It’s official. The Washington Capitals will turn to two young goaltenders with a combined 26 NHL appearances in net this season: Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek.
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette announced the news after practice on Monday where the team appeared to set their opening night roster. Craig Anderson, 39, has also apparently made the taxi squad as the team’s third goalie.
Laviolette says Samsonov, Vanecek will be the team's 2 goalies heading into the season. Says Craig Anderson "is going to be a part of it" meaning basically he's going on the taxi squad
— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) January 11, 2021
Samsonov, 23, will officially take over for franchise-best goaltender Braden Holtby, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks over the offseason. During his rookie season in the NHL, Samsonov posted a 16-6-2 record, 2.55 goals-against average, and .913 save percentage. Samsonov began the year hot, winning eleven-straight games and also became the first goalie in NHL history to win each of his first nine career road games in one season. He received end-of-year consideration for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Samsonov missed the 2020 postseason, however, after suffering a serious injury back home in Russia during quarantine. A Russian report said that Samsonov got in an ATV accident injuring his neck and shoulders.
Samsonov stayed in Washington during the offseason and took the ice on November 3 with his teammates.
“Coming off the injury, it was a different training session for him over the summer,” Laviolette said on Sunday. “I think it put him behind the 8-ball and I actually think he’s gotten better as camp has gone on the last couple days. When you don’t get to train the way you want due to an injury through the course of the summer, it makes it a little more difficult so I think his stamina has grown and he’s looked a little bit stronger.
The Capitals let Samsonov play the entire scrimmage on Sunday and they believe he can be the team’s leader in goal moving forward.
“So far he’s given every indication that he can handle it,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “This is a step forward for him. I think it’s going to be a lot different when you’re The Guy and you’re not coming in behind The Guy. He’s a competitive guy. He’s got the skill. He’s got a good mental makeup. All indications are he can handle it. It’s going to be a leap in his development this year.”
Meanwhile, 24-year-old Vitek Vanecek will be the team’s backup this season after getting a dress rehearsal at the position during the postseason with Samsonov out. Vanecek is a two-time AHL All-Star and was the AHL’s 2020 All-Star MVP. He also has a strong relationship with Samsonov from their time in Hershey together.
“I think we’ve always been kind of going down this road,” MacLellan said of Samsonov and Vanecek being the team’s goalies of the future. “We want to see Vanecek play. We’re happy with his progress. We’re happy with his experience. The only thing for us is that he hasn’t played much in the NHL. Had a good showing in the bubble in the chance he got in. So I think all along we’ve been trying to get him games so this should be a good opportunity to get him some games and see where he’s at.
Vanecek has never made a start in the NHL but could make his debut Friday when the Capitals play their second game of a back-to-back against the Buffalo Sabres.
"These are two young goalies that need an opportunity…now they'll get a chance to show what they can do."
Head coach Peter Laviolette announced today Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek will begin the 2020-21 season as the No. 1 and 2 goaltenders.#ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/usYnpv0ZsY
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 11, 2021
The Capitals also like what they saw from Anderson, a 17-year veteran, during his week in camp. While Anderson gave up three goals in the Capitals’ first intrasquad scrimmage, the goalie rebounded in his second appearance.
“I thought [the second scrimmage] was a lot better for him,” Laviolette said. “Kind of like Zdeno, these are some veteran players that went into quarantine and came out and had to stay off the ice. Last-minute decisions on where they were going to be. I think all of that throws a little bit of a wrinkle. The first scrimmage was tough. I always say when you let in that many goals there are a lot of things going wrong in front of you – not necessarily the goalie’s fault.”
Headline photos: Elizabeth Kong and Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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