EDMONTON, Alberta — Jaroslav Halak often talks about living in the moment, living the NHL season one day at a time, and enjoying every game because you never know what the last one will be.
Perhaps that has always been his philosophy. Maybe it’s the result of 17 seasons in the league. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of being, at 37, the third-oldest active goaltender in the NHL, along with the Lightning’s Brian Elliott.
The only thing that is certain is that the mentality has allowed Halak to turn around his first season with the Rangers. From a 1-6-1 record in his first eight games to 7-0-0 in his last seven appearances, Halak has officially established himself and made it big for Rangers in the process. And knowing that Rangers’ substitute is at the top of his game has made star goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin’s rocky play of late seem a little less daunting.
At the end of this season, Halak’s third consecutive one-year contract will expire. What follows remains to be seen.
“Obviously, I want to finish this season,” Halak told The Post on Wednesday when asked how much longer he thinks he could play. “I will probably make a decision after the season is over. I haven’t really thought about whether I’m going to keep playing or not.
“Of course I want to spend more time with my family, my children, my wife [Petra]. It has been around for a long time. She has seen all the ups and downs and obviously the family deserves me to be [there] for them. That’s where I want to be. Not yet.”
Halak is likely to start in one of the Rangers’ next back-to-back games, against the Oilers on Friday and the Flames on Saturday, as they look for an eighth straight win. The last Rangers goaltender to win eight straight games was 1994 Stanley Cup champion Mike Richter, who went 11-0 from December 6, 1996 to January 4, 1997.
In 2014-15, his first season with the Islanders, Halak took over as the team’s No. 1 goaltender and set a franchise record with 38 wins, including 11 straight from November 5 to December 4. 4, 2014. The NHL named him an All-Star for the first time that season. Halak said he doesn’t focus on numbers, just on having fun and approaching each day like a new game.
“As you get older, you don’t really focus on how many games you win in a row,” he said. “I just want to help the team. I just want to keep scoring points because ultimately we have a really tough division and it’s going to be a battle to the finish. Any point or two points are huge for us.”
Halak understands that hockey is a game of mistakes, so sticking to the process and trusting himself is how the Slovak goalkeeper worked mentally during the start of this season. Halak has not only been undefeated since Dec. 17, but has also posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.14 goals-against average.
On the other hand, Shesterkin has amassed a 9-4-3 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA in that same span. As solid as those numbers are, they’re not what the Rangers or the rest of the NHL expect from Shesterkin, who is coming off a historic 2021-22 season in which he won the Vezina Trophy.
There’s plenty of time for Shesterkin to return to his otherworldly form before the playoffs, and the Rangers will need it. But for now, they can feel more confident every time his back is behind them.
“I’m not really thinking too much about something like that,” Halak said when asked if he can feel when he’s on his game. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, trying to enjoy the guys in the locker room. We have a very good group here. Obviously, before the season, everyone sets the goal.
“Everybody wants to win a Stanley Cup, but I think we have to take it day by day and game by game. The ultimate goal is to win, that’s why we play”.