With the Stanley Cup Playoffs still an uncertainty, we ponder whether or not Jaroslav Halak was the answer for the New York Islanders.
With the New York Islanders 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators in overtime on Tuesday night, the Islanders are still in the mix for the last wild card spot … but barely. They would need a massive collapse from the Toronto Maple Leafs and to win out to miraculously sneak into the playoffs.
Honestly, there is a better chance of Doug Weight turning water into wine than the Islanders making the playoffs.
Soon enough, the Islanders will be eliminated and the fans will look back at this season and ask themselves, “what went wrong?” That list will include Jack Capuano‘s poor coaching during the first half of the season, poor defensive play, the despicable powerplay unit and, finally, the goaltending.
Between Thomas Greiss, JF Berube and Jaroslav Halak, the goaltending of the Islanders has had an up and down year. As of today, the Islanders have given up 234 goals, the sixth most in the NHL. A major change was made back on Dec. 30 when Halak was placed on waivers and later sent down to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, giving Thomas Greiss full-time goaltending duties.
After receiving the full-time job, Greiss posted a 6-2-3 record with a .936 in January, helping the Islanders get in the playoff mix. On Jan. 30, the Islanders extended Greiss’s contract for $10 million over 3 years. After the contract extension, it seemed like Greiss’s season went on a downward spiral. Since the extension, Greiss has an 11-11-2 record with a .895 save percentage.
But you can’t put all the blame on Greiss here. He was virtually starting every single game. Berube only started five games since Halak was sent down to Bridgeport. During the franchise record long 10 game road trip, Greiss started every single game. That’s a lot to ask from your goalie.
At one point during that trip, the Islanders had a tough stretch of three games in four nights against the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames. In those games they won, lost a tough game in a shootout, then got torched by the Flames 5-2, a game which Greiss gave up four goals in the first period and was pulled. Greiss had no business starting that Sunday game in Calgary after playing in that shootout loss in Chicago two nights before. That just showed how little of faith coach Dough Weight had in Berube.
Meanwhile, while Greiss was being the workhorse between the pipes, trying to carry the Islanders into the playoffs for the third consecutive season, Jaroslav Halak was playing exceptionally well down in Bridgeport. During his 27 games with the Sound Tigers, Halak had a 17-7-3 record while posting a .925 save percentage.
Obviously, the talent in the AHL is much lower than the NHL, but the front office really thought Halak couldn’t be a suitable backup for Greiss? At the time the move was right to put Halak on waivers. His play at the beginning of the season was not good and a change had to be made. But maybe he just needed a stint in the AHL to get his confidence up and find his game.
All signs as of now are saying that was the case. Since his return to the Islanders, Halak is 4-0 in the games he started with a .939 save percentage.
Now, why was this guy being wasted in Bridgeport for most of this season? Why wasn’t he with the team back at the end of February when Greiss began to struggle and a 10 game road trip was ahead of them? We all knew that Halak and his agent angered the Islanders front office with his opinion of the three goalie rotation, but it is unlikely that that was the sole reason. Most likely, the Islanders just didn’t want to carry three goaltenders on the roster anymore and with per the CBA rules, they could not send Berube down to Bridgeport.
But with a starting goalie logging tons of ice time and having no faith in the backup, why not just call up Halak and have three goalies on the roster? You have to do whatever is necessary to get into the playoffs. But it’s now too late for that and all we can do is say, “What if?”
These four games for Halak is a short window, but one has to think that Halak could have stole some games for the Islanders over the last couple months. You could also assume with a reliable backup in Halak, it would take less pressure off Greiss and give him more rest, making his play better. With the way this season is wrapping up, it might look like the Islanders finishing two to four points behind the last wild card team. Not having that reliable backup could come up very costly to them.
At the end of day, you can’t blame Halak or Greiss. It all comes down on Garth Snow. Leave it to the former goalie to completely mess up the team’s goalie situation.