CALGARY — Maybe it was the mask.
Jaroslav Halak had been pulled for the second time in three starts on Feb. 13 in Raleigh, suffering a loss for the fourth time in five outings. Thomas Greiss, signed to be Halak’s backup, was putting up much better numbers and the Islanders were supporting Greiss far better than Halak.
So Halak decided to switch his masks, back to the one he used last season when he set a franchise record for wins. Three starts with two total goals allowed on 90 shots later, perhaps it’s superstition that’s turned Halak’s season around at just the right time. Or he’s simply dialed his game back up to where he and the Islanders need it to be.
“We have a couple goaltenders who can steal games for us,” Matt Martin said following Thursday’s 2-1 overtime win over the Flames here, in which Halak allowed a goal on Calgary’s second shot and stopped the next 30. “Jaro made some big saves. We don’t have a chance to win this game without Jaro’s performance.”
Greiss’ outstanding season — it’s his mug you see when you click on the NHL’s website to see who’s leading the league in save percentage, at .930 — perhaps made some observers feel Halak was more burden than benefit, given he has two more years at a $4.5 million cap hit remaining after this season.
And the intense, introspective Halak is a far personality cry from Greiss’ laid-back attitude. But that may have fueled Halak in the past week, when he strung together his best three performances of the season, starting with a 27-save shutout over the Devils in Newark.
Jack Capuano rarely dissects his goaltenders, but he sees a more aggressive Halak these past three games. “You can’t sit back and think you’re going to be able to stop everything,” Capuano said. “You have to be out there, cutting down angles, hacking and whacking with all the big bodies in front if you have to.”
The Islanders were off on Friday, traveling to Edmonton on Saturday before facing the Oilers on Sunday, the final game before Monday’s trade deadline. Halak is likely to get the call again, given how he’s played.
It’s probably not the mask. But he looks like a different goaltender than the one who struggled for three weeks prior.
Notes & quotes: Capuano will give no hints, but Ryan Pulock may make his debut on Sunday. Brian Strait missed a few minutes of the third period on Thursday after blocking a big slap shot, so despite the relatively strong defensive play, Pulock may get his chance.