Vitek Vanecek will get the start tonight against the Boston Bruins. Peter Laviolette, in the process, is handing the 26-year-old Czech netminder an opportunity to become the Washington Capitals’ full-time starter in net.
Vanecek has been the starter in three of the last four games as the Capitals try to find some stability at the position.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 15, 2022
“I think he’s played well in his last two games”, Laviolette said of Vanecek before Thursday night’s game. “I mentioned it from the start. We’re looking for somebody to grab that and find some consistency.”
Vanecek currently holds an 8-4-5 record with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. He posted his first shutout of the season last Saturday in a 2-0 win over the New York Islanders.
Vanecek has struggled to find consistency in his young career as he has let in 8.6 more goals than expected during the past two seasons as an NHL starter. His play of late has been better but a real slew of good starts hasn’t materialized for the netminder. Part of that is opportunity as he has only made six starts since the end of November.
“With regard to the schedule, it is what it is”, Laviolette continued. “It’s good because you get an opportunity for some breaks for the guys but in the same sense, there were a lot of days off in there. With regard to somebody getting into a rhythm, it makes it a little bit more challenging. You have to do it through practice time and stay sharp for the games.”
The Capitals have gone back and forth between Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov as co-starters since the beginning of last season.
General manager Brian MacLellan told The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir in early November, “We need growth out of both of these guys. They’ve got to continue to get better. I think it’s tough to evaluate them at this point because they haven’t played enough, there’s not a big enough sample size, but over these next 10 games, we need growth from both goalies.”
The Capitals were ranked 23rd (.898) in the league in team save percentage at that point of the season. They now sit 19th (.900) over the last 25 games and an even worse 25th (.880) over the last ten games.
Samsonov currently has a .903 save percentage which is good for 47th in the league among goaltenders with at least five appearances. He posted a .902 mark last season, a season that saw the rookie Vanecek steal most of the starts in net due to Samsonov’s inconsistency and issues with COVID-19.
The Capitals even gave rookie Zach Fucale back-to-back starts recently. Fucale, who pitched a shutout in his debut and had the longest shutout streak in NHL history to begin a career, wobbled and eventually faltered, giving up four goals on 16 shots in a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins. He was sent back down to the AHL a day later. Despite that iffy performance, Fucale still showed some of the calmest and most consistent goaltending the team has received all season, stopping more than two goals than expected.
So, as you can see, Vanecek must provide more consistent play in this upcoming stretch or the Capitals will really need to start considering other options for the position. Those options will very likely not be internal.
One of those options could be Marc-Andre Fleury as The Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursdaythat the future Hall of Famer could be available at the deadline. Fleury is an unrestricted free agent at season’s conclusion.
If it wasn’t before, now is make or break it time for goaltenders in the Capitals’ organization.
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