Former Blackhawk Patrick Sharp offers thoughts on Capitals' goalie dilemma

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Mike DePrisco
·3 min read
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Patrick Sharp offers thoughts on Capitals' goalie dilemma originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Despite complications with the coronavirus early on in their 2021 regular season, the Capitals have managed to sustain a lead atop the Eastern Division standings. Ahead of the final 20-ish games of the year, the only major question mark for this team revolves around the goalie position. 

The good news is head coach Peter Laviolette has two solid options in Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. The bad news is that neither has done enough to take full command of the starting role. 

Patrick Sharp, three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks and now analyst for NHL on NBC, joined Capitals Pregame Live to talk about Washington's goalie predicament and how it relates to what Chicago went through in 2010. 

Like this year's Caps team, the Blackhawks had two solid goalies in Anti Niemi and Cristobal Huet. They split time during the regular season, but Niemi eventually won the job outright for the playoffs and helped them win a Stanley Cup. 

"When you look at most teams that go deep in the playoffs and all the Stanley Cup winners, traditionally they ride one guy, the hot hand," Sharp said. "In the case of Anti Niemi, he was a 27-year-old rookie and he earned that spot, earned the opportunity to be our starter come playoff time. We had such a deep team, such a talented team, we didn't necessarily need Anti to steal a lot of games for us and be the difference in a series, but the way that he competed no matter what the score was gave us a huge lift."

Samsonov was dubbed the starter before the season began, even over free-agent acquisition Henrik Lundqvist. But after some time in COVID-19 protocols, Vanecek showed enough to earn at least a semi-regular role. To Sharp, having two guys you trust in the net isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

"Maybe it's a blessing in disguise if you go back to the start of the season, when Washington had issues at the goaltender position, they had guys missing from the lineup and they were forced to play Vanecek for a long stretch of games. Being a young guy, I think that could be a real valuable tool come playoff time. 

"I don't know who starts Game 1 of the playoffs, but when you have two good options there, who knows? We could see two goaltenders because it's a trend all across the NHL that you need depth at that position," he said. 

However, regular-season hockey and playoff hockey in the NHL are practically different sports. In such a setting, it's beneficial to just give one guy the job and let him run with it. 

"It's probably a good idea to have one guy solidified as your starter so you're going into that first round of the playoffs, you know who it's gonna be," Sharp said. "That doesn't mean he plays every game in the playoffs, but I do agree you should have a guy identified."

As of now, the Caps haven't found a definitive answer to who the No. 1 goalie is, but fortunately for them, there's still plenty of time before the playoffs begin to figure it out. 

"Playing the final 20 games here, you're gonna figure that out pretty quick," he said. "The league's gonna bump up to another level. I feel like the stretch drive is coming and there's gonna be some pretty good being played here down the stretch, I wouldn't be surprised if one guy makes that decision pretty easy for coach Laviolette."