WASHINGTON — Amid numerous injuries, adversity and inconsistencies, there has been one constant for the Washington Capitals: their goaltending.
For the first time in years, Washington overhauled its goaltending, bringing in two outside names in Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren to take the reins. So far, they have not disappointed, as the team feels a new level of security with the two between the pipes.
Over the last two seasons, Washington relied on the joined services of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. Henrik Lundqvist was going to be part of the team’s goaltending plans, but a heart condition forced him to retire early. While the young duo showed promise, neither could find consistency or put up quality numbers. So, when it came time to re-evaluate the goaltending in the summer with both Samsonov and Vanecek becoming RFAs, general manager Brian MacLellan made a tough choice: he let them both walk.
“We ran out of time to wait,” MacLellan said.
And he was right. The Capitals are seeing injuries pile up and the Stanley Cup window closing, and having a stable, secure presence between the pipes is necessary going forward. So, Vanecek went to the New Jersey Devils in a trade, and Samsonov ended up signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs after he didn’t receive a qualifying offer from Washington.
Enter Kuemper and Lindgren.
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Kuemper, who inked a five-year, $26.25 million contract in the offseason following his Stanley Cup campaign with the Colorado Avalanche to become the Capitals’ surefire No. 1. It’s the first time since Braden Holtby’s tenure that they have a legitimate starter. Kuemper has lived up to expectations so far with a .922 save percentage through nine starts.
“Goalies, they’re the backbone of this team,” Lars Eller said, adding, “[Kuemper] has a calming presence and a big presence. He’s a big guy he takes up a lot of net, but he moves well and we’re lucky to have him.”
Not only that, the team knows that it can rely on the “easy-going” 32-year-old veteran to remain consistent, calm and collected. And that attitude is contagious and takes plenty of pressure off too. Also, his extensive resume and experience add more between the pipes for Washington.
“Vitek and Sammy did a good job for us last year as young goaltenders just at the beginning of their careers. But Darcy’s a little bit different where he’s more experience and he’s been one of the top goaltenders five or six years in a row now, and a Stanley Cup champion,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.
Kuemper also prioritizes the team effort over his individual numbers, which sends a positive message to his team.
“I don’t think about my personal standing on a list or anything,” Kuemper said. “For me, it’s just about coming in and playing and winning as many games as possible and trying to help the team win a Stanley Cup.”
Lindgren is also bringing a lot to the table after inking a three-year, $3.3 million deal to complete the Capitals new tandem. This marks his first full season up in the NHL. And when called upon so far, h’s come up big with some ten-bell saves and stood tall while facing over 30 shots over each of his three games so far. He’s 1-1-1 with a .919 save percentage. Lindgren is also embracing his spirit animal, the lion, with his new club.
“No one wants to mess with a lion,” he grinned.
The 28-year-old has also worked to show that the team can “definitely trust” him when Kuemper is not available. And that feat was easily accomplished. No only that, he and Kuemper also bring a lot to the team’s culture.
Teammates, coaches and more often describe two as caring, hard-working and genuine individuals. That in itself has made them stand out and has also been a huge contribution for Washington.
“Gosh, he’s fun. He’s just got such a great personality,” Matt Irwin said. “He works hard, he works his butt off in practice… you like seeing that. Guys that work their butts off and wait for their opportunity.”
For Lindgren, having a solid relationship with Kuemper on and off the ice will also be key to building success with the Capitals.
“We’re on the ice 20 minutes before practice together. We spend a lot of time in the gym together. The goaltending position, you spend a lot of time stretching. We do a lot of that,” Lindgren said. “Just kind of BSing in the morning. Just sitting on some foam rollers, hanging out, talking. A lot of time talking over a cup of coffee in the morning, too. It’s huge to have a partner, a really good partnership with a goalie partner. And Darcy and I, we certainly have that.”
Overall, the two have gotten along well to begin their tenure in Washington, and the Capitals are happy to have those new faces in town.
“The goaltending has been excellent,” Dylan Strome said, adding, “They’ve been playing fantastic. We see the work ethic in practice and see how hard they compete. I’m not surprised they’re playing this well.”