Not only is it crunch time for the Washington Capitals as a team, but it’s also crunch time for the team’s two goaltenders: Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek.
Samsonov, who came into this season as the team’s number one starter, missed nearly two months of the season due to COVID-19. Sammy’s sickness combined with Henrik Lundqvist’s open-heart surgery forced Washington to turn to Vanecek, who had spent the previous five seasons with the Hershey Bears. Vanecek’s performed admirably in net, winning 17 of his 30 starts.
Saturday, Peter Laviolette will turn to Samsonov for a rare consecutive start. It’s only (if I’m doing my math right) the third time he’s done so in his career.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 24, 2021
Samsonov is coming off 1-0 shutout over the Islanders Thursday where he made 26 saves. The win bounced the Capitals into sole possesion of first place in the East Division. Sammy was the first goaltender in Capitals history to accomplish the feat.
Whatever the Capitals wanted to learn about Ilya Samsonov before the trade deadline, they've apparently gotten whatever information they needed.
He still has never started more than two consecutive games in his career.
Vanecek started 13 in a row earlier this season.
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) April 11, 2021
Overall this season, Samsonov has won 12 of 16 games. In his last three games, he’s stopped 77 of 81 shots he’s faced (.951 save percentage).
Laviolette admitted after Saturday’s morning skate that the Capitals are looking to name a starter for the playoffs.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for them in the last 10 games to make a case. We’ve got to name a starter,” Laviolette said. “We’re hoping it’s going to be a long spring into the summer and we’ll need all of our players. That goes for the goaltending to the guys not in our lineup or being scratched right now to the taxi squad. We need everybody. I think it’s our important that they both play well. But there’s no question our eyes are open right now with regard to the goaltending position.”
Meanwhile, Vanecek has been consistently solid all season long and improved every month he’s been in net. Vanecek was the NHL’s rookie of the month in January. So far this season, he’s 17-9-3 with a 2.77 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.
“He’s been good,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He’s surpassed expectations. He got put in a hard spot early. With Lundqvist not being able to come here and Samsonov’s injury, we had to rely on him and put him in some tough situations and he’s been able to handle it. I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s continually improved. He continually responds to some games where it doesn’t completely go his way or maybe a bad goal or two, but he responds in the next game. That’s a good sign for a young goalie. I think we put both our goalies in a tough situation and both have responded fairly well.”
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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