After slow start to season, Rangers’ Jaroslav Halak has found his groove

New York Rangers goaltender Jaroslav Halak (41) takes the ice after a timeout in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at Madison Square Garden
New York Rangers goaltender Jaroslav Halak (41) takes the ice after a timeout in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at Madison Square Garden / Wendell Cruz - USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers added Jaroslav Halak this offseason with hopes that he’d serve as a solid veteran backup behind All Star goalie Igor Shesterkin.

However, Halak got off to a nightmare start at the beginning of the season. He lost six of his first eight appearances on the year, including a five goal onslaught against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Over that span he posted a 3.04 GAA and .888 save percentage.

Many fans were calling for Halak to be replaced as the backup. However, head coach Gerard Gallant maintained confidence in the veteran, and he’s finally began to find his groove for the blueshirts.

“Anytime you join a new team you try too much. You squeeze the stick a little more. I guess that’s why my record wasn’t the best. I pulled myself together, didn’t worry about those games, and turned the page. Just keep moving forward, that’s what I want. Just trying to keep it rolling,” Halak said.

“He’s one of those guys that only get better with time. Training camp didn’t go great for us. Then the first part of the season he couldn’t buy a win and we didn’t score enough goals for him,” Gallant added. “Lately, he’s been outstanding.”

Halak certainly was outstanding again on Friday night, carrying the Rangers to a 4-1 win over a very good Vegas Golden Knights team heading into the All-Star break.

Halak made 33 saves and pushed his personal winning streak to five consecutive games. Over that span he’s posted a stellar 1.80 GAA and .938 save percentage. Friday night was the third straight game he’s allowed just one goal.

Following the win, Gallant told reporters that these are exactly the types of performances the Rangers and looking for out of Halak.

“Tonight’s game he made three of four key saves when it was 2-0. He was huge for us. That’s what you need. Good experienced guy who comes in and plays like that.”

It wasn’t just the head coach who was offering praise of his performance. Teammates Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck acknowledged the goaltender keeping things close by “standing on his head” pretty much the whole game.

“He was unbelievable. We gave up five, at least, two-on-ones in the first period and he was huge.. It’s a good feeling when your second goalie can come in and play like that. It provides a sense of confidence,” Goodrow said.

Trocheck added, “They had some grade-A chances in the first and second that he kept out and he kept us in the game. Having a guy back there like that gives you the confidence to make good plays.”

As for Halak himself, he was just happy to get his first win at Madison Square Garden out of the way.

“I’m glad that I got the start and I got my first win at home. Now we can enjoy the break. After the break everybody has to come. Our schedule is going to be crazy next month so everybody needs to be ready.”