Jaroslav Halak has been on the move all week, and the Washington Capitals are hoping he can seamlessly slide into his first start with them for a crucial two points Saturday night when they host the Phoenix Coyotes.
Halak's week started in St. Louis, where he was helping the Blues maintain the Central Division lead. Last Saturday, he was dealt to Buffalo as part of a five-player trade. Halak didn't appear in any games for the Sabres, who shipped him and a 2015 third-round draft pick to Washington on Wednesday in exchange for goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla.
While Washington fans remember Halak for stealing a first-round series in 2010 by helping Montreal overcome a 3-1 series deficit, Halak is now being asked to help the Capitals (29-25-10) simply get into the postseason. Washington is outside the top eight in the tightly packed Eastern Conference.
"It's been weird, a lot of uncertainty for me," Halak said after his first practice with the Capitals on Friday. "When I heard the news I got traded again I was really happy that I was going to be on a team that has a chance to make the playoffs.
"I'm sure it's not going to be easy, but I'm just going to do my best. You're always nervous when you start for a new team, always want to leave a good impression, but I'm not going to think about it too much and try and go out there and enjoy it."
He'll try to spark a Capitals team that has lost three straight (0-2-1) and showed little jump in a 3-0 defeat at Boston on Thursday. Washington was outshot 43-16, and a power play that converted 3 of 4 chances in a 6-4 loss at Philadelphia the previous night never got the opportunity to further its momentum.
"We didn't sustain enough in the offensive zone," forward Troy Brouwer told the team's official website. "We had some dumps get to their goalie and as a result they were able to get out clean and trap a few of our guys for odd-man rushes, and those are the things we need to clean up."
Halak was near spotless in his most recent game versus Phoenix on Jan. 14, turning aside 20 shots in a 2-1 home win for St. Louis. He also took a 3-2 overtime loss Nov. 12, making 16 saves, and is 3-2-1 lifetime against the Coyotes.
Phoenix (29-23-11) is seeking its first three-game winning streak since a five-game run Oct. 26-Nov. 5. The Coyotes, who are opening a four-game road trip and also need to overtake teams to make the playoffs, got two goals from Radim Vrbata in a 5-2 victory over the Canadiens on Thursday.
"These are desperate points for us before we go on the road,'' said coach Dave Tippett, whose team is 1-5-4 in its last 10 away from home. ''We needed this one badly.''
The change of scenery may prove beneficial for Antoine Vermette, who has scored 13 of his team-high 22 goals on the road. The center has just one goal and two assists in his last seven games overall.
Shane Doan scored twice on the power play, including the tying goal with 1:46 left in regulation, in a 4-3 shootout victory over Washington on Nov. 9. It was the first win in eight starts versus the Capitals for Mike Smith, who is 1-6-0 with a 4.66 goals-against average against them.