One thing has become evident in Jaroslav Halak’s tenure with the Islanders: he elevates his game against the Rangers.
Halak was superb in a 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers Wednesday night, stopping 33 shots in regulation before stopping Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Dan Boyle in the shootout – his fourth win in six games against the Isles’ archrivals.
“It’s always good to play against the Rangers or division rivals, especially them, beating them,” Halak said. “I guess it’s really a great atmosphere at the games, especially tonight or even last year. It was huge and always fun to play in a crowd like this.”
Halak was sharp all night, but was a key factor early, as the Islanders were outshot 16-8 four minutes into the second period. His best stop came on a Derick Brassard one-timer early in the second period, sliding across his crease to meet the howitzer.
Halak’s strong play vs. the Rangers has been the Islanders’ answer to Henrik Lundqvist. In the past, Lundqvist gave the Rangers a distinct advantage in goal, but Halak is 4-0-0 in the head-to-head matchup between the netminders. In six games vs. the Rangers, Halak has allowed two goals or fewer in four of the contests.
“To win these games you need good goaltending. Jaro has been stepping up for us throughout the last two years and he’s a great goalie and hats off to him,” said Johnny Boychuk, another relative newcomer to the Isles-Rangers rivalry.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game, Jack Capuano was asked about going to Halak as opposed to riding Thomas Greiss’ hot hand. Capuano said Halak was “our guy,” and the goalie backed up his coach that night.
“He’s a great goalie. That’s what they do, rise in big occasions,” Capuano said.
As of Wednesday night, Halak's 1.93 goals against average,led the entire NHL among qualifying goalies (1/3rd of a team's games).
ISLANDERS GO WITH TWO DEFENSEMEN IN OVERTIME
The New York Islanders showed a new look at the start of their 3-on-3 overtime against the Rangers on Wednesday.
Jack Capuano sent two defensemen – Nick Leddy and Travis Hamonic – onto the ice with center Frans Nielsen to start overtime, a move the coach has gone to during play, but not as the starting unit.
“You try to use guys that you think are in the right situation,” Capuano said. “I thought some of our guys matched up better. We’ve had a little more success with the two D.”
The Islanders had two defensemen on the ice for the duration of overtime. Capuano said the move was not about trying to adopt a defense-first mentality in what’s become a wide open, run-and-gun game in overtime, citing the offensive ability of his blueliners.
“Nick Leddy, Cal de Haan, Thomas Hickey and the guys we have back there have good speed and deception,” Capuano said. “They are good defensively, but they are real good offensively. You try to use guys that you think are in the right situation and we’ve tried it every way. We’ve had two forwards, two defenseman, it all depends on what their matchups are – especially at home.”