The Washington Capitals are desperate for points, currently sitting four behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They get an opportunity to close the ground tonight, but it won’t be easy, as they take on a St. Louis Blues club currently sitting at the top of the Western Conference. For such a daunting game with so much at stake, the Capitals ideally want to have their best goalie in net. Statistically speaking, that would be Jaroslav Halak, whom the team acquired from the Buffalo Sabres after he was traded from St. Louis for Ryan Miller.
There’s just one problem; Halak doesn’t want to play tonight.
Having spent four years with the Blues, Halak apparently isn’t too keen on the idea of taking the ice as their opponent tonight. He’s asked coach Adam Oates not to start him in St. Louis. Instead, Washington will have Braden Holtby in net for arguably their most important game of the year. Looking at the respective stats, while Holtby is having a good-not-great season, Halak is performing better this year overall.
To summarize, Washington is going up against one of the best teams in the NHL tonight, in dire need of points, and they’ll be doing so without their best goalie because he doesn’t want to face his old teammates. Is this something the Capitals should be upset about?
Make no mistake, if Holtby goes out and gets his doors blown off by the Blues, Halak will be the center of a ton of criticism. Leaving tonight without any points could all but finish off the Capitals’ playoff dreams, which won’t exactly sit well in D.C. if it occurs because the best goalie on the roster asked to skip the game.
At the same time, Halak starting tonight wouldn’t guarantee a win for Washington. What if, due to the high emotions coming from his former colleagues firing pucks at him all night, Halak would end up folding in net? You’d like to think Oates would catch a ton of flak for starting a goalie who admitted to him he wasn’t emotionally prepared to take the ice in a crucial game for the team. The entire situation is quite a double-edged sword for the man behind the bench in Washington.
To be fair, Halak has struggled as of late for the Capitals, losing his last five starts. Meanwhile, Holtby was in net last Saturday as the team snapped their five-game skid in a shootout win over the New York Islanders. Letting it ride with Holtby wouldn’t seem like a terrible idea in any other circumstance.
However, tonight’s game is as high-stakes as it gets. If Washington felt confident enough in Holtby as their go-to goalie this season, they wouldn’t have acquired an accomplished starter in Halak in the first place. The Slovak netminder was brought in for the purpose of solidifying the Capitals net for a playoff run, and now he’s asking out of the biggest game of the year because his emotional state may harm the team.
This bout will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Washington’s playoff hopes are faint at best, but if they come crashing down tonight, you better believe Halak’s pregame request to sit out will be a big source of backlash from fans and media alike.