Vitek Vanecek was crowned by general manager Brian MacLellan to be the Capitals’ starting goaltender heading into the playoffs.
“I think it was great what he’s done here lately,” MacLellan said then of Vanecek. “I think he deserves opportunity to take the team into the playoffs.”
Less than two weeks later, the Capitals’ goaltender competition is open again after consecutive putrid starts by Vanecek.
The Czech goaltender gave up nine goals on 41 shots in back-to-back starts (.780 save percentage) against the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild. Since the trade deadline, Vanecek has a 1-3 record with a 4.45 goals-against average and a .862 save percentage.
“I think there are peaks and valleys in everyone’s career and there are certainly peaks and valleys inside a player’s season as well,” Laviolette said after Capitals’ practice on Monday. “Just talking with Vitek yesterday, we’re looking for him to get back dialed in where he was. He was really good and really strong for us for a long period of time from January 1st on. When he wasn’t injured, he did a really good job in net.
“That being said, it’s kind of always been a two-team tandem. I’m looking for somebody to push forward out of that two-team tandem and be the guy that grabs the crease and keeps it. I think it’s important. I’d like to have a guy that has emerged and moved forward from that group. They’re both good goaltenders but you want someone to really take hold of it. There’s an opportunity for them down the stretch here.”
It’s unclear if either goaltender will meet the challenge. Current backup netminder Ilya Samsonov has been poor in recent games as well. In his four March starts, Samsonov is just 2-2 with a .876 save percentage. His full-season stats aren’t much better as he sports a 2.95 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 36 appearances.
“We’ve got games down the stretch for a push for somebody to make a case,” Laviolette told The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “They’ll probably both continue to get games.”
The recent downturn in Vanecek’s play came at the exact wrong time for the Caps as the Trade Deadline has come and gone. Although there were a lot of rumblings, general manager Brian MacLellan was unable to address the situation in net.
The one goaltender MacLellan targeted, Marc-Andre Fleury, has dominated for the Minnesota Wild since being moved there by the Chicago Blackhawks. MAF is 3-0 in three starts for the Wild with a 1.34 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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