New Bruin Jaroslav Halak wants to ‘help out any way I can’
Tuukka Rask has his critics in Boston. Jaroslav Halak will not be one of them.
“I know he’s an elite goalie and he’s proved that every year,” Halak said Monday, a day after he signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Bruins.
After two years of a Rask-Anton Khudobin goaltender tandem, Boston enters the season with the 33-year-old Halak backing up the 31-year-old Rask. General manager Don Sweeney is betting that Halak, who has been a No. 1 in four NHL cities, can provide ace-level play behind Rask and carry the load if need be.
Rask and Halak each played 54 games in 2017-18, but Halak is expected to play between 25 and 30 games this coming season, barring injuries to either.
The goalies’ health is critical for the Bruins, who lack options in net beyond the two veterans. The Providence pair of Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar aren’t ready for the NHL. Prospects Kyle Keyser (OHL) and Jeremy Swayman (University of Maine) are years away.
“I’ll try to help out any way I can,” said Halak, who battled Thomas Greiss for the Islanders’ starting job the last three seasons. “I’ll try to fit in as soon as possible.”
Halak was a ninth-round pick (271st overall) of Montreal in 2003. As an Islander the last four years, he was 88-65-19 with a .913 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average. Halak was 20-26-6, .902, and 3.19 this past season for a noncontending Islanders team, the worst full-season totals of his career.
On Sunday, Sweeney pointed to the Islanders’ penalty-kill struggles (last in the league) as a major reason for the netminder’s down season. Sweeney believes Halak’s stats will improve behind a tighter defense and a Bruins penalty kill that was third-best in the NHL in 2017-18.
“Well, you know, they have a great team,” Halak said. “A lot of talent; the city is great and obviously [the] fans as well. Every time we play there, it is exciting to play in that building, and it’s so hard to play against all the time.”
Asked about his playing style, the 5-foot-11-inch, 183-pound Halak called himself a “kind of a mix of butterfly and standup goalie at times. . . . I think, or maybe someone else would disagree with me.”
Canadiens fans can say a lot about Halak, ever popular in Montreal for his playoff heroics in 2010, when he stopped 131 of 134 shots in Games 5 through 7 to help the eighth-seeded Habs overcome a 3-1 first-round series deficit to Washington, the top-scoring team in the league and Presidents’ Trophy winner.
Montreal’s rebuild has taken some spice out of its rivalry with the Bruins, but Halak has good memories from his time there (2006-10), before he was dealt to St. Louis (for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz).
“It was always intense every time we played Boston,” said Halak, who earned Vezina votes in 2010 and 2012 and was a 2015 All-Star. “I think it was really intense, the intensity on the ice, in the stands the fans were always involved. No matter where the game was, whether it was in Montreal or Boston, it was always loud in the buildings.”
Halak was excited to play for another Original Six team, and to reunite with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, his Olympic teammate in 2010 and 2014 with Team Slovakia — “A great guy and a really good friend,” Halak said — though he didn’t poll Chara for his thoughts on life in Boston.
“The decision came down to the term and my family,” he said. “I have two kids already, and Boston is a great city for family as well, living there. I think that was the main decision. Also, Boston has a great team, and they’re always on the top of the standings, and I’m just looking forward to helping out.”