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Halak proves to be slump-buster for Isles

Veteran netminder comes up big in 3-1 win over Washington at Barclays

December 12, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Veteran goalie Jaroslav Halak gets some love from defenseman Calvin de Haan Monday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center after back-stopping the Islanders to a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals. AP Photo by Kathy Willens
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Mired in their first significant slump of this otherwise strong season, the New York Islanders pulled themselves back into the thick of the Metropolitan Division race Monday night thanks to the brilliant goaltending of veteran Jaroslav Halak.

Demoted to the minors a little more than a year ago, Halak continued to prove he is New York’s best option between the pipes, making 31 saves and thwarting NHL’s top goal scorer Alex Ovechkin in a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in front of 11,053 fans at Barclays Center.

“He was a huge percentage of the win tonight for us,” Islanders head coach Doug Weight said of Halak, who helped New York snap out of a 1-3-1 funk with his team-high ninth win of the season.

The 32-year-old Slovakian, who still holds the franchise record for wins in a season with 38 during the 2015-16 campaign, celebrated last New Year’s Eve with the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Connecticut, before winning six of his seven starts after being recalled in March.

He hasn’t slowed down at all during this campaign, registering a 2.82 goals-against average in 18 games, including 16 starts, which is nearly a full goal better than Thomas Greiss’ 3.79 GAA.

Though Isles general manager Garth Snow reportedly spent a good part of last winter and this summer trying to deal the 11-year veteran, having Halak around to both compete with and mentor Greiss has proved a blessing throughout this season.

“I felt good out there,” Greiss said after stopping all six of Ovechkin’s shots, including a point-blank blast on a power play that would have shaved New York’s lead to one goal in the final period.

“Obviously it would be nicer to get a shutout,” he added. “But a win is a win, two points at home and it was a good game by pretty much everybody.”

Team captain John Tavares pulled within three of Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goals with his 18th, and Brock Nelson and Andrew Ladd also tallied for New York (17-10-3, 37 points), which tied Washington (18-12-1) for second place in the Metropolitan, just two points back of division-leading Columbus (39 points).

It was Ladd and Tavares’ consecutive goals in a span 58 seconds early in the second period that gave Halak a 3-0 cushion to play with, and chased Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished with only nine saves.

“Two goals back to back like that really put us in a good spot — killed any life or momentum they had — and we just kept it going and carried it into the third,” Tavares said following the end of New York’s first three-game losing streak of the year.

The Caps finally broke through at 8:23 of the third on Dmitry Orlov’s tally, but Halak stopped everything else that came his way the rest of the night.

“He was great,” Ladd said of his goalie. “A lot of big saves, especially in the second. When we had a two-goal lead, he had a couple of big ones to keep us with that spread. He was phenomenal tonight.”

“I just tried to be aggressive on the puck, look through screens the whole time and sometimes the puck just bounced my way,” Halak added.

Isle Have Another: Josh Bailey had an assist on Tavares’ goal and jumped ahead of his line mate for the team lead in points with 33. Bailey’s team-high 28 assists rank him fourth overall in the NHL  … The Isles will look to cash in on their dominance at home during this ongoing stretch during which they will play seven of eight games at Barclays. After hosting Dallas here on Wednesday night, New York will travel to first-place Columbus on Thursday before kicking off a five-game homestand Saturday versus the Los Angeles Kings … New York improved to 11-0-0 when scoring first this season … After allowing each of their last seven opponents to score at least once with the man advantage, the Isles held Washington scoreless in two power-play opportunities Monday night. “We haven’t gotten many results with the penalty kill lately, so good job on sticking with it and looking at this as another opportunity today to change the narrative,” Tavares said. 

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In other local pro-sports news, newly acquired Nets center Jahlil Okafor, who came to Brooklyn along with sharpshooter Nik Stauskas in the deal that sent Trevor Booker to Philadelphia, visited the team’s practice facility in Sunset Park on Sunday.


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