Prior to the 2020-21 NHL regular season it would be reasonable that a regular hockey fan was not familiar with Washington Capitals goaltender Vítek Vaněček. However, the Capitals second round pick, 39th overall, from the 2014 draft has suddenly been thrust into the starting position in Washington thanks to Henrik Lundqvist leaving the team and COVID-related news surrounding Ilya Samsonov.
Vaněček, a 25-year-old Czech has been playing in North America over the last five seasons, and has spent most of his professional career with the AHL Hershey Bears squad. His numbers have been relatively solid during that span, but he had yet to get into an NHL game – until this season.
Several factors have played a part in Vaněček getting into four NHL games this season (his current sits at 2-0-2). The most obvious being the departure of former starting goaltender, Braden Holtby, to the Vancouver Canucks. This in turn created a question mark in the Capitals crease. The natural predecessor was 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov – the Capitals 22nd overall pick from 2015.
Knowing that the condensed 2020-21 schedule would be a grind, Washington snagged veteran Henrik Lundqvist during free agency. We now know that Lundqvist needed to shut down his season due to unexpected heart surgery.
That also meant Samsonov instantly became the Capitals number one. Of course, the young Russian was recently a part of a ‘gathering’ with several other Capital teammates that broke league protocols. At minimum, Samsonov became ineligible for a minimum of four games. Making matters worse however, was the fact that the 23-year-old goaltender would later test positive for Covid-19.
Vítek to the Rescue
That has forced Vaněček into three-straight starts for the Capitals. Yes, he has had some struggles during those games, but he remains unbeaten in regulation time. It appears the Capitals like to rally behind the unlikely rookie starter as each of the past three games (technically four, but three VV) have gone into OT.
This week Washington will host the New York Islanders for a mini two game series on Tuesday and Thursday. Should Vaněček need any type of relief during those games, the Capitals will rely on 39-year-old Craig Anderson. The Park Ridge, Illinois native was signed to a one-year contract on January 13th. Based on his last several seasons he is still a suitable number three and well capable of eating minutes, if necessary.
Admittedly, I thought that the Capitals glaring weakness would be in the crease – even with a healthy Samsonov. However, the Capitals seem unfazed by any adversity with a record of 3-0-3 and atop the Beast of the East division. Vaněček has definitely helped fill the void and the team will continue to rely on him for the foreseeable future as Samsonov recovers.
With a full roster, this team is as dangerous as any team in the league.
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