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Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak used demotion to earn a promotion

New York Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak takes off

New York Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak takes off his mask after a power-play goal by Washington Capitals left wing Jakub Vrana at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jaroslav Halak felt all the emotions a veteran NHLer might feel from the moment on the morning of Dec. 30, when Garth Snow called Halak in the goaltender’s hotel room in Winnipeg to inform him that the Islanders were putting Halak on waivers and he’d be going to Bridgeport if and when he cleared.

Anger. Resignation. Bitterness. They were all there for Halak, who is a fairly intense person even on the best of days.

But in nearly three months away from the team, he rediscovered the joy of being a pro athlete — not to mention the extra dough in his paycheck from being out of the NHL and not subject to the hefty escrow that players, per the CBA, have to return to the league. He dutifully used some of the money to regularly buy meals for his lesser-paid teammates.

“It was a fun time, even though I can’t say I wanted to be there of course,” Halak said. “The coaches treated me great, they were so good to me and the guys there, they just work hard every day. I didn’t think about anything going on here, just trying to play and work on my game, get some wins for those guys.”

Now his goal is to do the same for the Islanders in whatever time he has left with the team and the organization. He laughed when asked if he’s thought about what’s to come this offseason. Halak has one year left on the four-year deal he signed in June of 2014 at a cap hit of $4.5 million, but a cash payout of $5 million, which makes dealing him nearly impossible.

He’ll be exposed in the expansion draft for sure, but so will a host of goaltenders with smaller price tags. Halak will also be 32 in May. So the future is as unknown as can be for a guy with a contract.

But, again, he’s not worried. “I just look at it game by game now,” he said. “I’m happy to be here, every point is big and whatever I can do, however many games I play, I just want to win.”

Doug Weight made a point of saying Saturday that Thomas Greiss is still his No. 1 goaltender. Weight also made a strong point of saying “we’re going to do things a bit differently than earlier in the year,” when the three-goaltender rotation drove Halak to the brink and clearly didn’t help J-F Berube much, either, given he’s faltered with so little game action.

With only eight games to go after Saturday’s tilt with the Bruins, there isn’t much time for anyone to get their goalie pants in a bunch. Halak will play at least two more games, with that many back-to-backs, and even if it’s only those two they’ll be huge.

Greiss nominated for Masterton Trophy

Thomas Greiss was selected as the local Professional Hockey Writers Association chapter’s nominee for the Bill Masteron Trophy, awarded to the player judged to show “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” Each chapter selects a player and then the winner is chosen from among all 30 nominees.

Greiss’ rise from journeyman backup to Islanders’ No. 1 is fairly unprecedented for someone like the 31-year-old Greiss, who rose up through the ranks in his native Germany before joining the Sharks as a backup for four seasons. After stops with the Coyotes and Penguins, the Islanders landed Greiss prior to last season and he’s posted a .919 save percentage in 88 appearances with the Isles, tops in franchise history for a goaltender with at least 50 games played.

“He was always a guy we were on the lookout for in the summer,” Weight said. “He was good everywhere he played as a backup and being here, coaching him, you see why — he just has an easygoing way about him but he’s got that fire in his belly to be better. He’s a terrific selection.”

Kids are playing

One of the bigger changes in the move from Jack Capuano to Weight is seeing the prominence Weight has given to the four rookies on the Isles roster. Dennis Seidenberg and Thomas Hickey have alternated being a healthy scratch the past four games, with Weight using Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield in must-win situations.

Up front, Weight is not only playing Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang, he’s given the two big assignments on the same line. And it was Beauvillier, who has scored three of his eight goals this season on pretty breakaway moves, who led off Friday’s shootout in Pittsburgh with another brilliant deke to confound Marc-Andre Fleury.

It’s a sign that Weight is looking both to the present to make the playoffs with a furious stretch drive and the future to give the young Islanders some serious experience.

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