By Matt Kalman
If they haven’t done it already, most of the Bruins players will soon have Wednesday circled on their calendars.
That’s the night the Bruins open the regular season in Washington after a grueling training camp that included half their team traveling to the other side of the world to practice and play two exhibition games in China.
It will all pay off when 18 skaters and two goalies dress against the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals with two points on the line.
Considering the position he’s in for the first time in a long time in his career, you might expect Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak would have the Bruins’ second game, Thursday night in Buffalo, circled on his calendar. Coach Bruce Cassidy hasn’t revealed his goaltending plans yet, but it would stand to reason that with the Bruins opening the season with a back-to-back that each goalie would get a start.
Halak’s not planning that far ahead.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said after an exhausting double-session practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday. “I’m here, we have a preseason game [Saturday] and like I said, just day by day, that’s all I can do.”
Halak, who made 33 saves in a 3-2 preseason overtime loss to Detroit on Wednesday, is scheduled to back up Tuukka Rask in the preseason finale against Philadelphia on Saturday. The Bruins won’t have another back-to-back until Oct 17-18, so riding Rask through the first five or six games of the season without a break until then could cause rust to settle on Halak.
Regardless of when his next appearance in the crease will come, Halak is taking everything in stride. He hasn’t been a backup goalie on a regular basis since he first broke into the NHL with Montreal in 2006-07 and stuck around the Canadiens for a couple years. He went through the untenable three-goalie situation with the New York Islanders, but also spent part of that time as the No. 1 in Bridgeport of the AHL.
He only played two preseason games for Boston but he proved capable of performing well despite long stretches without playing in a game. He started the Bruins’ preseason opener against Calgary on Sept. 15 and made 40 saves in a 4-3 shootout win. Eleven days passed before he faced the Red Wings. He finished the preseason with a .924 save percentage, which would make him quite a bargain as a backup if he can continue that type of play in the regular season. He’s signed for two years at $2.75 million per season.
The season might prove something different, but for now Halak doesn’t anticipate having to change his way of practicing or preparing even with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding his playing time.
“No, I just try to practice the same way, trying to just work hard and you know what they say: ‘trying to get better every day,’” he said. “So that’s sort of my approach, just taking it day by day. That’s all that I can do.”
It should be easier for Halak to be mentally ready even after long stretches without games because he’s feeling comfortable with Boston. He said he and Rask are getting along and joke around a lot, even though “he likes to play golf; I don’t.”
And despite the mixing and matching that goes on with preseason lineups, Halak’s getting used to the Bruins’ defensemen.
“You know I’m still learning. I’ve played two games, obviously it’s going to take a few more games,” he said. “But I think we’re going to be on the same page as far as talking out there. I’m trying to read off guys right now. Obviously every D is different, everybody wants to do a different thing. So I’ll learn quickly and hopefully it’ll work out.”
We’ll know how well Halak’s move to Boston is going when we see how he performs in his next game, whenever that may be.