ARLINGTON, V.A. — Perhaps the most noticeable change for the Washington Capitals to open training camp were the two new goaltenders between the pipes, as Darcy Kuemper and backup Charlie Lindgren have taken the reins with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek out of the picture.
Following four consecutive first-round exits and two years of neither Samsonov nor Vanecek being able to find consistency or prove themselves as the legitimately No. 1, general manager Brian MacLellan didn’t bring back either RFA. He traded Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils at the draft and then let Samsonov hit the market, where the 25-year-old ultimately signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that, he brought in Kuemper and Lindgren to open free agency.
It is a major change for Washington, who is bringing in two outside goaltenders for the first time in a long time. However, for the players, it was a reasonable move at this point in time for the franchise.
“I’m not surprised how it played out. I think most teams have a real, true No. 1 and then a backup, and that kind of shows in the salaries too. That’s how most teams build their goalie tandem,” Eller said, adding. “I think they performed well at times and they grew at different times in different ways, with ups and down like it is with every young player. I wish those guys the best, and I think they could have bright careers in front of them and they’re going to keep growing. They’re both still young goalies, but at the same time, I understand why the team did what they did.”
Kuemper is fresh off a Stanley Cup Championship with the Colorado Avalanche, while Lindgren had a 5-0-0 record with a .958 save percentage in his call-up with St. Louis this season while also having the second-highest SV% in the league (.925) with the Blues‘ AHL-affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds.
“When you have a solid goalie, it gives you more chances to win,” captain Alex Ovechkin said.
Still, the Capitals will miss the young tandem, and believe that both are going to find success going forward. And ultimately, they believe that the Kuemper/Lindgren tandem can get Washington to where it wants to go.
“I’m going to miss Sammy and Vitek. When you have not just goaltenders, but any young guy that comes up through the organization, you see him kind of go through the progression and see them grow and become close friends. It’s tough to see them go and I certainly wish them the best and we miss them here,” T.J. Oshie said. “But to have a guy like Kuemper who obviously has to have a lot of confidence in his ability and his game, back in the net there, not just last year but the last couple years, one of the best goalies in the league, it is great to have that back there and have that rock back there to save us when we are not playing our best or make all the saves he’s supposed to make. Super excited to have him back there.
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“Chuck is an awesome guy… I love that guy,” Oshie added of Lindgren. “He’s been great in the locker room and also on the ice working with the guys. Doing the extra stuff in practice and doing the little games at the end, that’s the fun stuff and when you bond and get better. That’s a great tandem back there, and I’m excited for them to get to work.”
And, for Kuemper, that’s what it’s all about as the surefire No. 1.
“I just try to go out there and play the same way every night and try to be a consistent force for the team so they know what they’re getting each and every night out of me and they don’t have to worry about it,” Kuemper said. “They can just go play their game.”