Capitals look for Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov to emerge as No.  1 goaltender

Capitals look for Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov to emerge as No. 1 goaltender

The Washington Capitals, with less than four weeks to go in the regular season, have an open goaltending competition – again. Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said he’s looking for one of the team’s two goaltenders, Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov, to push forward out of the goalie tandem and be the guy who “grabs the crease and keeps it.”

Vanecek looked like a lock to lead the Capitals into the postseason, but he has struggled in recent weeks. Vanecek is 1-4-0 in his past five starts with a .863 save percentage and a 3.8 goals against average. From Jan. 1 to the March 21 trade deadline, he was the Capitals’ clear starter, going 10-4-0 with a .925 save percentage.

“Just talking with Vitek, we’re looking for him to get back dialed in to where he was,” Laviolette said. “He was really good and really strong for us for a long period of time, almost from like Jan. 1 on, and the games that he got, when he wasn’t injured, he did a really good job in net. ”

Samsonov’s last start was March 25 in a 4-3 shootout win against Buffalo. He has had an up-and-down season, riddled with inconsistencies that started in training camp. Samsonov looked like he would be the starting goaltender on opening night, but Vanecek got the nod instead.

Capitals start with a whimper, and it gets worse in 5-1 loss to Wild

The Capitals have now lost two straight and will have to decide who to start in net on Wednesday against Tampa Bay, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion.

If Washington decides to go with Vanecek, it would be a chance for the goalie to get in a rhythm and get back on track. Picking Samsonov could give him a chance to prove he deserves more starts.

“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 want somebody to really take hold of it.”

Washington was adamant that it would run with a goalie tandem for the majority of the season, not wanting to name Vanecek or Samsonov as the team’s true No. 1. That changed when Laviolette suggested in late January that Vanecek was ahead in the competition and he could “grab the reins.” Vanecek was injured in early February, but picked up where he left off when he returned in March.

Washington didn’t trade for any goaltenders at the deadline, believing Vanecek was enough to carry it through the postseason. At the time, General Manager Brian MacLellan said Vanecek deserved to be the No. 1 goaltender.

“I like both of those guys,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said earlier in the week. “They [are] young and reckless a little bit sometimes. But at the same time, whoever play, we feel confident. We trust them, and we all make mistakes sometimes, right? It’s just about how we’re going to support them when they make mistakes. ”

Capitals hold players-only meetings

TJ Oshie said the Capitals have had some players-only meetings in the past few days following lopsided losses to Carolina and Minnesota. Oshie said they talked about the team identity, how they want to play, and how their mind-set needs to change before the postseason.

“We’re not playing to our identity,” Oshie said. “I don’t think any amount of coaching would get you out of that. That comes down to the guys on the ice, the players playing a certain way, being prepared a certain way. So we’ve been talking as a group as players and just getting some thoughts out there. ”

Oshie said the meetings have been less about the details within the game and more about each player “seeing what they want out of this season” and how they can get there.

“We’ve gotten away from having 20 guys in the lineup come with a purpose to win and win a certain way and we haven’t had that,” Oshie said. “Sometimes you can get away with it if [Alex Ovechkin] goes out and scores a bunch of goals or [Kuznetsov] does his thing. But a lot of times, you can’t. ”

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