The biggest question mark facing the Washington Capitals was the goaltending situation. Back in October, it looked like Vitek Vanecek would be staying in Hershey. Then opportunity knocked and Vanecek was right there in the middle of NHL action.
Vanecek made his NHL debut in the Caps second game of the season on Jan. 15 against the Buffalo Sabres where he stopped 30 shots on 31 attempts. It was the beginning of a spectacular month of January where he would finish as the NHL’s Rookie of the Month.
He struggled to begin February but rebounded nicely to close out the season. He was thrown into more opportunity when Ilya Samsonov was among the Russian four that gathered in a hotel room in Pittsburgh. It cost the Caps $100 million in fines and put Samsonov out of game action for quite a while.
Still when his number was called Vanecek rose to the occasion. He had his occasional rookie missteps but that is expected from a rookie netminder. Samsonov had those last season and continued to have more this season.
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Vanecek performed so well that he was presented another opportunity at the end of the season. With Samsonov on the COVID-19 protocols list again, it gave Vanecek a chance to start in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, it was short lived.
Right after allowing a goal by the Boston Bruins, Vanecek left the game. It was just the fourth shot he faced. The Caps said he had a lower body injury and was out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Vanecek finished the regular season with a 21-10-4 record with a 2.69 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. The Caps enter a unique situation this offseason. With the expansion draft looming, they can only protect a certain amount of players and will have to choose between Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov as they can only protect one goaltender.
If they leave Vanecek exposed it wouldn’t surprise me if the Kraken take him. They would be getting a quality sophomore netminder on the youngest team in the NHL. We’ll see what they go with come July.
Regardless, Vitek Vanecek proved he belongs in the NHL and he hasn’t even reached his ceiling yet. The best is yet to come for him and hopefully some brighter days ahead in D.C.