On Comcast SportsNet’s broadcast of the Capitals’ 4-1 win over St. Louis last night, Jaroslav Halak was the answer to the trivia question, “Who is the St. Louis Blues all-time leader in shutouts?”
The Capitals goalie was also a topic of conversation after Adam Oates started Braden Holtby in his place. According to Oates, Halak wasn’t 100 percent comfortable facing his former team.
“I understand the emotion involved in that decision, or the feelings of Jaroslav Halak,” Joe Beninati said after the trivia answer was revealed. “But in a game that’s this important, the competitor in me at least, would say, ‘No, I want this assignment.’”
“And that’s always been the case around the NHL,” Craig Laughlin agreed. “You get traded, Joe, you want to come in and beat that team. You’re going to be on such a high that you want to deliver your best performance ever.”
Brooks Laich, who claimed he hadn’t heard about the Halak firestorm until he was asked about it during an interview with the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan this morning, echoed those sentiments.
“One thing that I can’t see happening is a player saying they don’t want to play against their former club,” Laich said. “Just from my own experience, I was traded from Ottawa to Washington. I only played one game for Ottawa. Every time we play them, I circle that one on the schedule. I want to show them that they made a mistake, or they gave up on me; you always have something to prove against them. I don’t see Jaro pulling himself out. From what I know of Jaro, I don’t see that either. Maybe it was just mixed, or crossed signals or something, or a misinterpretation of their conversation. I’m not sure. Maybe he thought that the guys had the book on him.”
So Joe B., Locker and Laich all endorse the revenge mind-set approach to facing a former team. But goalies, we’ve heard countless times, are a different breed. When Caps goalie coach Olie Kolzig faced the Capitals for the first time after signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, he allowed three goals in the first period.
“I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t nervous,” Kolzig said afterward. “But that really didn’t have anything to do with spotting them three goals. It was a bad start.”
And what about the last two Capitals goalies to face their former teams? How did Tomas Vokoun and Jose Theodore fare?
In October 2011, Vokoun shut out the Florida Panthers, for whom he played the previous four seasons.
“It’s my old team so you want to win, you want to play good,” Vokoun said after the game. “It wasn’t like I was looking at the game saying ‘I’ve got to win.’ But I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t happy. Any time you win, you’re happy. I was as happy as when we beat Ottawa or Pittsburgh.”
In February 2009, Theodore played against Colorado for the first time since the Avalanche let him leave via free agency during the offseason. The Capitals lost, 4-1.
“I don’t think we really gave ourselves a chance to win,” Theodore said. “Obviously it was my former team and I came ready to play. But we didn’t have the result we wanted. You have to get ready for every team. We have already lost to some teams that are behind us in the standings.”
According to St. Louis reporter Andy Strickland, Halak never told Oates he didn’t want to play. Will Halak’s next chance to face a former team come against the Caps?