While they try to figure out how to play better in front of him, Islanders skaters have Jaroslav Halak’s back. They appreciate what the goalie has been doing to keep them afloat.
“I think our goalies have been playing really well. We’ve really hung them out to dry,” John Tavares said, “especially those two games coming off the break, the amount of shots we’re giving up and the time we’re spending in our own end. They have obviously made some big saves to give us opportunities to win.”
The Islanders squandered an opportunity to win on Monday night, allowing the Predators to score the tying goal with 42.2 seconds left in regulation and then lost in overtime — after Halak had stopped two breakaways in the extra period. Doug Weight attributed the result not to those goals but to the way the players failed to shield Halak in the first two periods. All told, the goalie made 42 saves for a team that continues to give up shots by the bundle.
“I thought Jaro played outstanding,” Casey Cizikas said. “He made some massive saves at some big times. We’ve got to do a better job in front of him.”
Halak’s stature has improved dramatically from this time last year, when he was enduring the embarrassment of having been waived and demoted to Bridgeport. It also is better than it was earlier this season, when the consensus among Islanders watchers was that goaltending was the greatest weakness.
He still is below average in some statistical categories. He is -4.78 in Goals Saved Above Average, which essentially compares how goalies would do if they all faced the same number of shots. In comparison, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is at a solid 14.24, while Halak’s teammate Thomas Greiss is -18.79.
But the Islanders’ situation is more nuanced. They recognize the stress Halak is under, knowing he will face a blitz pretty much every game. They marveled at the way he stopped 25 of 26 shots in the first period against the Blue Jackets on Saturday, providing the foundation for a win.
“Jaro was there to stand tall,” Jordan Eberle said after that game.
Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Islanders are tied for fourth in the Metropolitan Division and are in a playoff position, based on points. Still, their closest competitors have games in hand. Plus, it is reasonable to think that a playoff drive cannot be built on shaky defense.
After the overtime loss Monday, Weight regretted the way his team allows so many long-range shots to get through to “hit Jaro right in the stomach.” Another problem has been poor puck possession in the defensive zone. His players did make big corrections for almost all of the third period, a point that he will emphasize leading into a game at Buffalo Thursday.
“If they play like that,” Weight said, “we’ll win.”