Jaroslav Halak’s on-ice journey has been of one of success and failure, banishment and redemption. Two years after leading the Islanders to the playoffs, the goalie found himself languishing in Bridgeport, waiting for the call he could come back to the big club. It took more than three months for that call and in the interim, Halak nearly helped lead the Sound Tigers to the playoffs, while his future and pride hung in the balance.
Pretty dramatic stuff, right? Well, that’s over. Because now, Halak’s story is about one thing, and one thing only: plain old hockey.
Halak on Monday night got the start in the Islanders’ second preseason game, the first two periods of a 1-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but though it’s clear he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, this season doesn’t carry the same baggage that weighed him down last year, when the regular-season roster had three goalies. He’s now in a straight competition with Thomas Greiss.
“Yeah, I see, really since he’s gotten back with those six games [last year], a difference” in Halak, coach Doug Weight said. “And it’s not necessarily that he needed it. It happened. The way he handled himself with [Sounds Tigers coach] Brent [Thompson], brought Bridgeport back in the playoff race and he really played great hockey and had a great attitude. To me, it’s behind us, but he’s got some drive to him, I can see it.”
Halak was a highlight in a trying, penalty-laden game — a product of the NHL’s new, more stringent slashing rules. He made two big stops during the Rangers’ second power play — a slashing call on Scott Mayfield. Then, seven minutes into the first period, he made an impressive glove save on Gabriel Fontaine’s breakaway. The Rangers outshot the Islanders 11-3 in the first period. He had 22 saves before being lifted for Eamon McAdam.
In short, Halak gave the Islanders every reason to believe he has what it takes to avoid the slow start they had last year — something that became especially bitter at the end of the season, when they missed the playoffs by one point. Halak lost 14 of his first 20 games before getting shipped to Bridgeport.
But after Greiss lagged at the end of the season, the Islanders had no choice but to call up Halak. J-F Berube — whom they lost in the expansion draft — was proving to be a liability and Halak’s AHL contributions were impossible to ignore. And now Weight has said that Halak has every opportunity to reclaim his role.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” Weight said. “They’re both experienced, every competition on the team is good . . . I’m going to let it play out.”