Over the summer, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan parted ways with the team’s two young goalies. Ilya Samsonov was non-tendered a qualifying offer and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs while Mac traded Vitek Vanecek to upstart division-rival New Jersey.
It was a sink-or-swim moment for both goaltenders. But two months into their stays with their new teams, both are swimming.
The most recent example of success is Vitek Vanecek, who started the season slowly but is now flourishing under an easier workload under the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils, who missed the playoffs last season, have won 10 straight games and rocketed into first place in the Metropolitan Division. During seven apperances during that stretch (starting October 25), Vanecek is 7-0-0 with a 1.40 goals against average and .946 save percentage.
All together now from your couch: VI-TEK 👏👏 VI-TEK 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/t1USOCsaa4
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 16, 2022
The Devils tenth straight victory came against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. During that 5-1 win, Vanecek stopped 25 of 26 shots in the W, which was good for a .962 save percentage.
“Honestly it’s great,” Vanecek said of the streak. “The first period was a little bit tough but after that we wake up, get there, and win the game. 10 in a row, it’s really really big. I hope we will keep going like that.”
Of his performance, Vanecek said, “Honestly, I felt good. I felt comfortable. That was a good thing, but guys helped me.”
He later posted to his Instagram page excitedly.
Vanecek is no-doubt buoyed by a Devils team that is one of the best in the NHL early in the season. The Devils have scored a division-high 60 goals and given up a division-low 39 goals — good for a plus-21 goals differential. The Devils at 5v5 have the most shot attempts in the NHL (881) and have a 59.7 shots-attempt percentage, second most in the league. They’ve scored a league-high 43 goals at 5v5 too.
This means that the Devils put a lot of pressure on opposing teams and keep the puck in the offensive zone much more than other clubs. Their exemplary play is taking stress off its goaltending, which before the season was seen as a possibile liabilty (Vanecek/MacKenzie Blackwood) and turning it into a strength. The Devils’ most impressive stat so far early this season is that it’s given up a league-low 107 high-danger chances at 5v5.
While Vanecek’s dashboard stats are sterling, his process stats suggest he’s not necessarily standing on his head — at least not yet. According to Money Puck, he has a 0.6 goals saved above expected good for 40th best in the league.
It’s unclear if Vanecek would have replicated his success and continued growing as a player in Washington this season. The Capitals are one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL early this season.
Here are some stats to illustrate this. CF = Shot attempts. xGF % = Expected Goal For Percentage. SCF = Scoring chances finished. HDCF% = High danger chances.
Devils 5v5: 60.8 CF % (2nd), 63.6 xGF % (1st), 63.0 SCF % (1st), 65.4 HDCF % (1st)
Caps 5v5: 49.7 CF % (18th), 46.5 xGF % (24th), 48.6 SCF % (21st), 47.6 HDCF % (20th)
The Devils also give up a league-low 24.5 shots against per game while the Caps are 16th most at 31.9.
Vanecek’s stats are similar to Darcy Kuemper’s — Washington’s primary starter this season.
Vanecek: 7-1-0, 2.18 GAA, .915 save % (5v5 save % .921)
Kuemper: 5-8-1, 2.74 GAA, .911 save % (5v5 save % .918)
Vanecek’s been good, but it also speaks to just how good Kuemper has performed this season despite a challenging workload.
Screenshot: New Jersey Devils
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.