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Halak From the Other Side: Goalie recalled from Bridgeport before big back-to-backs

I must have called a thousand times.

Detroit Red Wings v New York Islanders
Me again.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Islanders came up with a huge win on Wednesday, overcoming some sloppy play and two one-goal deficits to beat the Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden. But that’s just the beginning of the gauntlet that sits between them and valuable points in their playoff push.

On Friday, the team will be in Pittsburgh to face the Penguins, who are still gunning for first overall in the league. The next night in Brooklyn, the Islanders will host the Boston Bruins, who are their direct competition for the final playoff berth in the East. Oh, and then it’s on to Nashville.

With Thomas Greiss getting the bulk of the starts over shaky back-up Jean-Francois Berube, the team recalled former starter Jaroslav Halak from Bridgeport of the AHL.

Doesn’t seem like we’ll have to wait too long to see Halak in NHL action again.

Before his demotion, Halak was 6-8-5 with a .904 save percentage in 21 games for the Islanders. For this recall to mean something, he’s going to have to be a lot better than that down the stretch.

Back on March 14th, interim coach Doug Weight first opened the door for a possible recall by saying the team had been pleased with Halak’s progress in the minors.

“He’s a good goalie,” said Weight before the “away” portion of their back-to-back against Carolina. “We never lost faith in Jaro. We think he needed to reboot his career, get some things solved, and it looks like he’s done it. Definitely, he’ll be in our conversation plate.”

The story of how Halak went from World Cup of Hockey hero to the minors in a matter of months has been a dominant narrative for the Islanders this season. After attempting to carry three goalies for the second season in a row, the imbalance became too much and Halak, by virtue of his unspectacular play, his salary and his vocal opposition to the set-up, became the odd man out.

But what was supposed to give Berube time to find his game at the NHL level instead became the opposite, exposing him as a goalie whose extended scratchings had hurt him to the point where the coaching staff couldn’t trust him with even an occasional start to give Greiss a breather.

Meanwhile, Halak performed in the AHL like an NHL goalie, helping bring the Sound Tigers back into their own playoff picture and being a model professional the entire time.

Halak, 31, played 27 games with the Sound Tigers this season and ranked third in the AHL with a 2.15 goals-against-average. He posted a record of 17-7-3 and added a save percentage and two shutouts. In addition, Halak won a franchise record 12 straight games from Jan. 20, 2017 – Feb. 19, 2017.

Greiss has already exceeded his career high in games and with huge, important contests looming, it was up to Garth Snow to correct his years-long mistake of prioritizing room for Berube at the expense of others who could have helped his team more immediately out of fear of losing Berube to waivers or Halak to injury.

Berube can’t be sent down to the AHL at this point, so he’s going back to the press box for the time being. He won’t hit the required number of games this season, making him a Group VI unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and putting his career in limbo.

Halak may very well help the Islanders finish their season on a happy note. But the sad song of where J-F Berube’s career went shouldn’t be forgotten.