For Isles To Win, Halak Must Be An All-Star

Goals win hockey games; there is no question about it. But in order for the Islanders to defeat the Washington Capitals in their opening round of the playoffs, goaltender Jaroslav Halak will have to be playing at the All-Star level he was at back in February.

Halak has gone 38-17-4 on the year with a 2.43 GAA and .914 save percentage. These are all respectable numbers, especially the 38 wins, which are the most by any Islanders goaltender in team history.

But the team only went 6-8-5 over their last 20 games of the regular season. This is not to say that Halak is at fault, but many feel that he was not playing at the elite level that he was at prior to the All-Star break.

Letting up a late goal against the Philadelphia Flyers a few games ago with only about two seconds left still stings when thinking about how the Islanders could have had home ice advantage if they were able to muscle out one more point (they finished the year tied with Washington at 101).

He also didn’t do well in the shootout for the Islanders’ last home game, only stopping two of the four shots he faced. Unfortunately, had he saved the first goal scored for the Caps in the shootout, the Isles would have pulled out of their last regular season home game at Nassau Coliseum with a win for their fans (and home-ice advantage against the Caps).

With all of that being said, Halak is one of the key reasons as to why the Islanders finished third in the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.

One would have to assume that Halak might be a little extra motivated to play against the team that dealt for him at last year’s trade deadline. In 12 games with the Capitals last year, Halak went 5-4-3 and was unable to help them clinch a playoff berth.

But he did exactly that with the Isles, a team that he has meshed well with since the very beginning. Although the Isles’ first round playoff opponent is not the St. Louis Blues or Montreal Canadiens, two teams that he had great success with, playing a former team usually brings out a competitive edge in a player.

The same can be said for Mikhail Grabovski, if he is healthy of course.

Michal Neuvirth, the Islanders’ back-up, hasn’t exactly played up to the team’s expectations since being acquired at this year’s trade deadline. He has a 1-3-1 record with a 2.94 GAA and .881 save percentage, so the coaching staff do not have much to turn to if Halak is unable to meet the needs of his team between the pipes.

Tonight will mark the beginning of a new season. The way the Isles finished the 2015 year is not indicative of the way the team played for the majority of the regular season.

Many players reach new levels of game play and set a higher bar when it comes to the playoffs, and Halak will have to be one of them.

-Rob McGowan

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