With a week off between games for the Capitals, it seems like a good time to take stock of the team and its season. Here are some key mid-season questions for Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan to discuss.
Is Washington's Game 1 starter for the playoffs currently on the roster?
Andrew: This is the type of question that it feels like my answer depends on what time of day you ask me. But, for now, I'm going to say no and that the Capitals will bring in a goalie to be their starter for the postseason.
General manager Brian MacLellan isn't afraid to make a splash at the trade deadline and he's not afraid to make a player-for-player swap to get it done. So I'll be bold and say the Capitals will be too.
This is a team that wants to win the Stanley Cup every single season that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are in the organization. And with the forward group getting healthier, they’ll be able to play the team they actually planned on having this season soon enough. I don’t think that’s lost on the Capitals. Their maximized team is about to hit the ice and I see them being aggressive to shore up any weaknesses in the organization.
I don’t think this is necessarily a final referendum on Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek, both of whom have never earned a playoff win in their careers. I just think the Capitals will try and get a guy with experience who can be more consistent in net. As for if that guy exists, and at the right price both salary and trade compensation-wise, who knows? But I think they’ll do something.
I also think this team needs another scoring forward on the roster, and if I’m being honest, I think the need of another forward compared to another goalie is closer than some might think. But the reason I’ll side with the Capitals bringing in a new netminder is because of MacLellan’s history.
He’s not afraid to swing for the fences for a player to bolster a lineup (read: Kevin Shattenkirk). He’s not afraid to make a splash and bring in a player with term in a massive swap (read: Anthony Mantha). And this time around, I’ll bet on MacLellan’s history once again.
JJ: No, the Game 1 starter is not on the roster.
Samsonov has the tools to be a No. 1, but his play has been wildly inconsistent to the point that he has been outplayed by Vanecek. Vanecek has been very good since Jan. 1, but I have my doubts on just how high his ceiling is. In my mind, I do not believe you can win a Cup if Vanecek is the No. 1.
There is an argument to be made that perhaps the goaltending has not been as bad as perceived, that the play in front of the goalies is the real issue. With Vanecek playing well (assuming that continues when he returns from injury) and the knowledge that Samsonov played well in the playoffs last year, perhaps the team can get by with a Vanecek, Samsonov tandem. If the Caps can't get Marc-Andre Fleury, is there even another goalie out there worth trading for?
Even if you believe all of that, then goaltending is, at best, a question mark for this team. Given the age of the roster, there needs to be a sense of urgency over whether this could be the final year of championship contention and, with that in mind, you cannot afford to do nothing in net. MacLellan has to go out and get someone to play between the pipes and, given how aggressive he usually is, I expect that he will.