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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

St. Louis Blues: It is time for Jaroslav Halak to earn his paycheck

The St. Louis Blues suffered a huge blow this week, losing forwards Andy McDonald and Alex Steen to injuries that occurred during practice of all places. The timing of the injuries could not have come at a worst time for the Blues, who are set to welcome the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at the Scottrade Center.

Just a week removed from losing Vladimir Tarasenko to a concussion, the Blues are now without their entire second line.

137790_Shop Under Armour MTN for Ski and Snowboard: Don’t Hit the Hill Without It.Many have already pointed out that rookie Jaden Schwartz and veteran Matt D'Agostini must step up in the absence of Steen and McDonald, which is an obvious assertion.

Schwartz and D'Agostini must step up and produce offense and play solid two-way games while Steen and McDonald are out. These are the two player who will benefit the most from increased ice time and suggesting that they must step up is taking the easy way out.

The player who must step up the most with the team short-handed is goalie Jaroslav Halak.

The Blues have been a solid offensive team all season, in part, because of the contributions of guys like Steen and McDonald. The Blues are sixth in the NHL in goals per game and have the league's best power play. While the offense has been solid, the defense and goaltending in particular has been shaky at best.

The Blues rank 17th in goals against as of Wednesday night and are dead last in the NHL when it comes to save percentage, stopping just 87.7 percent of shots faced on the season.

The Blues have not had many games stolen by their goalies and now would be the perfect time for Halak to steal one against Chicago on Thursday night.

Schwartz and D'Agostini may step up their games, but it won't matter if Halak struggles between the pipes. On the flip side, Schwartz and D'Agostini could struggle in their increased roles, but if Halak is solid, the Blues can still win.

Usually people say the best defense is a good offense. At this point, the Blues' offense is a bit short-handed and a solid defensive effort and great game from Halak can help the offense more than anything else.

The Blues will need Halak to play well if they hope to make a push in this year's NHL playoffs in search of a Stanley Cup. With Steen and McDonald out of the lineup, Halak can start picking up his play Thursday night against Chicago.

Corey Rudd is the owner and founder of StlSportsMinute.com (@StlSportsMinute) and hosts The Cruddy Show (@CruddyShow), a St. Louis sports talk show, every Tuesday and Friday night at 9:30 pm CT.  You can also follow Rudd on Twitter (@CoreyRudd).