Jaroslav Halak is so close to win No. 300 he wants to keep going
BUFFALO — Things were a little rocky at the beginning, but this has turned out to be a strong season for Jaroslav Halak, who has just about been the perfect backup goaltender to Igor Shesterkin for the Rangers.
Halak, who started Friday’s game in Buffalo against the Sabres, was winless in his first six starts for the Rangers (0-5-1), but turned things around beginning in late November, around the time the Rangers, as a team, turned things around after a slow start. He won his first game of the season in Ottawa on Nov. 30, and from Dec. 15 through Feb. 10, he won seven straight starts.
The 37-year-old Slovak began Friday’s game on a personal two-game win streak, and with an overall record of 10-8-3, a goals-against average of 2.68, and a save percentage of .905.
“He's a good veteran guy that can play goal, he's pretty close to 300 wins in his career, so he's played great hockey for us,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said of Halak: “That's what you need. You need a strong goaltending, and we've got that with our guys.’’
Halak entered Friday’s game with 295 career NHL wins, five away from 300, a number that would mean a lot to him.
“It would be a great accomplishment,’’ Halak told Newsday this week. “I’m not there yet. It seems like the past three years, it has been taking forever. It’s not easy to get those wins, so every night I get a chance, I just try win and help the guys get two points.’’
With six game left in the season after Friday night, Halak realizes he’s not likely to get his milestone victory this season because he may only get one or two starts.
There is one last back-to-back set next Wednesday and Thursday against Tampa Bay at home and St. Louis on the road, and he can expect to get one of those. Then he’ll probably get one or two of the final three games before the season ends, as Shesterkin rests up for the playoffs.
So, after saying all season he hadn’t decided whether he would play next year, Halak has made the decision he will come back to try and earn win No. 300.
“I'm not going to quit now that I'm so close to it,’’ he said. “I don't know how many games I'm going to get [the rest of this season], but any start I get, I'll try to bring my best, and I'm sure the guys will try to help me out too.
“And I'll [try hard] because there's still a lot on the table for us as a group, not me as an individual,’’ he said. “We still want to move up in the standings.’’
The Rangers have some ground to make up on the two teams in front of them in the Metropolitan Division, the Devils and Carolina Hurricanes, to make that happen. A lot of things would have to go right, including Halak continuing his strong play.
His performance this season should be good enough to earn him another contract next year, but it may not be with the Rangers. Halak signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract last summer to back up Shesterkin, a tricky job that requires a goaltender to deal with infrequent playing time as Shesterkin gets all the work he needs to stay sharp.
There’s every reason to think the Rangers would love to have Halak back in the same role next season, but finances may come into play.
The Rangers, who this week signed center Filip Chytil to a four-year contract that carries a $4.4375 million average annual value, have a couple other young players, in defenseman K’Andre Miller and forward Alexis Lafreniere, to sign, along with a couple bottom-of-the-roster forwards, one additional defenseman, and a backup goaltender, who may, or may not be Halak.