Washington Capitals need to fix the goalie situation now


It’s time. While the Washington Capitals’ experience of going with two inexperienced young goaltenders when Henrik Lundqvist had to retire due to heart disease in December 2020 has allowed the club to retain cap space during of the last two seasons and has had some advantages in the last 14 months, the warning light indicating that a change is necessary is on.

Sunday’s horrific 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators summed up how the 2022 calendar year unfolded for Washington, with a disgruntled home crowd seeing an uninspired effort against a non-playoff team playing its fifth game in seven days. . Washington is 6-9-2 since New Year’s Day and the Capitals, who were among the Metropolitan Division leaders when the schedule was reversed, now risk being locked in a wildcard spot with 32 games to play.

The recent five-game slide at home has left the fan base very uneasy – the first time Washington has lost five straight games in regulation at Chinatown since November 2007, which resulted in Glen being fired Hanlon – and also put the Capitals in a precarious position. position themselves in terms of seed at a critical moment in the campaign. While many issues plague the team’s performance this season, from anemic power play to overtime struggles, the goaltender is the most glaring one and the one Washington will need to correct for playoff success.

Ilya Samsonov has been below average since December. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ilya Samsonov has a save percentage (SV%) of 0.893 since Dec. 1 and a 2-5-1 record since Jan. 1, with goals-against averages above 3.65 for each month. It seems that even though Samsonov has lost the confidence of the coaching staff, they don’t really have any choice but to kick him out at the moment.

That’s because Vitek Vanecek has been out since his first-period injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins two weeks ago and hasn’t dressed since. Of the two goaltenders, Vanecek has certainly been consistent, if unspectacular, but he seems to have gained the net advantage – when healthy.

“We’re looking for that consistency, I think, in the net, trying to see if we can get one of the guys to grab it and run with it,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette told NBC Sports Washington this week. week. “Vitek, for me, emerged a bit last month as a guy who answered the bell, and his numbers are really good for the last month…. He finds a way to do it.

This comment was said, despite Vanecek not being available for most of February. Vanecek posted a 0.920 SV% in December and January and is at 0.915 for the season – meanwhile, Samsonov sits at 0.903, staying above the 0.900 mark only thanks to his solid play in November.

Although Washington has two other goaltenders in Hershey in Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale, neither seems to be the answer Laviolette was looking for, as they played sparingly despite injuries and struggles among the two. first, so the Capitals will likely have to look outside the organization for an answer.

This month has been a microcosm of the guarding problems Washington has had over the past two seasons – while Samsonov was unable to grab the starting role when presented to him, Vanecek was capable but not too durable.

It looks like while getting a goalkeeper was top of the team’s agenda at the March 21 trade deadline, that schedule may need to be brought forward to avoid a tough first-round draw. .

Options for Washington

At the start of the season, Washington did not have the cap to add an experienced guard. Anthony Mantha’s long-term injury allowed them to take advantage of the excess long-term injured reserve that his absence allows.

Washington Capitals Anthony Mantha
The absence of Anthony Mantha could allow Washington to add a guard. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Although the main focus will be on rentals available on the market, one important thing to remember is that Capitals General Manager (GM) Brian MacLellan will also throw the tires on players eventually, which would increase the cost of picks. and the prospects of getting a goalkeeper, but would also solve the problem for next season. Several of the deals MacLellan had made in recent seasons, including when he snapped up Mantha at last year’s deadline, involved signing a player who signed for another season, and in this case he would be advantageous to have a goalkeeper who signed for next season.

Samsonov and Vanecek are restricted free agents at the end of the season, and both will get raises if the team chooses to bring them back. This means that while the current tandem was a budget option for the past two seasons, keeping the two won’t be as cheap next season and will likely cost at least $5 million in the combined cap, if not more. While Samsonov likely won’t get a huge increase from his current $2 million salary, Vanecek will certainly command a significant increase to his cap of $716,667, which means the price of the tandem will almost double, if not more.

Most likely, if Washington were to withdraw his salary to make a trade work, Samsonov would be the one to be kicked out, as dealing his cap will create more space, not to mention he seems to have fallen out of the long-term plans. Vanecek is more of an asset in terms of trade value to make a team give up more in terms of manpower, but his cap savings would be negligible in trade terms. However, the low cap for the rest of this season makes him attractive to some teams – part of why the Seattle Kraken selected him in the expansion draft – and also makes him easy to flip for a team that acquires him. if she wishes.

To the benefit of the Capitals, there are already several forward-looking teams with another month to go until the deadline, as half of the Eastern Conference have essentially been knocked out of the playoffs, along with a handful of teams from the Western Conference. . Washington has previously been linked to Marc-Andre Fleury of the Chicago Blackhawks, but he would be an expensive hire and seems unlikely.

Braden Holt by Dallas Stars
Braden Holtby is a potential trade target for Washington. (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

If the Dallas Stars are no longer in playoff contention, there’s the possibility of trying to bring Braden Holtby back, but MacLellan can expand his view on past rentals if the closet empties and see if he can seal a deal. deal for a team looking to make a change in net for either of their two young goalies.

Related: Capitals roster changes could loom after January slump

If a team chooses to attempt to make Samsonov their goalkeeper of the future in hopes that a change of scenery or another goalkeeper coach can help the Russian fulfill his potential, it is possible that a team non-elimination chooses to change course in front of the net. Still, the 2015 first-round market has cooled considerably over the past two seasons. Vanecek is certainly solid, but it’s also unclear whether teams see him as more than a reserve keeper.

Trade needed sooner rather than later

The Capitals aren’t really in danger of missing the playoffs, as the team is currently 11 points ahead of the ninth-placed Detroit Red Wings and only needs about 34 points in 32 games to reach a 95-point total that should get Washington’s biggest problem is finding itself locked in fourth place at the Metropolitan and the dreaded wildcard spot.

Head Coach Peter Laviolette, Washington Capitals
Peter Laviolette and the Capitals have little time before being locked into a wildcard spot. (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

Washington is down seven points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and six behind the Carolina Hurricanes, and the New York Rangers return to play with a three-point lead for third place with three games in hand over the Capitals. . If the Caps floundered another week or two, they would run the risk of playing out the final two months of the campaign knowing they might have to face the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning or Hurricanes to even escape the first. tower. as a wildcard – and also run the risk of being crossed into the Atlantic Division bracket.

Washington had done a good job over the past two seasons with a pair of inexperienced young goaltenders, but it’s becoming clear that if the team sees itself as a serious Cup contender – and by all indications, that’s still the case – the answer in the net needs to be solved soon. The Capitals certainly have several issues to resolve in the final two months of the regular season, but none are more important to resolve now than who will be in net for the second inning.

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