Halak May Be An All-Star, But Johnson Needs To Play

Jaroslav Halak is a clear cut NHL all-star. If you tuned into the NHL All-Star weekend, you would have noticed that John Tavares (arguably the MVP of the game last night despite the hometown guy taking the honors) was not the only Islanders player representing the blue and orange.

Halak has gone 25-9-0 this year in 34 games played this season to go along with a 2.41 GAA and .910 save percentage. Halak’s numbers are excellent, and he has been nothing short of spectacular for the New York Islanders this season.

Chad Johnson, who was supposed to be Halak’s co-star between the pipes, has appeared more like a stunt double; he’s only played when Halak’s needed a rest and has dealt with some ugly situations.

Johnson is 6-5-0 on the year with a 3.38 GAA and .870 save percentage in 13 games played.

This is the same goalie that went 17-4-0 with the Boston Bruins last season. Last year, Johnson finished with a 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage.

You can argue that the Bruins’ defense was incredible, which likely helped Johnson thrive in the back-up position behind Tuukka Rask. But given that the Islanders are sitting in first place in the Metropolitan Division behind a Stanley Cup winning defense core led by Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk (who, um, played for the Bruins last year), Johnson should have similar results.

After all, Halak hasn’t had much of an issue.

So why has Johnson struggled?

Looking at the Islanders’ schedule, Johnson has gone several days without playing in between each of his starts.

He started off the year strong, earning victories in his first three starts against Carolina, Boston and Dallas. But once November hit, Johnson would at times see game action only once within a two- week span.

He only started two games in December, and has also only played two games this January as well.

Most goaltenders will tell you that they need to play and see game action on a consistent basis in order for them to feel confident in their game.

A case can be made that Johnson’s poor stats may be due to rust, as well as being unsure of himself when playing. There’s no doubt that he wants to play more than twice a month, and likely puts a lot of pressure on himself when he finally gets the nod between the pipes.

If Jack Capuano expects his team to compete to the end of the year as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and make a run in the playoffs, he will need to lean a bit more on Chad Johnson.

The guy has proven that he can play as an effective back-up goaltender in the past. Capuano will need Halak to be sharp (as well as healthy) when the playoffs start. Although Halak has been superb, he has not played more than 57 games in a regular season, which dates back to his days with the St. Louis Blues in 2011.

Therefore, Halak has already played more than half of what his career has shown to be his maximum amount of games played in a season.

Will Halak play 60 or more games this year? Perhaps, but if he does, will he still be the same goalie when the team seriously needs him during the playoffs?   

If Capauno can get some steady and reliable play out of Johnson, then the coaching staff will not have to worry about Halak’s condition when the playoffs start.

Bottom line, Capuano has to find a way to get Johnson more starts to improve his confidence and help keep his team healthy and mentally prepared for what should hopefully be a long playoff run this summer.

-Rob McGowan

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