With the NHL Trade Deadline just days away, the Washington Capitals have a lot to consider as the team continues its playoff push and aims to be in a position where it can make a deep run. One of those decisions, of course, is what to do between the pipes.
And over the last few months, there has been speculation behind whether or not the Capitals will make a trade for a goaltender, particularly a big name like Marc-Andre Fleury. However, at this point in time, Washington doesn’t need to make a big splash when it comes to the crease; if anything, investing in an inexpensive backup would be a wiser move.
General manager Brian MacLellan addressed the team’s situation in net early in the month of March, explaining that in order to make a move for a netminder, there would have to be an “obvious upgrade” in the return.
“We have two inexperienced goalies. Both have shown glimpses of what they can do,” MacLellan said, adding, “I mean the concerning thing for me is sometimes the goals, the timing of the goals, game-situation goals that some veteran guys would tighten it up and make that save,” MacLellan said. “It’s not the overall save percentage, it’s when and how the goals happen. That’s another thing that can zap momentum from your team. And you’re digging a hole and you got to dig out of it. You know, we’re balancing. We’re gonna make calls and we’re gonna see if something makes sense. But overall we got two pretty good goalies that are still finding their way in the league.”
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Since that press conference, the Capitals have turned things around after a couple of months of trading wins and losses. Washington is 5-0-1 in its last six games, and a lot of that can be credited to the return and dominant play of Vitek Vanecek.
Since Jan. 15, Vanecek has a .931 save percentage (sixth among NHL goalies with at least 10GP since) and a 2.03 GAA. The 26-year-old has taken control of the crease and has won his last five starts. With his strong play over an extended period of time, he has proven that he can be a consistent performer and capable full-time starter to boot.
Among goaltenders with at least 15 full games played, Vanecek ranks third in 5-on-5 save percentage (.936) and also boasts a 1.76 GAA at even strength. Through 30 total appearances in 2021-22, the sophomore is 15-7-5 with a .917 SV%, 2.36 GAA and three shutouts. When it comes to goaltenders who have appeared in at least 30 games, Vanecek’s save percentage ranks 10th league-wide.
Looking at Vanecek’s form and play, he’s becoming more confident with each game, moving well in the crease and tracking the puck well. He comes up big on rebounds and uses his athleticism and flexibility to his advantage. And when it comes to breakaways and in-tight chances, he can stay with the shooter and make the right calls and decisions.
That being said, there’s a difference between being consistent and heating up from time to time; Vanecek’s case is the former. Ilya Samsonov, on the other hand, has experienced the latter.
Samsonov hasn’t been able to find that consistency or get into a permanent rhythm, and that has led to him losing traction in the starting race. He has strong, stellar outings followed by tough nights in net, which saw him pulled twice in the month of February. While MacLellan believes he can still has the potential to become an NHL starter, he has lost traction in the race.
Given the play from No. 41 and No. 30, Washington doesn’t need a starter, and shouldn’t trade key assets away for a big-name rental. The Capitals have one that the team plays well in front of. Vanecek has shown that he can come up big, bail his team out and steal wins if need be.
However, they may need a backup. That’s where a cheap option — perhaps Craig Anderson — could be useful. Anderson is familiar with the team and has a cap hit of just $750,000. He’s a strong veteran presence and experienced, consistent backup who knows his role and can be a mentor; he also has a .907 save percentage in 18 games with Buffalo and can likely have better totals with a stronger team playing in front of him.
The NHL Trade Deadline is March 21 at 3 p.m. ET.