Forgive goaltender Jaroslav Halak if he’s not quite sure which time zone and zip code he’s in these days. The past three weeks have been one strange journey.
“It’s been weird,” Halak said Friday after informing reporters he will make his first start for the Capitals Saturday night when he Phoenix Coyotes visit Verizon Center.
Halak’s road to Washington has been riddled with potholes, beginning with a rocky performance for Slovakia in the Sochi Olympics, where he allowed eight goals on 48 shots in a pair of losses to the Americans and Slovenians. Halak suffered the embarrassment of being replaced by backup Jan Laco and never saw the Slovaks’ net again.
When he returned to St. Louis, Halak was greeted by rumors he’d be dealt to the Sabres for Ryan Miller, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong quieted that talk by telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his 28-year-old goaltender would “have the opportunity to show what he’s capable of.”
The very next day, on Feb. 28, the Blues shipped Halak to the Sabres in a five-player, two draft-pick deal that sent Miller and Steve Ott to the Blues.
Five days later, before even playing a game for the Sabres, Halak learned he’d been dealt to the Capitals, along with a third-round pick, for goaltender Michal Neuvrth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla.
“One day you play against them and the next thing you know you join them,” Halak said of the not-so-merry-go-round. “I’m happy I’m here and hopefully, I can help them get into the playoffs.
“It’s been a lot of uncertainty for me and not knowing what’s going to happen, especially when I got to Buffalo. When I heard the news I got traded again I was really happy that I have a chance to get on a team that has a chance to make the playoffs. I’m glad for that chance.”
Halak’s future – or at least his future earning power - depends on whether he can get the Caps into the post-season. They remain one point out of a playoff spot in the East with two teams to climb over.
Halak is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.75 million. He was awarded that deal after leading the Montreal Canadiens to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals in an unexpected playoff run that began with a shocking seven-game victory over a Capitals team that won the Presidents’ Trophy with the NHL’s best record.
Back then, Capitals fans despised Halak, who was held in such high esteem in Montreal that a building was spray painted in his honor with the words: “Halak Is God.”
“It’s past,” Halak said. “You can’t look in the past. I got traded twice [since then] so I turned the page twice already and I start a new chapter now. We’ll see how it’s going to go. I’ll try to do my best and not put too much pressure on me. One game at a time.”
Halak went 22-9-4 with the Blues but has not played since Feb. 26 when he allowed one goal in a 1-0 loss to Vancouver. He is expected to battle Braden Holtby for the starting job in Washington while trying to familiarize himself with a new set of defensemen and forwards. This is the first time in his career Halak has been traded during a season and it’s happened twice in one week.
“It’s like trying to jump on a train,” Halak said. “I’m sure it’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to do my best. [Holtby] has been the guy here, so we’ll see how it’s going to go.
“Obviously, I’m going to talk him. I’m not going to try to avoid him or anything. We’re here as a team for one purpose, to win the game, whether it’s with me or with him, we just need to get the two points.”