Halak playing like he wants to stay in D.C.

Halak playing like he wants to stay in D.C.
March 19, 2014, 1:00 pm
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Prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Ducks, the last time Capitals goaltender Jaroslav Halak was in the Honda Center was on Feb. 28 as a member of the St. Louis Blues.

Prior to that game between the Blues and Ducks, Halak was informed he had been traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Ryan Miller, forcing the Blues to dress a locker room attendant as a backup goalie.

Five days after going from a team with the NHL’s best record to the one with its worst, Halak was traded from the Sabres to the Capitals in exchange for Michal Neuvirth.

“I had 3½ good seasons with the Blues and it was tough to be traded,” Halak said, “but that’s part of hockey.

“This is a new start for me, a new challenge personally. I just want to do my best and try to help these guys get into the playoffs.”

So far, the 28-year-old native of Slovakia is doing just that. Playing in his sixth straight game on Tuesday night in Anaheim, Halak recorded a season-high 43 saves, leading the Caps to their third straight win, a 3-2 victory.

Halak’s 43 saves were his most since stopping the same number of shots against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 13, 2012. It also marked the 14th time in Halak’s career that he has recorded 40 or more saves in a game.

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“Jaro played great all game, but he certainly battled hard in front of the net,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “Corey Perry’s great in front of the net. He scores probably 80 percent of his goals from there, and Jaro stood in.”

Halak’s performance in the Caps’ final 12 games of the regular season will go a long way in determining the kind of contract he signs this summer, either in Washington or somewhere else.

He is in the final year of a four-year, $15 million contract he signed with the Blues in the summer of 2010, shortly after leading the Montreal Canadiens to upsets over the heavily favored Caps and Penguins in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“Obviously, it was disappointing for them,” Halak said of the Caps’ first-round loss after winning the Presidents’ Trophy. “They had a great team that year and losing in the first round … I was just trying to do my job.”

If Halak can continue what he’s done so far as a member of the Caps, they’ll have a chance to getting into the playoffs for the seventh straight spring. Through his first six games with the Caps, Halak has gone 4-2-0 with 2.35 GAA and .931 save percentage.

Despite playing in six straight games and 46 games this season Halak says he’s physically capable of carrying the load if Capitals coach Adam Oates continues to go with him down the stretch.

“I feel good,” he said. “We had only one back-to-back [against the Penguins last week]. It’s not up to me; it’s up to coach who’s going to play. If I get the call I’ll be happy. If not, we’re here to win games no matter who’s in the net.”

With 28 wins, Halak surpassed his previous career high of 27, established with the Blues in 2010-11. He now ranks tied for sixth among NHL goaltenders in wins, eighth in goals-against average [2.24], tied for 10th in save percentage [.919] and tied for fifth in shutouts [4].

He says none of that means more than getting the Capitals into the playoffs.

“Every point counts right now,” he said. “We’re in a chase and we all know it here.”

As for that stark white mask, Halak said he’s waiting for a new one to arrive from Montreal. He said the mask’s design is a secret.   

“It’s going to be a surprise,” he said. “You’re not going to get anything from me.”