Vitek Vanecek impresses with limited minutes: Notes from the Capitals scrimmage

J.J. Regan
·5 min read

Vanecek impresses with limited minutes: Notes from the Capitals scrimmage originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals played an intrasquad scrimmage Thursday giving us the first glimpse of what the team may look like under new head coach Peter Laviolette. Team White defeated Team Red 4-0. Here are three observations from the scrimmage.

It is really hard to evaluate the goalies with no preseason

No one likes the preseason and I'm sure no one is upset that we won't have one this year. Having said that, it is going to be really hard to evaluate the goalies without it and that was very clear on Thursday.

Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek, Pheonix Copley and Craig Anderson each played one 20-minute period so it was hard to get a good read on any of them.

Samsonov allowed one goal, but also had the best save of the day, sprawling to deny a 2-on-1 opportunity by Garrett Pilon. Vanecek looked very clean, not giving up many rebounds at all in the limited number of shots he faced.

"I thought [Vanecek] was good," Laviolette said. "We were talking about it, he was actually tested a few times I thought and he did well."

Copley looked very good even when most of the shots he faced were in close. Anderson gave up three goals, but also made a nice glove save on a one-timer.

Unless you had opinions of these goalies going in and had some confirmation bias based on their performances, there wasn't enough there to draw any real conclusions on them. The goalie depth chart is going to be based more on what Laviolette and goalie coach Scott Murray see in practice than it is based on the extremely limited amount of scrimmage time.

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"It's a different situation with regard to the shortened camp, not having extensive practices, not having the amount of exhibition games that we typically do," Laviolette said. "The scrimmage today, that's as close as we're going to get to one team playing against another team. With that, you get a chance to evaluate the goaltenders and see how they do. It's a little bit more challenging I think than in past years, but there's confidence in the goaltenders that we do have here and so we're looking at them and we'll make decisions by the end of camp."

The defense is going to be extremely aggressive

One aspect of Laviolette's system that is fairly well known is how aggressive the defense plays in the offensive zone. That was evident Thursday as Cam Schilling and Trevor van Riemsdyk scored the first two goals of the scrimmage. Now, however, we have a better idea of what "aggressive" means.

In the last three seasons we have seen the Caps win a Stanley Cup by largely taking the offense out of the hands of the defensemen completely under Barry Trotz and horrible puck management by defensemen in the offensive zone under Todd Reirden with players either pinching too aggressively or turning the puck over leading to awful odd-man rushes in the other direction. Because of that, you may not have been all that thrilled when they heard Laviolette wanted the defense to be aggressive. Based on the scrimmage, however, it appears the aggressiveness of the defense has more to do with joining in the offensive rush.

There were a lot of instances in which the forwards broke the puck into the offensive zone, then looked for a trailing defenseman to drop the pass off to. It wasn't about dropping the puck from low to high for low-percentage opportunities or defensemen drawing themselves out of position.

What we didn't see nearly as much in the scrimmage was the long stretch passes from the defense that got the team into trouble so often the past two seasons. Jonas Siegenthaler was caught trying one late in the second period that was immediately picked off by Dmitry Orlov in one of the few instances of the stretch pass I saw Thursday.

Far too often last season, the offense would shoot down the ice leaving the defense to try to pass through the forecheckers on long stretch passes that were easily intercepted. On Thursday, the breakout was much more about the offense taking the puck up the ice and dropping it back to the defense and it certainly seemed to work much better.

This is going to be a very physical team

We all know what Zdeno Chara brings off the ice. What is less known is what the 43-year-old can provide on the ice. At the very least, however, you can expect him to be physical and that may be all the team really needs from him. Consider that when Chara plays, it will likely mean that Jonas Siegenthaler is out. Siegenthaler proved himself to be an everyday NHL player last season and is 20 years younger. Siegenthaler, however, does not play the game very physically. Chara does. That move itself was a sign that the Caps may be thinking more physically and Thursday seemed to bear that out in what was a more physical contest than you would expect in an intrasquad scrimmage.

Don't get me wrong, no one was recklessly throwing their bodies around, but there was enough hitting ot make me think it was a point of emphasis. Brenden Dillon in particular was very physical. He looks like he may have added more muscle and was ready to use it.

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
-134-1.5O 6
+115+1.5U 6