With 11 games left in the regular season and the Islanders three points behind the Maple Leafs for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, they appear close to deciding if they will bring back exiled goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
Halak, 31, is 16-7 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for Bridgeport. “There’s a lot of talk about it,’’ Islanders coach Doug Weight said Monday at Northwell Ice Center. “He’s played really well, he’s had a great attitude. We’ll see what transpires here in the next couple of days.’’
Halak, a star for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey last September, was sent to Bridgeport in December after being pulled from three of his last 11 starts. Then-coach Jack Capuano even took an uncharacteristic shot at his porous work. Halak was placed on waivers (with no takers) for the remainder of this year’s $4.75-million salary and the $5 million due next season.
All that came after Halak’s agent said on Twitter that the Islanders’ rotation of three goalies, which includes Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube, was detrimental to the team and his client’s performance. General manager Garth Snow apparently took umbrage to that and made it known that Halak was available via a trade.
That never happened, though, and perhaps the situation is right to bring him up now. Bridgeport is in a tight race for the fourth playoff spot in the AHL and removing Halak would jeopardize that chance, but not making the NHL playoffs could carry big consequences for the Islanders’ current staff.
Berube can’t be sent down because the Islanders did not place his name on the roster to participate in the remainder of the AHL season or playoffs.
The Islanders also might wonder what Halak’s return would do to Greiss, 31, whose emergence last season carried them to the second round of the playoffs. Greiss was signed to a relatively modest three-year, $10-million extension less than two months ago. He is 24-16 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .913 save percentage, but that slipped to .891 in February and .893 this month. Berube, 25, has struggled in his limited opportunities.
“I like every card in the deck,’’ Weight said. “ It doesn’t mean you don’t still like what [Berube] brings. I love J-F. It’s just a tough situation right now with the whole thing, so we’re going to see what happens, see what plays out. That’s what you do; you talk about every instance and everything that could benefit your team. It will be talked about and we’ll make a decision.’’
The Islanders will meet the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins this week.
“Obviously, you’re starting to get down to the wire here,’’ John Tavares said. “You don’t want to put your fate in another team’s hands. We want to do as best we can to control our own fate. We didn’t have the greatest week this past week, so we got to bounce back. We’re playing some really good quality teams. Each game is kind of do-or-die for us. It’s just that tight right now.’’
Notes & quotes: Defenseman Johnny Boychuk (lower body) was back on the ice and forward Shane Prince (lower body) had a strong skate, Weight said. There is no timetable for their return.