Rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek came in clutch when the Caps needed him.
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows lots of information for the player over the season. A short description of each chart:
About this visualization: At three times during the season (end of January, end of March, and end of May), RMNB shared an open survey with fans, asking the following question for each player:
On a scale from 1 to 5, how HAPPY are you to have this player on the team?
1 means VERY UNHAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
2 means UNHAPPY
3 means NEITHER HAPPY NOR UNHAPPY
4 means HAPPY
5 means VERY HAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
The numbers above show the average score for the player in each survey period.
Vitek Vanecek wasn’t expected to be a Washington Capitals this season. The plan was for Henrik Lundqvist to mentor Ilya Samsonov into his fated eventual position as the number-one franchise goalie. But Lundqvist had heart trouble, and Samsonov had all kinds of troubles, so Vanecek made the jump from Hershey to the big club, making his NHL debut against the Sabres on January 15. A week later, Samsonov went on the COVID protocol, and all of a sudden Vanecek went from the third or fourth guy in the depth chart to the team’s number-one goalie.
That alone is worth celebrating, but let’s be harsh critics for a moment. The graph below shows how many goals each goalie saved per game compared to what was “expected” according to Evolving Hockey. Vanecek is in blue.
You can see Vanecek take over the net in January, followed some pretty rough games in early February. Once Samsonov returned, Vanecek’s play evened out and then some with a few game-stealing performances. But neither goalie really distinguished himself in the stretch run, and neither goalie really “earned” the starting role. Vanecek won it by default because Samsonov broke the rules.
To some people, I am damning Vanecek with faint praise. To others, I’m unfairly equating his performance to his better. I won’t agree with either of those characterizations. Let’s go head-to-head. Here’s 5v5 numbers.
|Goals saved vs xG per hour||-0.44||-0.35|
There just isn’t much daylight between them. Vanecek did better against high-danger shots, but Samsonov was better on special teams.
Whatever preference we give to Samsonov might be a function of his earlier draft position or from some allowance we make to his injury/illnesses.
Don’t get me wrong: I bet one of these goalies will end up with a brighter career than the other. But I don’t know which. You don’t either. You could make a guess, and you could even say that guess is based on something, but it’s still a guess. Right now, so far, based on what they’ve banked in the last season, I can’t tell these two guys apart.
And maybe that’s a good thing? I dunno. Maybe next year will be a less weird year, and they’ll both play a lot of games, and they’ll make each other better goalies in the process. That doesn’t sound too bad.
So… VV or Sammy?
Read more: Japers Rink
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