Jaroslav Halak played a bigger role for the Boston Bruins in his first season with the club than anyone could have predicted. Signed as a free agent on July 1, 2018, Halak was supposed to come to Boston and play the role of backup for the Bruins. For a stretch, Halak took the reigns as the starter but as expected, in the end, the net belonged to Tuukka Rask who turned in a stellar regular season and playoffs.
Rask might not have been able to do that without Halak though. The veteran stepped up when Rask once again started slow. He also gave Rask ample rest throughout the season. In turn, Rask stayed fresh and was at his best when the Bruins needed him most in April and May. It was a successful first season for Halak in Boston. Can he do it again in 2019-20?
Halak appeared in 40 games for the Bruins a season ago. That’s a number that would indicate he was more a 1B goalie than backup. His 22-11-4 record in 37 starts was impressive. It was the most wins he has managed in a season since posting 38 with the New York Islanders in 2014-15. Halak finished 2018-19 with a .922 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA.
It was the third-best save percentage mark of his career, trailing only his 2009-10 season in Montreal (.924) and 2011-12 campaign in St. Louis (.926). Halak pitched five shutouts in his first season as a Bruin.
Halak will play more than a typical backup netminder once again in 2019-20. The reasons? Most importantly, it keeps Rask healthy and fresh, allowing him to play at an elite level. On top of that, Halak is a guy who has handled the bulk of the starts before. He can play 35-40 games and not have to change preparation. He’s got a starter’s mentality and has played that role before.
Another factor to consider is the early struggles of Rask. He’s failed to start off on the right foot in each of the last two seasons. A season ago, it was Halak who was the better of the two goalies through Thanksgiving. He’ll need to be ready from the get-go again this season.
The Bruins will once again have a stifling defense that plays Bruce Cassidy’s structured style. That will certainly help Halak’s save percentage and goals-against average. He’s coming off of his best season since 2014-15 and in some cases the best season of his career. Halak is likely to take a step back, but should still be strong.
His career .916 save percentage would indicate that, at worst, Halak will provide league average goaltending. Behind a strong Bruins team, expect him to play slightly above that level. He’ll collect plenty of wins with this Bruins team as well. They should finish inside the Atlantic’s top three and should be a contender for the Stanley Cup again next spring.
Official Prediction: 38 GP, 36 Starts, 21-13-2, .918 save percentage, 2.37 GAA