

Goalie up to the task in matchup against Carey Price, Team Canada at World Cup final

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- It would be hard to imagine anyone arguing that the Montreal Canadiens didn't make the right choice by keeping goaltender Carey Price and trading Jaroslav Halak in the summer of 2010. 

Price has developed into arguably the top goaltender in the world since the trade. But for the same reasons it was a controversial decision in Montreal at the time, it would also not be feasible to totally dismiss Halak's chances of helping Team Europe upset Price and Team Canada in a best-of-3 final at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 that starts Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Halak made his case to stay with the Canadiens by helping upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, making a team-record 53 saves in Game 6 and stopping 131 of 134 shots while winning the final three games. 

Six years later, Halak is again the backbone of an underdog. He has a .947 save percentage for Team Europe that includes 37 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against Team Sweden in the semifinals Sunday.

Halak may trail Price in save percentage since being traded (.923 to .917), by a wider margin the past three seasons (.931 to .917), and even slightly at the World Cup (.948 to .947), but the 31-year-old has shown he is capable of winning games behind teams being badly outshot. Let's take a closer look at how Halak does it, why it might be hard to keep up against Team Canada and whether Price can continue to match him.

 

HALAK ALWAYS GIVES HIMSELF A CHANCE

Halak has faced more shots (150) than any goalie at the World Cup, an average of 37.5 per game, but he is no stranger to being busy. Halak is 10-5-3 with the New York Islanders when facing 35 or more shots the past two seasons but his success when the shots pile up isn't surprising given his playing style.

Though he will take more ice against rush attacks, Halak has mostly stuck with the conservative, inside-the-blue-ice approach instilled in him by then Canadiens goaltending coach Roland Melanson early in his NHL career. He plays a controlled, compact style and rarely wanders past the edge of his crease when the play is in his end, which makes it easier to stay in the middle of the net with short, quick movements no matter how much the play moves around his zone. In other words, Halak rarely beats himself by getting caught out of position, chasing the play or opening holes. He forces you to beat him with well-placed shots around the edges of the net.

Video: EUR@SWE: Halak stops Landeskog's early breakaway

The bad news for Halak is Team Canada is loaded with players who can pick those spots. Jonathan Toews did that during a 4-1 win against Team Europe in the preliminary round by beating Halak, who finished with 42 saves, high over the glove on a 2-on-1 rush. Much like a blocker-side rush goal scored by Team Czech Republic earlier, Halak got caught a little flat and off angle in his retreat, exposing himself on the far side, a tendency exacerbated by his habit of turning on high shots and making saves with his hands pulled back along the plane of his body rather than closing on shots and keeping his hands out in front of him.

Logan Couture scored the final goal for Team Canada against Team Europe with another high shot after Halak followed a loose puck scramble across his crease. Maybe by then Team Canada learned the dangers of assuming the bottom of the net would be open on cross-ice plays after Halak got across to rob Brad Marchand and Steven Stamkos on earlier attempts to finish off the kind of passing plays that often leave the net empty.

If there is an exception to Halak's usually conservative positioning evident at times during the World Cup, it's been on-point shots. Halak has been caught higher in his crease twice on shots that went wide and resulted in goals before he could recover back to his post, including a Sidney Crosby wraparound to open the scoring in the preliminary-round loss to Team Canada.

It's one of the few times Halak has been caught out of position at the World Cup.

 

PRICE STYLE SIMILAR BUT BIGGER, MORE POWERFUL

Price is slightly more aggressive with his positioning than Halak despite being four inches taller at 6-foot-3 but otherwise plays a similar style, making up for the extra ice he takes with more efficient rotations into his lateral movements, both on the skates on from his knees. That combination of size, power and efficiency has helped Price lead the League with a .931 save percentage over the past three seasons.

Price was also 5-0-0 with two shutouts and a .972 save percentage when he helped Canada to a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He won the Hart and Vezina trophies with a .933 save percentage in 2014-15, and looked similarly dominant with a .934 save percentage and 10-2-0 record before his 2015-16 season ended early after spraining his knee against the New York Rangers on Nov. 25.

Video: CAN@USA: Price makes the save on Byfuglien's chance

The only questions surrounding Price coming into the World Cup involved the potential for rust after going almost 10 months between games because of the knee injury. Though he didn't look like his usual fluid self early in pretournament action, especially with uncharacteristically sloppy post play, Price appears to have rediscovered the form that makes him so dominant.

Two of the five goals he has given up in three games came on shots or plays from below the goal line, but the early discomfort moving into and off of his posts seems to be gone, with Price back to mixing in a variety of post-integration techniques that make it harder to exploit any sharp-angle tendencies. 

The only goal that resulted from Price being stranded atop his crease came during a scramble in the final minute of a 5-3 semifinal win against Team Russia. Other than that, and much like Halak, Price has used his powerful, efficient movements to beat plays into position, forcing opponents to beat him with great shots. 

Unlike Halak, it's hard to imagine Price will see enough of those in the World Cup final.

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