ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek smiles at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, back up from a short conditioning stint with the AHL Hershey Bears as he works his way back from a weeks-long upper-body injury.
Back on Feb. 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kasperi Kapanen fell into the net, getting into a helmet-to-helmet collision with Vanecek, who left the game soon after. He has been practicing and traveling with the team since, and finally got back into game action again in a rehab start for the Bears on Sunday against Utica, where he said he felt like he started to get back into the swing of things.
“I mean in the game, it’s always hard you know after long not practicing and not playing games,” Vanecek explained. ” First two periods was a little bit hard reading but actually it wasn’t too bad. I felt pretty good in the game. So I’m happy for that… I start feeling better in the third period.”
The Czech netminder was taking the reins in the race for control of the Capitals crease, boasting a .941 save percentage over his last six games before his injury. Through 24 games this season, he is 10-6-5 with a .915 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. At 5-on-5, his .935 SV% is the fourth-highest in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 15 games played.
Vanecek said he’ll look to pick up where he left off once he’s ready to get back between the pipes.
“So that [was] pretty good stretch, you know, after COVID was pretty good games,” Vanecek noted. “I try to help team much as possible. Winning the games is always fun. Losing is not fun. So I hope I will be back soon and then do the same thing.”
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When it comes to getting back into game shape, Vanecek explained that the process works a bit differently for goaltenders, and there are certain aspects of the game that are more difficult to recapture than others.
“For goalies, it’s a little bit different,” Vanecek said. “You have to [track] the puck and everything. So the eyes is a bit slower too in the game. But when you get used to it… you start feeling much better after that.”
The 26-year-old said he isn’t sure when he’ll draw back in as the starter, but he’s feeling good and that he’s confident that he’s trending in the right direction.
“You never know, you know? Like sometimes it’s longer, sometimes it’s not. Like the body will tell you,” Vanecek said.