Jaroslav Halak picks up shutout in first full game
BUFFALO — New York City is a place where tired, huddled masses have long yearned to breathe free. Jaroslav Halak was a refugee from Brooklyn. He left the lowly Islanders, wanting no part of a John Tavares-less club that was already in tough shape before losing its captain. He came to Boston, where he hoped to find the defense tighter and the wins more frequent.
He came ready to contribute.
“It feels great,” Halak said Thursday after a 32-save shutout in Boston’s 4-0 win over Buffalo, which came after he and Tuukka Rask split time in a 7-0 pounding at Washington Wednesday. “It makes it more special that I got the shutout, but it was a great team effort. [Wednesday night] was bad game all around.”
Halak, who signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal, earned his first shutout as a Bruin and the 43rd of his career. Continuing a career-long habit, the Slovak will tuck a puck from this game in his stash.
Maybe it’ll have hockey tape wrapped around the edge, with the date, score, and opponent written in Sharpie. It will call to memory a night where he was athletic and sharp, and like all goalies, thankful for his teammates. Countryman Zdeno Chara saved his bid by diving behind both Halak and a loose puck in a net-front scrum. Halak gave him kudos for that. But chaos, that was limited. Chances were mostly on the outside, and Halak tracked the puck well.
“Most of the time I was able to see the puck really well,” he said. “Guys did a great job of clearing in front. If there was anything laying there, they cleared it to the corner. Blocking shots tonight [13 total]. Great team effort.”
The last Bruins goalie to record a shutout in his first start with the club: Jeff Hackett in January 2003 against the Flyers. Hackett made 24 saves and Brian Rolston wired home the overtime winner.
Halak’s night looked good in any context, but given the softies Rask let in against the Capitals, Halak is sure to have the phone lines at the local sports talk stations heating up. As expected, the tweets were flying on game night.
No, the Sabres aren’t as good as the Capitals. And the Bruins were much better in front of their netminder.
“He was solid. I don’t think we left him out to dry like we did to Tuukka — and Jaro the second half the other night,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Teams are going to get chances, but we were way too loose, in our coverage and our rush defense.”
The Bruins, for now, don’t plan to deviate from their plan to use Rask for 55 or so games, and Halak for the rest.
Rask, Cassidy said, is likely to be back in the crease Monday against Ottawa (1 p.m.), the home opener at TD Garden. Cassidy didn’t want to confirm either way.
“I’d say it’s 90 percent Tuukka,” he said. “I’ll tell you for sure Sunday.”
Halak, who has played for Montreal, St. Louis, Washington, and the Islanders, technically blanked another one of his old teams Thursday. At the 2015 trade deadline, the Sabres acquired Halak from St. Louis in the Ryan Miller trade, dressed him for a game against Dallas, and flipped him to the Capitals in a trade involving Michael Neuvirth. In that transaction, Halak picked up another souvenir.
“I was in the city for less than 24 hours,” he said. “But I got to keep the jersey. I have that at home. For the one game I sat on the bench.”
More time for Chara
With the Bruins down to five defensemen with Charlie McAvoy off late in the second, the 41-year-old Chara drew double duty. He first skated with Brandon Carlo, then with Kevan Miller. He finished with a game-high 25 minutes 55 seconds of ice time and was the last Bruin to meet reporters postgame. Why? He was working out with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
“We put yesterday behind us,” said Chara, who had a cut on his nose from a late tussle with ex-teammate Vladimir Sobotka. Chara and McAvoy were given roughing minors. Sobotka, a 2005 fourth-rounder and a Bruin from 2007-10, picked up a roughing call with 39 seconds left.
Chara’s goal made him the third-oldest Bruin to score a regular-season goal, at 41 years, 200 days. Only Mark Recchi (13 times) and Johnny Bucyk (once) scored at an older age as a Bruin.
Chara, in his 21st season, has scored at least once in 20 of them. Only seven defensemen in league history have done that in more seasons: Ray Bourque and Scott Stevens (22 each), and Al MacInnis, Chris Chelios, Harry Howell, Larry Murphy, and Phil Housley (21 each).
A good lesson
Anders Bjork, who played his first regular-season game since Jan. 30 (left shoulder surgery), said Cassidy asked him to chip and chase rather than try to beat defenders one on one. “Felt better. Felt stronger, which is nice,” he said. “As a team we learned a lot. Personally, I did as well.” . . . The ballyhooed Rasmus Dahlin (22:37, minus-1, zero shots) looked like a rookie at times, which is to say tentative; he showed plenty of mobility and a willingness to throw the body. He landed two bumps, including a heavy one on Ryan Donato in the second. In keeping with the Bruins’ newfound attitude, they responded. Chara decked his fellow captain, Jack Eichel, along the boards.
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com.