As the Washington Capitals navigate more absences, they will rely on their young players to step up against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s Edmonton Oilers.
Alex Ovechkin will not play after testing positive COVID-19 on Wednesday. Vitek Vanecek will not dress for “precautionary” reasons as he continues to be evaluated, per head coach Peter Laviolette. Vanecek suffered an upper-body injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins after a collision with Kasperi Kapanen and a power-play goal against.
He stayed in after the play but ultimately left after surrendering a power-play goal. He did not return to the bench, and Hunter Shepard dressed as the backup while Ilya Samsonov took over.
And, with Vanecek not dressing, Samsonov will return to the crease again. He was stellar against Pittsburgh, stopping 43 of 45 shots and making some highlight-reel stops en route to a big 4-3 overtime win. Pheonix Copley, who the Capitals recalled Wednesday, will back up.
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This will be a big opportunity for Samsonov, who has lost traction in the race for the No. 1 spot while Vanecek continues to find consistency and impress. In Vanecek’s last six games, he boasted two shutouts and a .941 save percentage.
Through 23 games this season, Samsonov is 14-5-3 with a .906 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.
With Ovechkin out, Joe Snively will get time on the top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. Snively has been skating on the third line with Connor McMichael and Lars Eller of late, and he has two assists in three games so far. The LIttle Caps alum has impressed with his speed and has been able to build off a strong showing in the AHL.
Meanwhile, Washington recalled Brett Leason to the active roster to help fill Ovechkin’s void. It’s possible that he or Aliaksei Protas could draw back in.