In discussing his rationale behind acquiring goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee explained that the veteran provides "an upgrade on the [team's goaltending] tandem."
"He's played well in Montreal, he's played well in St. Louis and we hope he can come here and play well," McPhee added. "He's a good goalie and he can get hot."
What Halak's arrival does not address, however, is Washington's glaring need for a defensive upgrade, something that is seemingly obvious to everyone but the franchise's chief architect.
The Capitals' 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers was the latest team-wide exercise in defensive futility. Despite nearly rallying from a 4-0 deficit, sloppy puck management, egregious turnovers and blown coverages once again doomed Washington.
Expecting Halak to immediately conceal a blemish that has become impossible to hide is shortsighted. It may not matter how competent of a goaltender he is when the defense in front of him is porous.
For three-plus seasons, Halak had the benefit -- or honor, really -- of playing behind one of the NHL's stingiest defenses.
In each of the past three seasons, the Blues have finished either first or second league-wide in shots against per game, a trend that is likely to continue this season as they currently rank second in that category at 26.4 per game. Meanwhile, the Capitals, a team apparently content with getting outshot, have allowed 33.4 shots per game, fourth-most.
Since 2010, the Blues have allowed at least 35 shots in a single game just 30 times in 273 total games, Halak having been in net for 16 of them. The Capitals have done so 31 times this season alone.
Halak and his new stablemate, Braden Holtby, have played an almost identical amount of even-strength minutes this season -- roughly 1,695 to 1,691, respectively -- in the same number of games (40), and the discrepancy in shots faced is fairly noticeable, perhaps providing some indication of just how much more Halak, who may make his team debut Thursday against the Boston Bruins, will be tested in Washington.
Holtby has been challenged by 151 more shots than Halak, and their save percentages are more or less the same (Holtby's 92.4 percent to Halak's 92.5 percent). To Halak's credit, he has a career 26-5-4 record, 2.28 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and four shutouts when facing more than 33 shots.
The Capitals can only hope that the 28-year-old's past success when facing a heavy workload comes into play down the stretch.
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