Rangers Need Halak to Play Better to Reach Potential

The New York Rangers have needed better play from their backup goaltender over the last few seasons. Alexandar Georgiev showed promise when he filled in for injured starter Igor Shesterkin but played poorly once Shesterkin returned, finishing last season with a 15-10-2 record and a .898 save percentage.

Last offseason, the Rangers traded Georgiev to the Colorado Avalanche and signed veteran goalie Jaroslav Halak to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with a no-movement clause. But Halak is off to a very disappointing start, and the Blueshirts need him to start playing better.

Halak’s Play

Though Halak has played very well for most of his career, he is 37 years old and did not play well in his last two seasons. He had a 9-6-4 record with a .905 save percentage with the Boston Bruins in 2020-21 and was 4-7-2 with a .903 save percentage with the Vancouver Canucks last year.

Related: New York Rangers Sign Jaroslav Halak to 1-Year Deal

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This season, Halak is 0-5-1 with a .881 save percentage, while Shesterkin is 10-2-3 with a .917 save percentage. While it is still a small sample size, it is alarming that the Rangers cannot win games with Halak in goal. He did play well in the team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 6, but he played poorly in his other starts.

Jaroslav Halak has struggled in his first six games with the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Halak seems to let in at least one soft goal per game, and he let in back-to-back soft goals in the Rangers’ 3-2 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 23. The first came off a wrist shot from a terrible angle that snuck through him with the score tied at one. The Ducks never relinquished the lead. The veteran goalie did come up with a big save on a breakaway with the team trailing 3-1 and also made a nice save on a shot from the slot, but the soft goals overshadowed those saves. It didn’t help that the Rangers hit the post multiple times and failed to convert their scoring chances, as John Gibson made 41 saves, including a few spectacular ones for the Ducks.

A few times this season, Halak has let in goals from bad angles and allowed rebounds on shots from bad angles. He also has not come up with timely saves in close games, and his early mistakes have forced the Rangers to play from behind.

Rangers in Front of Halak

Though Halak needs to play better, the Rangers have not played well enough in front of him, either. They have scored only seven goals in his six games, including a matchup with the injury-depleted Detroit Red Wings and three struggling teams, including the Ducks, Nashville Predators, and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin has played well despite some sloppy defending from the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers have also had far too many giveaways, leading to scoring opportunities for their opponents. Their forwards are careless with the puck, and their defensemen have failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone too often. Shesterkin has bailed them out most of the time but Halak has not.

Halak has not played well, but neither has the rest of the team. The Rangers need to stop turning the puck over so much and defend better regardless of who is in net.

For the Rangers Moving Forward

Though some fans may be ready to move on from Halak, his no-movement clause makes that less likely to happen. Louis Domingue is the starting goalie for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL), where he has a 4-2-3 record with a .908 save percentage. He has a 59-60-10 career record in the NHL with a .905 save percentage. Domingue could end up replacing Halak if the veteran backup continues to struggle, but that probably won’t happen this early in the season.

To reach their potential, the Rangers need to find a way to win games when Shesterkin doesn’t start, which means they need to play better defensively, and they need Halak to be much better.

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