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No Clear Starter? Amid Recent Struggles, Capitals Crease Up for Grabs



Capitals netminder Vitek Vanecek

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite making some calls and seeing what was on the market, general manager Brian MacLellan elected not to go for a netminder at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. With Vitek Vanecek taking command of the crease leading up to March 21, MacLellan and the Capitals felt confident with the young tandem of Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov with the playoff push in full swing. Things have since taken a turn, though.

From Jan. 1 up until the deadline, Vanecek had been stellar between the pipes while also recovering from injury. In 16 games, he boasted a .925 save percentage and 2.23 save percentage, along with three shutouts. Since deadline day, though, Vanecek’s play has been far from where it was. He has a .862 save percentage and 4.45 GAA in his last four games and has allowed at least three goals in each game to boot. his SV% has also been under .800 over the last two games, where Washington has been outscored 11-2.

Of late, the Czech netminder appears to have had trouble with controlling rebounds, shutting down shots and chances from in tight and tracking the puck. Given Vanecek’s decline, head coach Peter Laviolette affirmed to reporters on Monday that the Capitals starting goalie job is again up for grabs after Vanecek appeared to win it back in March.

“I’d like to have a guy that has emerged and moved forward from that group. They’re both good goaltenders, but you want somebody to really take hold of it. There’s an opportunity down the stretch here,” Laviolette said at Monday’s skate.

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Samsonov’s season hasn’t been too impressive to date, either. He did get the opportunity as the Capitals’ No. 1 back in February with Vanecek on the shelf, and he couldn’t quite capitalize on the opportunity. In 10 games played that month, the 25-year-old registered a .898 save percentage and 3.31 GAA and was also pulled twice.

Despite winning two of his last three starts, the 25-year-old has allowed at least three goals in four straight starts. He has also struggled with tracking the puck and rebound control and has also made mistakes that have led to goals against. He last played on March 28 against Carolina, stopping five of six shots in relief of Vanecek.

Through 36 games this season, Samsonov is 19-9-4 with a 2.95 GAA and .899 save percentage. Vanecek, meanwhile, has the upper hand on paper with a 17-11-5 record, .911 save percentage and 2.60 GAA.

With 13 games left, Laviolette said that both netminders will get games and chances in net to “make a case” and prove they can be the starter come playoff time. Meanwhile, Washington remains confident that Vanecek or Samsonov can step up and get the team to where they have to go. But at the end of the day, good support and coverage in front of both netminders will be vital for the Capitals if they want to make a deep run for the Stanley Cup.

“I like both of those guys. They young and reckless a little bit sometimes. But at the same time, whoever play, we feel confident,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “We trust them and we all make mistakes sometimes, right/ It’s just about how we’re going to support them when they make mistakes.”

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