On Saturday night, the Washington Capitals gave Jaroslav Halak a first shot at starting since he was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline, and it is safe to say he succeeded. The Capitals beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2, and Halak’s performance in the victory should cement him as the starter for the rest of the season.
For the entirety of the night, Halak appeared to be in control as he fended off 31 of 33 shots and looked to give the Capitals a calming presence in net. During the opening two periods, he withstood prolonged periods of sustained pressure from Phoenix, showing his great glove, rebound control and knowledge of when to cover the puck. This kept Washington in the game through two periods, and allowed them to score three goals in the third to take the game.
Judging Halak off of one game wouldn’t be very wise, but his performance throughout this season shows he is a great option in net. Prior to joining the Capitals, he had been having an absolutely great season, compiling a 24-9-4 record with a 2.23 GAA and .917 save percentage. Playing with the St. Louis Blues defense in front of him certainly helped compile these numbers, but ultimately it was up to Halak to stop the puck, and he did just that with great consistency.
The Capitals only have 17 games left in their current season and are one point out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, so picking a No. 1 starting option is absolutely necessary. The opposing option to Halak would be Braden Holtby, who has been stunningly inconsistent during the current season, a trait which doesn’t help a team fighting for a playoff spot.
Since the Capitals have returned from the Olympic break, Holtby has a disappointing 3.73 GAA and .899 save percentage. Sure, some of this can be attributed to Washington having a somewhat porous defense, but this is the time of the year when goalies need to steal games and wins, and the 24-year-old simply isn’t doing this.
As the Capitals embark on the home stretch of their 2013-2014 schedule, they are going to need their entire team to step up their play, and possibly no unit needs to do this more than their goaltenders. With this in mind, it is obvious that Halak is the best option in goal, and is really the only option if Washington plans on making the NHL Playoffs.