Updated: SAN JOSE, Calif. – Jaroslav Halak was scheduled to make an eighth consecutive start Saturday night as the Capitals wrapped up their three-game California road trip, but because of what the team will only describe as a lower-body injury he was on the bench as backup against the Sharks.
With Halak sidelined, Braden Holtby made his first start since March 6 at Boston and made sure the Capitals continued their recent trend of picking up points despite the switch. Holtby finished with 34 saves and stopped two off three Sharks he faced in the shootout to support Washington’s 3-2 shootout victory at SAP Center.
“It was a challenge. I obviously don’t want to go too long without starting but we’ve been playing very well lately so it hasn’t been an issue,” Holtby said. “I was given the opportunity to start tonight and I wanted to be there for the guys like they’ve been playing the last little while.”
It was Holtby’s 18th start since Dec. 1 – he started 22 in the first two months of the season — as the Capitals have rotated through various goaltending options in the past several months searching for stability. Halak’s arrival brought the latest lull in his workload as Coach Adam Oates leaned on the 28-year-old, who is 4-2-1 with a .935 save percentage and 2.13 goals-against as a Capital.
Holtby appeared to settle into the contest as it progressed and both San Jose goals – Patrick Marleau’s followed a turnover by Mike Green and James Sheppard’s came on a clean breakaway — were the product of breakdowns in front of him.
But when Holtby was at his best against the Sharks was after Chris Brown’s goal tied the contest. He handled a late push from San Jose that included seven shots and several waves of pressure including a power play when Alex Ovechkin went off for high sticking with 2:18 remaining in regulation.
While going long stretches without game action isn’t something Holtby prefers, he believes he found a way to handle it better this time around.
“I thought I did a better job preparing for this one than in the past so it was better in that aspect,” Holtby said. “The last little while I felt pretty good in practice, been seeing the puck well….We know what’s going on here, Jaro’s been playing great. I’m just trying to stay sharp if I get called upon.”
As for Halak, Oates gave the indication that his injury is not serious.
“He’s ok. I think he could come back and play Tuesday [against Los Angeles],” Oates said. “Just wasn’t feeling 100 percent.”
Halak didn’t take part in Friday’s practice in San Jose, but the team said it was simply a day off for the veteran netminder. Halak participated in the morning skate at SAP Center Saturday and pre-game warmups as well but appeared to be moving gingerly in the latter session.