When the Islanders allowed 32 shots on net during Monday's matinee against the Wild, one must have thought this was nothing short of a minor miracle. Especially after yielding 95 chances over the previous two games, this one felt like a cakewalk.
But in what feels like a recurring theme, the Islanders squandered a winnable game, falling 5-3. After stopping 50 shots against the Rangers for his first shutout of the season, Jaroslav Halak was tagged for five goals. In quick succession in the second period, the Islanders let one slip away.
Halak wasn't at his best, but it truly felt like an aberration for the 32-year-old netminder. In each of the last two months, Halak owns a .917 save percentage, which is a better number than his career average (.916). While November saw Halak continually struggle in the crease, he's largely stepped up this season and been one of the reasons this team is clinging to any chance at sniffing the playoffs.
Had you told me in the middle of last season that Halak would be playing a vital role on the Islanders at this point, I honestly would have been a little surprised. After his agent, Allan Walsh, called out the team for using a three-goalie rotation (which really was a pretty awful idea for many reasons) it seemed inevitable that Halak would call a new team home by season's end.
He did end up with a new team, that being Bridgeport in the AHL. It was a low point for Halak, whose future was very much in doubt. But he came back up toward the last third of the season and played admirably down the stretch. It's that play that's mostly carried over into this year.
Halak's .911 save percentage and 3.22 goals-against average might not be flashy by any means, but the veteran goaltender deserves a little more context than that. He's been hurt by an Islanders piecemeal defense and woeful penalty kill that ranks second-worst in the NHL.
At even strength -- a better metric to evaluate a goalie -- Halak has been a stalwart with a .921 save percentage. That's a better number than both Henrik Lundqvist (.918) and Braden Holtby (.915) this season. Credit where credit is due, and Halak definitely deserves a ton of credit with the way he's played with what's in front of him.
Halak won't be taking home the Vezina this season, but he's been one of the most valuable players, if not the most, on this team. Yes, John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle have been fantastic in their own right, but without Halak, the horrendous defensive numbers would no doubt be even worse.
With the way Thomas Greiss has regressed this season, it's hard to think of the Islanders not having Halak in net this year. Could you imagine a tandem of Greiss and Christopher Gibson, or even JF Berube? I could only envision that being a disaster.
With the final stretch of the season underway, there are two more big points on the line against a potent Toronto team Thursday night.
And if the Islanders don't make a move or two to help themselves defensively at the trade deadline, a lot of the pressure will fall squarely on Halak's shoulders. Fair or not, his performance could be the make-or-break point for this team.