With just five games left in the regular season, things are getting interesting in the Washington Capitals crease. Ilya Samsonov’s gotten quite a few starts of late, and Vitek Vanecek is likely to get some more games too as both compete for the No. 1 job. All the while, it’s getting a bit crowded between the pipes for the Capitals’ AHL-affiliate Hershey Bears.
Hershey recalled goaltender Hunter Shepard from the South Carolina Stingrays on Thursday. Shepard has been stellar during his time in Hershey, boasting a 5-3-0 record with a .922 save percentage and 2.06 GAA up at the AHL level this season. He had a .917 SV% in 23 games with South Carolina this season.
The Bears now have five goalies on their roster as he joins Pheonix Copley, Zach Fucale, Garin Bjorklund and Clay Stevenson, another NCAA goalie fresh out of Dartmouth.
Washington signed Shepard, who captained the University of Minnesota – Duluth and broke multiple records there, as an undrafted free agent this offseason. Shepard has primarily spent his season in the ECHL, but has also played for Hershey and was also on the Capitals’ taxi squad for a bit. Now that South Carolina’s season is over, Shepard can bring some depth to the Hershey as it prepares for a Calder Cup run.
Shepard has been stellar during his time in Hershey, boasting a .922 save percentage up at the AHL level this season. He had a .917 SV% in 23 games with South Carolina this season.
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With the big club, this provides more flexibility when it comes to potential call-ups. Right now, Samsonov and Vanecek are still neck and neck when it comes to the starting job, as neither has truly emerged to steal the crease down the stretch. While Samsonov is 4-1-1 in his last six starts, he has struggled between the pipes and has allowed a handful of goals he may want back. Meanwhile, Vanecek has been solid in a couple of performances but hasn’t been able to recapture the consistency he had earlier in the year.
If the Capitals can’t get success with one option, it is possible that they could turn to Fucale or Copley. Fucale has shown flashes of greatness and is 11-14-5 with a .896 save percentage and 2.64 GAA in Hershey this season. He had a shutout in his NHL debut and came up big on a couple of occasions for the Capitals, but his time in D.C. saw an end after a tough go-of-it against Boston in January. Meanwhile, Copley has been having a strong year with a 17-11-5 record and a .917 save percentage and 2.32 GAA. In his last five games, he has a .938 SV%.