ARLINGTON, V.A. — Looking at the 2021-22 campaign for the Washington Capitals, general manager Brian MacLellan noticed a pattern when it came to the team’s goaltending.
Washington’s young tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek showed flashes of greatness as both split the workload for the Capitals over the course of the year. However, neither one of them was able to stick with it or win the No. 1 spot.
“Inconsistent, I think it’s been,” MacLellan said. “I don’t think it’s the reason we lost the series [against Florida]… during the year, it was probably in and out, which is expected for inexperienced goalies.
“They’ve both been pretty good, but not great,” he added.
Going into a busy offseason, MacLellan is aware the team will face several decisions with regard to its goaltending situation. Not only does the team not have a clear starter, but both Samsonov and Vanecek are restricted free agents. In addition, Washington also needs to determine which pending UFAs they will bring back.
“I think the goalie decision is going to be our first one, and then we’re going to go from there after that,” MacLellan said, adding, “We’ve got some contracts moving out. We’ve got to sign some goalies. It’s balancing all that. We should have some room.”
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When it comes to what the team plans to do with their netminders, MacLellan didn’t lay out an exact game plan but did say the team will explore all options, whether that be free agency or the trade market.
“We’re going to explore. I think there’s a couple of guys, I don’t know if it’s a deep free-agent market,” MacLellan noted. “We’ll talk to other teams, and we’ll evaluate.”
Vanecek finished with the better numbers in the regular season, posting a 20-12-6 with a 2.67 GAA and .908 save percentage, while Samsonov went 23-12-5 with a .896 SV% and 3.02 GAA. In the postseason, though, Vanecek had a strong Game 1 before things fell apart in Game 2. That led to Samsonov taking the reins and impressing with a .912 save percentage through five appearances.
MacLellan said there is a possibility that both could return to the Capitals season, and that he believes that both have the potential to be starters at the NHL level. At the end of the day though, the team will look at what the best path forward is with regard to their situation in net as the core gets older and the Stanley Cup window open for only so long.
“My first instinct is to look at all the options and make a decision,” MacLellan said. “Inexperienced goalies need to learn how to be consistent, I think. I think it’s an educational process. How do you come every day and give the same performance? I think guys that haven’t played a lot have to learn how to figure it out. And not all of them do, and some of them do. They get better. They get more consistent, and they give their A-game more and more as they get older. So it’s hard to evaluate which guys get that way, and how long it takes them.”