Capitals GM Brian MacLellan in wait-and-see mode with goaltenders

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Andrew Gillis
·3 min read
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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan in wait-and-see mode with goaltenders originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals’ goaltending situation, as it relates to simply who is in net, hasn’t played out the way anyone had hoped. In fact, it’s been worse than anyone could’ve imagined.

Henrik Lundqvist, signed by the Capitals in free agency, announced in December he would miss the 2021 season due to a heart condition that required surgery. Ilya Samsonov, the 2015 first-round draft choice has played in just six of the team’s first 26 games after a bad bout with coronavirus that kept him out of the lineup for weeks.

That’s put the majority of the pressure on Vitek Vanecek to carry the goaltending load for the Capitals and has led to questions about who will take the net as the season goes on and if that person is even on the roster.

The problem for the Capitals is general manager Brian MacLellan needs more time to see what he’s got before making a decision, one way or another.

“I think we need a sample size on Samsonov to see where he’s at, how much of the load can he carry,” MacLellan said Friday in a press conference with reporters. “I think we’ve got a good sense of where Vitek’s at and I would think Vitek’s going to continue to get better, too. We’ll monitor here over the next month and see where we’re at.”

Samsonov was expected to share the net with Lundqvist this season, but due to Lundqvist’s condition and Samsonov’s COVID battle, neither happened. In limited action this year, Samsonov is 4-0-1 with a .907 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against average in just 329 minutes of play. 

The Capitals’ lead netminder this season has been Vanecek, who has started 20 of the team’s 26 games. He’s led the team with an 11-5-3 record and has a .904 save percentage with a 2.88 goals against average.

“Vitek's done a great job for us here,” MacLellan said. “He's really seized the opportunity that he's been given. Nothing we would have predicted coming into the year. He's been solid. I think he's improving. He's been given a lot of responsibility and he's handled it. It's impressive, what he's done, for where he's at. From going from not getting the opportunity that he deserved to taking advantage of a situation and running. I think it's been impressive.”

The problem for MacLellan and Washington now, simply, is that they might not have enough money to bring in any competition. According to CapFriendly, the Capitals have no money to bring in a goaltender without shipping someone off the roster first. Craig Anderson, the team’s third goalie, has played in just two games and stopped 29 of 34 shots but his contributions down the stretch are expected to be minimal, at best.

“I think Samsonov, he has a couple good games here,” MacLellan said. “I think it's been a struggle a little bit for him to find his footing and get up to speed and get into game conditioning and get some games under his belt. The last few games I think he's been solid. So we'll see where he goes from here, too. I would only anticipate that he's going to improve and get better and get more comfortable.”

MacLellan said he wouldn’t bet on Lundqvist making a return to the lineup this season, meaning that, for now, the net is up for grabs for Vanecek and Samsonov to play for. With the trade deadline a month away (April 12), the Capitals will have a month to decide if what they have is enough to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and then another month after the deadline to gear up with whoever they’ve got on the roster.