|Jaroslav Halak stops a shot on the second day of on-ice drills. |
In the weeks between NHL free agency and training camp, New York Islanders players did their share of research on their new goalies, getting to know the pair of acquisitions by stats and reputation.
But much like learning to drive, the manual can only get you so far. Getting behind the wheel and stepping on the gas is when you really learn.
Two days into training camp, the players are getting a first-hand look at Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson.
So far they like what they see.
“We shored up a need on the back end with goaltending,” Kyle Okposo said. “It feels good to have that 1-2 punch and know that these guys are going to be our backstops. It’s very refreshing, we haven’t had that in a long time.”
The Islanders signed Halak to a four-year deal this summer, ending the annual offseason speculation about who will be the team’s top netminder. Evgeni Nabokov was a key component of the team that qualified for the 2013 postseason, but at 39-years-old, he wasn’t a part of the team’s long-term plans. At 29, Halak is in the prime of his career.
He seems pretty comfortable in there, confident, and that’s all you really want as a guy playing in front of him. - Colin McDonald
“He’s a number one guy and can play those big minutes,” Travis Hamonic said. “He’s certainly a great goaltender. For me it’s just being confident in a guy and being confident in front of him. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the organization that’s not excited about our goalie position right now.”
Halak and Johnson are grateful for the team’s vote of confidence, but want to show what they can do on the ice. Former NHL goaltender and Islanders Goalie Coach Mike Dunham knows what a calm, comfortable and confident netminder can do for a team.
“When the players have confidence in their goaltender, they are going to go out there and do what they need to do and worry about what they need to do knowing that the goalies are going to make the saves,” Dunham said. At this level, that’s all you want. You want your goalies making the saves they are supposed to make, keeping teams in games and stealing games once in a while. We feel very comfortable that these guys are capable of doing that.”
The goalies are still settling in with their new team, learning the habits and tendencies of their new defensemen and vice versa. By committing four years to Halak, Hamonic and company won’t have to take Goalie 101 again next season.
|Chad Johnson looks on during drills on Saturday morning. |
As for the forwards, having trouble scoring in practice has a silver lining.
“He takes up a lot of net and looks really good early on,” Colin McDonald said. “He seems pretty comfortable in there, confident, and that’s all you really want as a guy playing in front of him. He looks pretty confident so far.”
The team has not announced which of their six goaltenders will make the trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland for Monday’s games against the Ottawa Senators, but with preseason games right around the corner, Halak and Johnson will soon be able to ditch the manual and get behind the wheel.
Dunham on Halak, Johnson:
On Halak: He’s a quick goalie out there. He does a good job of controlling rebounds… He’s a competitive kid. He has quick feet; quick legs and those are attributes that have helped him.
On Johnson: He’s a big goaltender. Another butterfly goaltender and he takes up a lot of space in net.
HALAK'S NEW MASK: