The Washington Capitals have been rolling with two goaltenders, Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov, for most of the regular season. Samsonov has put up a respectable performance in 19 games for the Capitals this season, but has appeared to land in some hot water with the Capitals leadership recently. He was scratched from Washington’s game on May 3 for disciplinary reasons, placed on the taxi-squad and now sits on the COVID-19 protocols list. With Samsonov on the outs with the Capitals right now it is worthwhile to take a look at their other options for goaltenders.
Trust in Vitek Vanecek
Vitek Vanecek was not supposed to be bearing the brunt of goaltending responsibilities this season. In the offseason Washington signed veteran netminder Henrik Lundqvist to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Lundqvist was supposed to succeed Braden Holtby and help acclimate Ilya Samsonov to a starting role. Vitek Vanecek likely would have served as a taxi-squad or AHL goalie this season. Lundqvist, however, did not end up playing for the Capitals as he underwent open heart-surgery in December, 2020.
With Lundqvist out for the season, Vanecek had the opportunity to snag a starting role in the 2021 season. When Ilya Samsonov tested positive for COVID-19 just a few games into the season, Vanecek became a fixture in the Washington lineup.
Vanecek has put up a 20-10-4 record with a 2.74 goals against average and a .907 save percentage this season. He leads rookie goalies in wins and has recorded two shutouts. Recently, Vanecek has been important in keeping Washington in the game. He can be relied on to make key saves, especially on penalty kills and breakaway opportunities. With so many players out of the lineup for the Capitals right now it is essential that the goalie can provide strong backup and stabilize the team.
Going into the playoffs it is likely that head coach Peter Laviolette will put his trust in Vanecek. While he has never played in the playoffs before, he has proven his goaltending capability as well as his ability to adjust to new situations, so he should be able to adapt to the intense playoff atmosphere. Additionally, the Capitals provide a good amount of goal support, which takes pressure off the young goalie.
Veteran Experience With Anderson
Anderson has not had much playing time this season. With the Capitals rotating between Vanecek and Samsonov, Anderson has only started one game. He has made two relief appearances, each for around 20 minutes of the game.
While he has been snubbed for the starting role so far this season, Anderson is far from inexperienced. He has been in the league since the 2002-2003 season and has recorded nearly 37,000 minutes of playing time in his career (around 616 full games). He holds the all-time games played, starts, wins and save percentage records for the Ottawa Senators franchise. In his career he has played 46 games in the playoffs, recording a 23-22 record, 2.35 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
Anderson brings an immense amount of experience to the Capitals. Having him on the roster is important because he can help guide the younger goaltenders through the playoffs. If Ilya Samsonov does not return for the playoffs, Anderson may have the opportunity to get in net and give Vitek Vanecek a break.
It is unlikely that Washington would turn to one of their AHL goalies, but if it is necessary they do have a few options.
Zach Fucale is a goaltender currently on the taxi-squad for the Capitals. He was drafted in 2013 and has yet to make his NHL debut, playing instead for various AHL teams. This season, Fucale has gone 10-2 with a shutout for the Hershey Bears. He has a goals against average of 1.78 and a .933 save percentage. Fucale must have impressed someone in the Capitals organization because he recently signed a two year contract extension.
Pheonix Copley is another goalie in Washington’s system. He is 9-4-1 for the Hershey Bears this season. He has recorded a 2.85 goals against average and a .886 save percentage. While Copley’s recent numbers are not as good as Fucale’s, he does bring something else to the table: NHL experience. Copley started 24 NHL games for the Capitals in 2018-2019. He recorded a 16-7-3 record, 2.90 goals against average, and .905 save percentage.
It is not ideal to have to call someone up in the playoffs, but if Washington needs to, they can. Fucale and Copley have both seen success in net and would be capable of making saves. While unexperienced, they could be utilized if the Capitals needed them.