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Doubting Halak Doesn’t Make Sense

It hasn’t been the start Jaroslav Halak wanted. The Islanders goaltender has been shaky at best after being out for the season last year. It shouldn’t be surprising. He is still trying to get his legs back after missing time last year. It takes awhile for him to get into a groove. Plus, he was playing in the World Cup of Hockey last month.

Good thing for him and the Islanders that an 82-game hockey season is a marathon, not a sprint. The season just started. So while Islanders fans are on edge about his performance, the Islanders are going to be patient with him. They get what a long season is about.

It could be easy for the Islanders to start Thomas Greiss. After all, he played well in the playoffs last year, including matching Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo save for save in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. But starting him now would be a sign of panic with the team playing five games in already.

The Islanders’ best chance of winning the Stanley Cup starts and ends with Halak. He is a better goaltender than Greiss despite what some disgruntled Islanders fans say. He is not being paid to be a backup. The Islanders are going to want to reap the dividends by starting him.

Halak is 2-2 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.77 GAA in four games he started this season. He saved 23 of 25 shots in the Islanders’ 3-2 victory over the Coyotes Friday night at Barclays Center.

Halak gave up a softie in the first period seconds after the Coyotes cut the Islanders’ lead to 2-1. Islanders Twitter lost patience when he did that. To his credit, he settled down after that and put on a credible performance. Giving up easy goals has been a sore point so far. It’s something Halak wants to avoid.

With the Islanders goaltender, he’s streaky. Once he gets hot, he is tough to stop. It’s a matter of time until he gets hot. His resume speaks for itself. Patience has to be preached in an 82-game season. It’s something fans don’t want to hear. Fans want their team to be perfect every game. A long season is about pacing themselves. It’s about being sharp in March to get ready for the playoffs in April. That’s why it’s hard to get worked up about Halak’s mediocre start.

If this was going to be the norm for him all year, then it’s easy to start an argument about starting Greiss. There’s no goaltending controversy right now, and there’s shouldn’t be. Not five games in.

We hear all the time about a season being a process in sport. That’s what the regular season is. It’s about improving each game and getting better each month. That is the case with Halak. With Halak’s track record, the Islanders will take their chances of seeing him getting back on track.  Halak and the Islanders knew it was going to take time until he got back into a groove. He needed several games to get back in it. He had to be in playing shape, and that takes time.

It’s no different than a baseball player needing 100 at-bats to get back in the swing of things after missing time with an injury. Halak’s response after the Coyotes tied the game in the first period was encouraging. It shows he still has so much left in his game. For him to settle down and set the tone in the Islanders’ win last night, it showed the Islanders are in good hands.

The Islanders goaltender has to be relieved he settled down after a rough first period. It’s not like he was panicking, but it can be easy to doubt himself if his struggles started snowballing. It’s only human nature.

This is where Halak’s competitiveness and intellect comes in. He knows how to respond in tough times. He has an even-kneel attitude on how to handle a long season. That’s why the Islanders trust him over Greiss. That’s why he is well-respected in the locker room.

Halak knows what he is doing. He has been their best goaltender in quite a long time. To doubt him is foolish.

photo by Drew King

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