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As Capitals Evaluate Vanecek, Fucale Has Chance To Seize The Moment

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Capitals goaltender Zach Fucale

ARLINGTON, V.A. – Injuries have been plaguing the Washington Capitals locker room to open 2021-22, and on Monday, the Capitals saw not only Nic Dowd go down but Vitek Vanecek hurting a bit as well.

The Czech netminder appeared injured following a strange play in the team’s 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. His arm got pinned under a Sabres player late in the game, but he finished the game. In the postgame celebration, he wasn’t lifting his arm much. Head coach Peter Laviolette didn’t have an update on Vanecek but said that he was able to finish the game.

Vitek Vanecek was on the ice for Washington’s full practice on Wednesday, taking shots and moving well in net as he took part in high-intensity drills. However, the team continues to evaluate the 25-year-old and recalled goaltender Zach Fucale from the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Fucale will travel with the team on their upcoming road trip as they face the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets in a back-to-back.

“We’re still assessing things and looking at things in the locker room,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.

Fucale, Montreal’s second-round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, has been waiting for this moment and has been outstanding in Hershey for the Bears. Through five games this season, the 26-year-old is 3-0-2 with a .933 save percentage and 1.73 GAA. Last season, he went 9-2-0 for the Bears and led the AHL with a 1.80 GAA and ranked second with a .932 save percentage. He and Pheonix Copley combined to take home the AHL’s Harry “Hap” Holmes Award, given to the goaltenders on a team who allow the fewest goals per game in the regular season.

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Over a lengthy career that’s included stops in the AHL, ECHL and overseas in the DEL, Fucale believes he is in a good place mentally and is looking to seize whatever opportunity comes his way.

“Yeah it’s been quite the journey for me. It’s been to a lot of different destinations, a lot of different games, Europe and back, and a lot of stuff has happened,” Fucale said. “So I feel like the last few years have gone, been trending in the right direction. I got a good thing going and I’m just sticking to my game and I feel like things are working well right now.”

Fucale’s jumped up on the Capitals depth chart, even overtaking Copley in the race as the first call-up. He had a strong preseason and training camp, and if he does get to play, it’ll be a major opportunity for him to show he can be a top NHL goaltender. Washington is currently relying on their young goaltenders in Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov and continues to evaluate their situation, and with Samsonov’s one-year bridge deal expiring at the end of the season, Fucale could be a dark horse to potentially steal the crease.

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It’s something the Capitals have seen before with a goaltender by the name of Braden Holtby, who got his big break while playing the role of the playoff hero in wake of injuries to Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. He eventually stole the net and became a Vezina-winning netminder who led Washington to its first Stanley Cup in 2018. Of course, those are lofty expectations for Fucale, who has yet to make his NHL debut, but it’s something to note as he’s been sharp at the lower levels and continues to grow his game.

“There is something that I did [to improve]. I just eliminated a lot of things I was thinking about during the games. Like I didn’t do something new. It’s the things that I took out of my game I feel that made the biggest difference,” Fucale said. “So I simplified it a lot and it’s a lot of repetition of little things that make a difference for me. I’m just focused on the things that really bring me results and just repeat those and that’s it.”

Laviolette said he’ll wait until Thursday’s morning skate to evaluate Vanecek. If Fucale does play, he’ll be the fifth Capitals player to make his NHL debut this season. The Capitals are already without Nicklas Backstrom, Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie, along with Dowd, who was placed on the IR Wednesday.

“I feel like it’s coming in and all I have to do is just stay ready… that opportunity is coming, it’s looming. Who knows? It could be in two days, it can be in two months, I don’t know,” No. 60 explained. “But I just have to make sure that whenever it does come, I’m ready because it’s been a long time coming.”

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