Vitek Vanecek will start against the New York Rangers Monday night. Once Vitek takes the ice at Madison Square Garden, he will have started in nearly double the games (33) as Ilya Samsonov (18) despite this being the season Sammy was supposed to take the reins of the Capitals full-time starter’s role.
Months after fully recovering from a reported ATV accident early in 2020, Samsonov contracted coronavirus in mid-January 2021 and missed over a month of the regular season. Since then, he has played his way back into game shape (which included a conditioning stint in Hershey) and has mostly regained his top form. But he still hasn’t reclaimed the top spot from Vanecek. Samsonov started one game in February, seven of 14 in March, and only six of 15 in April.
With a playoff starter unnamed and hard to prognosticate, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette was asked about the situation after the morning skate. Lavy admitted that the team still had not made up its mind on who the starting goalie would be, but said the team will announce one before the postseason begins.
“We’ve played the whole year moving back and forth on our goaltenders,” Laviolette said. “I think it’s important going into the playoffs that we don’t just cut one guy off. And so, to answer your question, we’re definitely going to have to name a starter before the playoffs. There will be somebody that goes in the net for Game One, but, just playoffs the way they’ve been played recently over the years, there’s definitely room for two goalies in there. So we want to make sure that both of our goaltenders, all of our players, are ready for the playoffs.
“Even a guy like TVR jumping back into the lineup and getting games,” Laviolette added. “I think that’s important. You’re going to need everybody and I believe that includes the goaltending position as well.”
While most teams usually have a full-time starter in the postseason (someone they live and die with), Laviolette seems to be suggesting that whoever starts in Game One may not finish the postseason in that position.
Perhaps that’s a strategic decision. The rotating-goalie strategy has not hurt the team this season as they’ve led the East Division a majority of the year so why not keep it going in the playoffs?
Perhaps it’s a motivational tactic; keep the pressure on the goaltending duo down the stretch and have them fight tooth-and-nail for the full-time starting job until the very last game. With playoff seeding on the line, the Capitals need their goalie duo — which has been below average this season — to be as sharp as possible these last five games.
Perhaps it’s realism. Vancouver saw surprise success in the 2020 playoffs with backup Thatcher Demko after Jacob Markstrom got hurt while the Dallas Stars made the Stanley Cup Final while riding a sensational performance by reserve goalie Anton Khudobin. Even in the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run in 2018, there was weirdness. The Caps’ playoff starter was actually backup Philipp Grubauer. Grubi, despite starting a majority of the games down the stretch of the 2017-18 regular season, lasted only two games in the ‘loffs before the team gave the starting job back to Braden Holtby. The Holtbeast then helped the team win four consecutive games against the Columbus Blue Jackets (happy third anniversary) after the Caps fell behind 2-0 in the series. They never looked back.
The Capitals’ starting goaltender or the strategy they employ (share the net) could end up having the biggest impact on if the Capitals go deep in the playoffs this season. Peter Laviolette has a big decision to make. But that’s why the team paid him the big bucks over the offseason.
Take our poll.
A quick show of hands. Which goalie do you think will be the Capitals' starter in the playoffs?
— RMNB (@russianmachine) May 3, 2021
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.