Jaroslav Halak will start for the Capitals Saturday night as they face the Phoenix Coyotes and aim to snap a three-game losing streak.
Having been acquired from Buffalo in a deadline-day trade on Wednesday, Halak is eager to get back in the net after bouncing around the league over the past few weeks.
He’s only played one game — 34 saves in a 1-0 loss to Vancouver on Feb. 26 – since returning from participating in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. But as he makes his Capitals debut Halak will face a familiar Western Conference opponent in the Coyotoes, who he recorded a 20 save win against with St. Louis on Jan. 14.
“I started a new chapter right now and we’ll see how it’s going to go,” Halak said. “Obviously I’ll try to do my best but I’m not going to try to put too much pressure on me.”
St. Louis has been one of the best defensive teams in the league over the past few years, while the Capitals are still very much searching for consistency in their own end. In 159 games with the Blues over his four-season tenure, Halak faced 33 or more shots only 26 times. The Capitals have allowed at least 33 shots in 38 of their 64 games this season.
While that alone may require an adjustment, the Capitals will also ask Halak to play the puck a bit more than he did in St. Louis so communication with the defensemen in the early stages will be key.
“He sat in on the meeting this morning, we talked to him about our system and what we try and where he’s going to get the puck, where his defensemen will go, what we’re trying to do defensively. Most teams’ blueprint is 80 percent similar; there’s nuances but almost everybody plays very similar,” Coach Adam Oates said. “He told me in St. Louis that they didn’t encourage [handling the puck] and there’s times … if a team shoots it in and it’s on the glass we don’t ever want our goalies going out in case it ricochets. But there are situations where he would get it.”
>> Speaking of goaltenders handling the puck, Phoenix’s Mike Smith is one of the more aggressive netminders in the league when it comes to playing the puck. Given how much difficulty the Capitals had in Boston trying to dump the puck in where Tuukka Rask couldn’t easily send it on to his teammates for a smooth breakout, Washington wants to avoid the same mistakes against Smith.
“It was the first thing in our meeting today,” Oates said. “Our neutral zone has to be better in terms of getting through their wave, so we can put the puck in the right spot where we can actually forecheck, and if we don’t what’s our fallout plan.”
So where is that correct spot?
“The right spot is not to him,” Oates said. “Hopefully we do it in a sense where we didn’t spend so much time where we’re changing or we’ve tipped it where we have some support and we have a little speed so we can actually put some pressure on their defensemen.”
>> Oates called Brooks Laich a game-time decision against Phoenix even though the forward didn’t skate for a third straight day Saturday. Laich aggravated the nagging groin injury that has hampered him the last two years at Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“For me it’s frustrating because we want him,” Oates said. “But clearly I feel more sorry for him because he’s a frustrated athlete that doesn’t want to be in this position and he’s trying to give the team everything. It’s tough when guys have the injury bug, it hurts everybody.”
>> After being held out of Thursday’s game in Boston as a precaution that he may have suffered a concussion during a fight in Philadelphia, John Erskine passed concussion protocol testing. He was on the ice for more than an hour Saturday morning and took part in the scratches skate, so he’s expected to sit out against the Coyotes.
>> Saw Mikhail Grabovski for the first time since Florida, where he re-injured his sprained left ankle. The veteran center said he hopes to start skating again this week but wants to make sure everything is healed up properly.
>> Projected lines for both teams based on the morning skate.
Lauri Korpikoski–Antoine Vermette–Mikkel Boedker
Martin Erat–Kyle Chipchura–Radim Vrbata
Brandon McMillan – Mike Ribeiro–Shane Doan
Rob Klinkhammer–Jeff Halpern–David Moss
Oliver Ekman-Larsson–Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle–Derek Morris
Brandon Gormley–Michael Stone
Mike Smith is expected to start. Thomas Greiss will back up.