Just a few weeks ago, the Capitals’ starting goaltender position looked about as locked down as could reasonably be expected.
Now, there appears to be a battle for the No. 1 job once again.
Vitek Vanecek, the team’s presumed No. 1 starter just a few weeks ago, has struggled mightily in his last five games as there now appears to be a lane for either Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov to be the starter when the playoffs roll around in May.
The Capitals will play four playoff teams in their next five games, and with 13 games left to play in the regular season, it could provide a springboard for whomever the Capitals decide to start in the postseason.
“There’s peaks and valleys in everybody’s career and there’s certainly peaks and valleys in a player’s season as well. Just talking with Vitek, we’re looking for him to get back dialed into where he was,” Laviolette said. “He was really good and really strong for us for a long period of time, almost from like Jan. 1st on, and the games that he got, when he wasn’t injured, he did a really good job in net.”
When the trade deadline came and went in March and the Capitals went into the final stretch of the regular season without a veteran addition in goal. Partly, that seemed due to the fact that there was not a clear upgrade available at the right cost for Washington. Another reason was that Vanecek had become the team’s clear starter in net.
In 15 games played, he posted a .928 save percentage with a 2.17 goals-against average. Compared to Samsonov, who had just a .890 and 3.46 from Jan. 1 through March 19, there wasn’t much doubt as to who was the team’s No. 1 option between the pipes.
Since March 20, though, Vanecek has just a .863 save percentage with a 4.16 goals-against average. The Capitals are 1-4-0 in those games. Samsonov, on the other hand, has a .862 save percentage with a 2.82 GAA in two games played over that same timeframe.
“I’d like to have a guy that has emerged and moved forward from that group,” Laviolette said. “They’re both good goaltenders but you really want somebody to really take hold of it. And there’s an opportunity for them down the stretch here.”
Two-goaltender tandems are not uncommon in the playoffs, but they’re certainly not preferred if one goalie can take the position.
“It’s kind of always been a two-team tandem,” Laviolette said. “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.”
Down the stretch of the regular season, it’s clear that Laviolette and the Capitals would love for one goaltender to lead the team in the playoffs and seize the job on his own. And for the first time in weeks, it’s unclear who that might be.