When the Washington Capitals acquired Jaroslav Halak shortly before the NHL Trade Deadline passed on Wednesday afternoon most people agreed that he would have to wait for Braden Holtby to falter before receiving a starting opportunity. Well, it didn’t take long for exactly that to happen, and by the time Halak gets off his plane to Washington the starting job should be his.
In what turned out to be a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, there was no denying that Holtby struggled mightily. After only 18 shots against he had allowed four goals and forced the hand of Adam Oates in pulling him from the game. No one could reasonably say that each goal was Holtby’s fault, but he didn’t do enough to stabilize play through covering the puck, rebound control and ultimately let in a goal or two that should have been stopped.
With a game coming up on Thursday night against the Boston Bruins, it seems a sure bet that Halak will be getting the start in net in what will be a one game audition to take the reins permanently. This could actually be a mini-relief to Oates. There is no doubting that Halak has played well enough during the current season to warrant a starting spot; he compiled a 24-9-4 with a 2.23 GAA and .917 save percentage in 40 games with the St. Louis Blues.
The 28-year-old has been in control of the crease for the entirety of the current season as his ability to manage rebounds, stop pucks and gain control of the game helped make him a dominant force. When this ability is combined with a tendency to get on rabid hot streaks, it is clear that Oates and the Capitals could be stumbling upon the perfect storm as they look to jump from their current spot of tenth place in the Eastern Conference to a playoff position.
While there is no doubting that Halak will have to go out and earn the starting spot for the Capitals, it is certainly clear that he has gained the upper hand before ever stepping on the ice for a practice or game with the team. Come Thursday night in Boston he will effectively have a one game audition to take the reins as Washington embarks on the 19 games left on the schedule. This could be the moment that makes or breaks the team’s season.