BOSTON -- Nobody is uttering anything about a goalie controversy at this point in the Bruins, and nor should they be just four games into the new hockey year.
But it’s going to be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next few months if Jaroslav Halak continues to play as he did on Thursday night while stopping 25-of-26 shots en route to a 4-1 Bruins win over the Oilers at TD Garden. It wasn’t perfect, of course, as he was beaten on a Connor McDavid snipe in the first period, and he needed Zdeno Chara to scoop a puck off the goal line that managed to get past him in the second period.
But Halak continues to be as good as advertised for the Bruins, and is providing the kind of active, poised play between the pipes that the Bruins are looking for out of their goaltender. His best save was probably in the third period when he cut down a shorthanded breakaway attempt by Tobias Rieder after he got beat both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to a loose puck in the Bruins D-zone. That save kept it a two-goal advantage for the Bruins in the third period and never allowed the Oilers to even get a sniff of a comeback.
“He was rock solid. I mean the first one, that’s a world-class player scoring a goal. There were a couple [of shots] that crept through him that we got breaks on, other nights those go in,” said Bruce Cassidy. “But he was square, he battles, he works to find pucks and when there are rebounds he plays it to the end.
“I think he’s active trying to get out and help the ‘D’ break pucks out. He did a real nice job again. He’s been real consistent every time he’s been in the net. Even in the game in Washington, we weren’t very good, but I thought he played very well.”
To that end, Halak is now 2-0-0 with a 1.18 goals against average and a .961 save percentage in his three appearances and has been the better of the two Bruins goalies through the first week of the regular season. By comparison Rask is 1-1-0 with a 5.49 goals against average and .840 save percentage over his first two games that include the Washington debacle on opening night.
It’s a small sample size, of course, and Halak is saying and doing all the right things as the backup simply providing support for Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, and crediting his defense for all the success that he does have.
“The guys make it easier on me. You know, their D. They’ve done a really good job of boxing out guys or letting me see the puck, for the most part, if there are sometimes that I don’t see the puck. They block the shots, and there weren’t any secondary chances out there,” said Halak. “So far it’s been good, but like I said, we’ve got all the games left. We all know we can clean up a little bit and play well.”
In a best-case scenario, the red-hot start for Halak is going to light a fire under Rask and get him playing his sharpest, best hockey at this early important juncture of the season. In a lesser-case scenario, there will be a push for Halak to play even more if both goalies perform at their current levels, and then, and only then, will it be okay to start uttering things like “goalie controversy.”
We’re not there yet, but don’t say I didn’t tell you so if people start clamoring for starting nods for Halak should the status quo continue over the next few weeks.