Coming into the season, one of the biggest question marks for the Capitals was goaltending. Now, with 12 games remaining in the regular season, goaltending still remains a question.
But while some would characterize Washington's issues in net as a failure of both Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek to take control of the starting job, Peter Laviolette characterized it as a situation of two young players experiencing the highs and lows of a full NHL season.
"Like anything that we've talked about, I feel like there's always some highs and some lows inside of a long season, especially for young players," Laviolette said.
Samsonov and Vanecek have spent much of the season splitting starts in net. Samsonov was expected to be the No. 1 coming into the year and, for a short time early in the season, it looked like he was starting to emerge as just that. His play then fell off and Vanecek took control with a dominant stretch that saw him put up numbers that put him among some of the top goalies in the league.
From Dec. 1 through Feb. 1, Vanecek managed a .923 save percentage with a 2.23 GAA. An injury sidelined him for much of February and he has been looking to get back to that form ever since.
A strong performance by Samsonov in Wednesday's win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, may have opened the door for him to get back into the mix.
"I thought Sammy played a really good game last game," Laviolette said. "Vitek has had some really good runs, Sammy had some good moments, some good stretches at the beginning of the year. I'd like to see them both get back to a real high level."
Both goalies have shown flashes of strong play, but both have lacked one thing that the team will need in the postseason: consistency.
To Laviolette, some inconsistency should be expected from the two young netminders, just as it would be for young skaters.
When it comes to goaltending, however, the position is too important and has too great of an impact on a game for the team to not know what it's getting on any given night. So even if the Caps do feel both Samsonov and Vanecek give them a chance to win in any single game, they will still be looking for someone to show some consistency down the stretch of the regular season.
"Sammy had a real good start the other night, Vitek has proven that he can do it," Laviolette said. "He had a long stretch together when he was top-5, top-6 goaltender in the league. But, to stay there, you've got to do it consistently and that's the challenge of a young goaltending group."