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Halak, Islanders have proven to be perfect match

by Arpon Basu

Jaroslav Halak has found a home.

After watching 26 goaltenders get selected before him at the 2003 NHL Draft.

After stealing the No. 1 job from Carey Price and leading the Montreal Canadiens to an unlikely berth in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final, only to be traded to the St. Louis Blues a few weeks later.

Jaroslav Halak
Goalie - NYI
RECORD: 14-4-0
GAA: 2.05 | SVP: .926
After playing extremely well for the Blues for four seasons, only to be traded to the Buffalo Sabres for another goalie, Ryan Miller, last season.

After being traded twice more in the next two months, Halak has landed with the New York Islanders.

And he's not going anywhere.

Halak has found a place where he is wanted, and more importantly, needed. He's rewarded the faith the Islanders showed in signing him to a four-year, $18 million contract by solidifying a position that had been in a constant state of flux on Long Island.

The Islanders had been looking for a No. 1 goalie for years, and Halak has been looking for a team that believed he could be one for just as long.

The match has been perfect so far.

"Since I've been here we've gone through a lot of goalies," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "They've been quality goaltenders. But to know we have a couple of guys now back there (with backup Chad Johnson), hopefully they can stay healthy. It's been a big plus for our hockey club."

Halak has won 11 straight games, breaking an Islanders record held by Billy Smith. He'll look to extend that mark Saturday when the Islanders host the Blues.

He has provided the stability the Islanders have sought, and then some, helping them get off to a 19-7-0 start to the season. It's the first time the Islanders have won 19 of their first 26 games.

Halak has a 1.24 goals-against average and .952 save percentage during his streak, and Capuano said a big part of this run of success has been Halak's approach to his craft.

"I think he's dialed in mentally," Capuano said. "I've said this before; I said it at the start of the year. I think he's a guy that puts a lot of pressure on himself. I think he's a guy who I had to let him know to come to the rink every day and enjoy it again. I just thought mentally he was a little frustrated, and right now he's in a good place. When you're playing with confidence and you're in the right frame of mind, things go well for an athlete."

The goaltender Halak has beaten the past two games understands exactly what that mental comfort can do.

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson had a similarly rocky path to Halak before landing the No. 1 job with Ottawa, with stops with the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche.

He said when a team shows that faith in you, it allows a goaltender to find the head space necessary to excel because he doesn't feel like every little mistake will cost him his job.

"There are some guys that are a high draft pick that get every chance in the world to try and prove themselves," Anderson said. "It's just a different path for every goaltender. My path was one of those where I had to back up and learn and learn, and when I got my opportunities I had to make the most of it. I think Jaroslav was in the same situation. When he broke in with Montreal he was behind a great goaltender with Carey Price, and every chance he got he had to prove himself. It wasn't like, 'Oh well, you [messed] up. Here, we'll throw you in again.' He had to earn everything he got."

There is a certain sense of calm a goaltender feels when he gets the security of a long-term contract, Anderson said.

Halak, however, is not exactly a picture of Zen.

The pressure he puts on himself that Capuano was referring to remains evident, and came through Thursday after he helped the Islanders to a 2-1 victory against the Senators.

Halak allowed one goal, on a second-period 5-on-3 power play, and was not very pleased about it afterward.

"Pretty much they had nothing until the 5-on-3 power play and they scored a goal," he said. "I would like to get that one back, but guys got a big one for me in the third. I'm not saying I'm upset. I'm just saying some of the goals you'd like to get back, and that's maybe one of those. But at the end of the night we got two points and I didn't cost us the game."

Halak said that last part with a straight face. He made 12 saves in the third period of a 1-1 game as the Senators poured it on in an attempt to win a game honoring the retirement of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson. The only thing that stopped them from doing it was Halak, and Casey Cizikas scoring the game-winner with 6:27 to play in the third.

As much pressure as Halak may be putting on his own performances, it is not evident to his teammates. In fact, it's the exact opposite.

"Everyone sort of plays like [Halak] a bit," defenseman Thomas Hickey said. "He's quiet in the net and I think it rubs off on us. He makes every save he should. You don't see him making the 10-bell save because he's always in position [so] he doesn't need to.

"When any goalie's playing on their game it makes it really easy on the team. Confidence-wise you know they're not going to get anything they don't deserve. That just makes your mentality simple; go out and get one or two [goals] and you have a chance to win. We got two [Thursday] and he shut the door."

When you've had to prove yourself your entire life, every opportunity to prove your doubters wrong tends to be embraced.

In Halak's first game against the Canadiens, on March 10, 2011, he made 27 saves in a 4-1 Blues victory. In his first game back in Montreal, on Jan. 10, 2012, Halak shut out the Canadiens 3-0.

On Saturday, Halak will have his first chance to show the Blues they made a mistake letting him go.

The Blues certainly weren't the first team to do it, but they most likely will be the last.

Halak won't be changing teams again anytime soon.

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