Beginning with tonight’s game against the Nashville Predators, Jaroslav Halak has two weeks to prove his worth – not only to the Capitals, but to 29 other NHL teams.
Halak is expected to make his ninth start for the Capitals tonight in a game they desperately need to win to keep pace in the race for one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card spots.
Halak, 28, said he’s not given much thought about what he’ll do at the conclusion of this season – he’s due to become a free agent on July 1 – but made it clear the Caps have not discussed a contract extension with him and that he fully intends to test free agency.
“This will be my first chance to do it,” he said. “But not everyone is looking for a goalie.”
In the meantime, Halak is focusing on getting the Capitals the points they need in their final eight games to get into the post-season for a seventh straight April.
“We have not many games left and I’m sure [Adam Oates] is going to go game by game,” Halak said of Oates’ goaltender rotation. “It’s tight now and we need every point. If it’s me or Holtby we just need to get two points.”
Braden Holtby has started two of the Caps’ last three games, beating the Sharks in a shootout last weekend and losing 4-2 to the Bruins on Saturday. “There’s two goalies,” Holtby said. “One has to play and one doesn’t. The main thing is that the guy in there is giving the team a chance to win, no matter who it is.
“When you choose this position it’s part of our lives. When a guy is playing well and playing a lot, you don’t sulk.”
Halak has gone 4-2-2 with a 2.35 GAA and .929 save percentage since arriving from Buffalo in a trade for Michal Neuvirth. Prior to his two-week stay with the Sabres, Halak spent parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Blues, a stingy defensive team that has allowed an average of 26.3 per game this season, second fewest in the NHL behind New Jersey.
The Caps are allowing 33.6 shots per game, fourth most in the league.
“Here I get more shots, that’s for sure,” Halak said. “Their guys [in St. Louis] are blocking shots all the time. Here, guys are trying to get out of the way and let me see the puck. You see the puck more here. Once in a while you ask guys to move so I can see, but you still have to do the same thing as a goalie. Stop the puck.”
Halak said in St. Louis he was not asked to handle the puck as much as he is in Washington, where the Caps want to see their goaltenders acting as third defensemen. Caps defenseman Mike Green said Halak’s ability to communicate with his defensemen has been invaluable as he adjusts to a new team.
“When he talks to us it makes us that much more aware of what’s behind us when we’re getting chased down and we can avoid getting hit and can make a play,” Green said.
“He’s been outstanding as far as his play and commitment here. I’m sure it’s not easy coming here and he’s been outstanding.”
Halak said he’s renting an apartment in D.C. while his wife and eight-month-old child remain with family in Slovakia, where they’ve been since the Olympic break.
“It’s been a crazy last two weeks,” he said. “Between playing a lot and traveling to California, I needed a break. I finally got it and now is going to be a real important time for everybody.”