Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jaroslav Halak is still stopping all the pucks

By Larry Wigge

Short-term memory. That's what makes a good goaltender.

A goalkeeper can't let a goal that an Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby or Evgeny Malkin or Claude Giroux get into his mind because he would be facing someone just as tough to stop the next night.

Or maybe he would be facing Ovechkin's Capitals, Crosby and Malkin's Penguins or Giroux's Flyers again the next evening in the playoffs.

It was supposed to be Carey Price and his fifth overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft who should have been the fixture in the Montreal Canadiens net. But Jarolslav Halak burst on the hockey scene in 2010.

Halak was the 11th round choice, 271st in the 2003 NHL Draft, but the Bratislava, Slovakian, netminder was the one facing Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the playoffs instead of Price.

Halak remembered something his granddad once told him.

"When I was younger, when I had a bad game, I didn't talk to my parents. I was mad at myself," Halak said, a little sheepishly. "My granddad said, 'If you have a bad game, just think about it until midnight. After that, it's a new day and a new game.' He was right."

The trick works ....

Knowing that Price was their goaltender, the Canadiens dealt Halak to St. Louis. He spent time in Washington before landing with the New York Islanders in the spring of 2014, where he has once again begun to put up mind-boggling numbers.

Like ...

The measuring stick of eight consecutive victories over New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a 3-1 win, stopping 34 shots January 14.

"He's played well," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Halak. "He's a guy that gives us a chance to win.

"I thought it was a gut-check for our team. We played extremely hard against a good team."

"Jaro shut them down," said Islanders winger Brock Nelson.

The middle son of Jaroslav and Jarmila Halak's three boys, he loved the equipment and the mask. He lived to stop the ball on the street and the puck on the rink. Patrick Roy was his hero, no surprise there. But former St. Louis goaltender Curtis Joseph was another of his favorites because of his acrobatic style.

"Both goaltenders played extremely well, but in the space of four minutes we made two mistakes, and it cost us," Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault said. "You have to give Halak credit."

Right wing Mike Cammalleri was with Montreal in 2010. He and several of his Habs teammates played a trick in practice ... that backfired.

Cammalleri and defenseman Andrei Markov were running a drill where the defenseman takes a point drive and the forward drives for the rebound. Cammalleri decided he would change signals -- getting the rebound and passing to another player on the back side of the net.

Easy goal, right?

Now most goalies take pride in stopping every shot, be it in a game or in practice. But this time, Halak was mad. So he channeled that anger into excellence and stopped the joking by beating the backside shot every time from then on.

"In a game, a goaltender doesn't have the time to get over for the rebound," Cammalleri said. "It was unfair of us ... but then Halak has the last laugh. If you do that to some goalies, they'll go right out of their net, into the locker room and they won't talk to you for two days."

But Halak made his point.

"He's such a fun goalie to watch," Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson said, remembering him from his days in St. Louis. "He's so effortless in his motions, and there's no wasted energy with him. We feel so confident with him and he's so cool, calm and collected.

"We know that we can go in the offensive zone and attack there if we have any hiccups, so he's been a great, great asset for us."

Halak has always had a goaltenders mentality.

Halak always has been a late-blooming afterthought in the goaltending business. In 2003, he was just beginning to become known when he backstopped Slovakia to the silver medal in the Under-18 World Championships. In the semifinals, the Slovaks knocked off Russia in a shootout, 2-1, with Halak denying Alexander Ovechkin's shootout attempt.

"I remember that as being a big step for me," Halak said. "I thought maybe one day I'll get a chance to play in the NHL."

The following summer, Halak took the next leap, being drafted by the Canadiens. He didn't hear his name, though, until 270 others had been called. He was the 25th goalie out of 27.

"I watched the first six rounds," Halak said. "When I didn't see my name, I stopped watching. Then my agent called me and said I got drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. I was kind of disappointed I got drafted in the ninth round ... but I still had a chance."

And Henrik Lundqvist is one player who wonders, "Why, me?"

Jaroslav Halak will have to tell Lundqvist his granddad's advice. Won't he.

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