With Vitek Vanecek nearing a return, the Washington Capitals have made some moves in net to prepare him for a comeback. Washington re-assigned Vanecek to Hershey on a conditioning loan and also sent Pheonix Copley back to the Bears.
Hershey faces off against the Utica Comets at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday. Given the conditions, Vanecek will likely get some game action in before returning to D.C. He will wear No. 43 during his conditioning stint, the Bears said.
Vanecek has not played since suffering an upper-body injury on Feb. 1, where he left early in the first period against Pittsburgh Penguins after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Kasperi Kapanen. The Czech netminder has returned to practice but has not drawn back into the lineup yet. In the meantime, Copley has been backing up Ilya Samsonov. He did start one game on Feb. 8 against Columbus but was pulled after allowing four goals on 19 shots.
Through 24 games this season, Vanecek is 10-6-5 with a .915 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. In his last six games before his injury, he boasted a .941 save percentage. Vanecek also has the lowest GAA (1.75) and rebounds allowed per 60 (1.86), along with the fourth-highest save percentage (.935) in the NHL at five-on-five.
Right now, Ilya Samsonov is the only Capitals goalie left on the team’s roster. Samsonov has started the last six games for Washington and has played in nine straight with Vanecek on the shelf.
Copley will also return to the Bears. In 22 games down in Hershey this season, the Alaska native has a 13-7-2 record with a .909 save percentage, 2.43 GAA and two shutouts.
The 26-year-old hasn’t played in Hershey since 2019-20, where he finished the year with a .917 SV%. He was an AHL All-Star that season and voted the All-Star Game MVP.