Washington Capitals goaltender Jaroslav Halak had a chance to face his former team and show why dealing him before the March 5 NHL trade deadline was a mistake. Instead of relishing the opportunity to make a statement, though, Halak wanted no part of starting Tuesday night.
“We know the feelings when you go into your old stomping ground, and it’s not always easy and you’re not always comfortable, at least the first time,” Oates said Tuesday in St. Louis, per Katie Carrera of The Washington Post. “We talked to (Halak) and he just wasn’t 100 percent comfortable. Unfortunately this time of year and where we’re at, we can’t afford that, and Holts has played great lately. We feel really good about that, and Holts is playing.”
Despite having a mediocre 4-4-2 record since the Capitals acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline, Halak has been better than 24-year-old netminder Braden Holtby, who will start against the Blues. Halak had an impressive .925 save percentage in March, compared to Holtby’s mark of .908 and disappointing 2-3-1 record.
Halak’s decision must be incredibly frustrating for Oates, a head coach speculated to be on the hot seat after a disappointing season in Washington. The Capitals are in serious danger of missing the playoffs and have just a 2.2 percent chance of earning one of the Eastern Conference’s wild-card berths, per Sports Club Stats. The team is four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets with just four regular-season games remaining.
It’s also an embarrassing moment for Halak, whose reputation certainly will take a hit for him wanting no part of an important game late in the season. The Blues believed they needed to make a goaltending upgrade before the playoffs and pulled off a bold five-player trade to acquire Ryan Miller from Buffalo and send Halak to the Sabres. The deal was a message to Halak that he wasn’t the right guy to lead St. Louis to a Stanley Cup title after two unsuccessful playoff runs with the Central Division team, which under most circumstances would make a player have a chip on his shoulder and give him something to prove.
Halak could become an unrestricted free agent this summer and might be the best goalie on the market. It will be interesting to see how this decision impacts his free-agent stock when general managers on contending teams analyze the goaltending market in July.
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