The Washington Capitals found themselves in a peculiar situation Tuesday in St. Louis when coach Adam Oates revealed that goaltender Jaroslav Halak would not start against his former team because he "wasn't 100 percent comfortable" doing so.
In Halak's place, Braden Holtby made 28 saves in the Capitals' 4-1 victory against the Blues, who traded Halak in late February after three-plus seasons, to keep their faint playoff hopes intact for at least one more day.
Washington's impressive performance in the face of mathematical elimination, however, became secondary to the ongoing melodrama. Halak claimed that he never told Oates he would not play, an assertion understandably defended by his agent, Allan Walsh.
"Jaro never said at any time he didn't want to start against St. Louis," Walsh said in a statement. "A private conversation between a player and coach should stay private and not be discussed with the media. I am bewildered that a coach would break that trust, especially when those comments the coach publicly attributed to Jaro are not accurate. It's the coach who makes the decision on who plays in the games, not the players."
The entire story is not known and will likely never be known. Regardless, it is yet another controversy stemming from Oates' candidness.
Last week, Oates shared his belief that right wing Alex Ovechkin "quit" on the fourth of the Dallas Stars' five goals during Washington's 5-0 loss before discussing the play in question privately with his superstar captain.
When reached Wednesday, the Capitals declined to comment on the situation. The team received a day off Wednesday and will reconvene Thursday for a morning skate prior to its game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Upon his hiring in June 2012, Oates emphasized the importance of communication in building a foundation of trust with his players, and recent developments seem to fly in the face of that ideal.
Speculation has already begun to swirl that Oates may not be retained after two seasons in Washington.
Judging by the events of the past week (and more importantly the overall uninspired play that will likely guarantee the Capitals' exclusion from the postseason for the first time since 2007), such speculation is not completely unjustified.
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