One major issue the Islanders had in their playoff series two years ago with Pittsburgh was the inability for the team to get a big save when they needed it. It was almost a foregone conclusion when the Penguins went down the ice on an odd man rush that the puck would end up in the back of the net. The Islanders believe they have found a remedy for this by signing Jaroslav Halak to a 4 year contract last May. To this point, he hasn’t disappointed, however, the real battle starts now as the playoffs get set to begin.
Ups and Downs of Nabby
If the Islanders series with the Penguins two years ago showed you anything, it is how important goalies are in the playoffs. Evgeni Nabokov showed throughout the series that he wasn’t where he needed to be to give the Islanders the best chance to succeed and it ultimately cost the Islanders as they fell in 6 games. While the Penguins also had goalie issues, they had a backup in Tomas Vokoun who was able to pick up the load and stifle the Islanders. That is something the Islanders didn’t have as it was Nabokov or nothing. There are people to this day who still think that if the Islanders had gotten even average goal tending in that series that they definitely could’ve defeated Pittsburgh to get their first playoff series victory in two decades.
Having a goalie in net that can make a big save has a trickle down effect on the rest of the team. It leads to the guys in front of him playing with confidence because they know if they make a mistake they will get bailed out. This wasn’t the case for the Islanders two years ago as most of the time when they made a mistake in the playoffs, it ended up in the back of the net. After repeatedly happening this will take its toll on a team, especially a young team like the Islanders were that doesn’t really know how to deal with the adversity that brings. This is where Halak is different because he has shown a tendency this season to make the big save, and has a track record of doing it in the playoffs as well. While it was a few years ago now, Halak single-handedly put that Montreal team on his back during their playoff run. If he is able to repeat that level of play in this years playoffs, it is only up to fans imaginations how far the team will be able to go.
The Islanders acquired Halak last May from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a 4th round pick. While he was set to be an unrestricted free agent at the time, a few weeks later the Islanders announced his new contract and they had their goalie. While it took Garth Snow longer then it should’ve to fix this problem, this was just the start of his summer which some people are referring to as the summer of Snow. Snow, now able to spend some money went out and turned the Islanders from a lottery team into one of the top teams in the NHL this season and it all started with Halak. With all that has happened with the Islanders this year and could still happen in the coming months, it will be a travesty if Snow isn’t nominated for executive of the year this summer.
How Crucial is He?
That is the big question, if he isn’t 100% can the Islanders have any sort of success in the playoffs without Jaroslav Halak? That answer is unlikely, in my opinion. While possible because Michal Neuvirth has shown this season with Buffalo that he isn’t some scrub and has playoff experience in his own right, his time with the Islanders so far has been underwhelming to say the least. In 9 playoff games with the Capitals in 2010/2011, Neuvirth had a 2.34 GAA and a .912 save percentage. While up front the Islanders may be able to step up to cover the loss of Halak for a little while, the Islanders will likely not do much damage if their number one goalie isn’t 100% come April. Like I said above though, if Halak is healthy and is able to channel his play from 2009/2010, it is just a matter of imagination how far the Islanders will be able to go.