The Washington Capitals will start Vitek Vanecek for Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the Florida Panthers, head coach Peter Laviolette announced on Tuesday.
Vanecek went 20-12-6 this season with a .908 save percentage and a 2.67 goals against average this season, his second full year in the NHL.
He was the team’s Game 1 starter last season in the first-round series against the Boston Bruins but left in the opening minutes with a lower-body injury that kept him out for the remainder of the postseason.
“Both goaltenders have had points in the year where they’re really good,” Laviolette said. “Vitek’s body of work has been just a little bit stronger, but it’s close. They’ve both given us big wins, enough where we’ve had a successful season. Vitek, we gave the start to last year as well and it didn’t go the way he wanted or as planned with regard to that. But the body of work that he had this year I think earns him the nod for Game 1.”
Vanecek will have his hands full against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers, who boast the league’s best offense with a mind-numbing level of offensive skill in their forward lines.
The Capitals’ job is to not allow the Panthers to get much offensively in transition, and the way to do that is with their physicality. If they’re able to accomplish that, it’ll take a lot of pressure off Vanecek in net.
“The old adage of the game is time and space,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “You just smother them, they can’t do anything with the puck. So that is going to be my game plan, I’m going to be in their face all night, super tight and they are not going to have a lot of time hopefully.”
Also, there wasn’t much question entering Tuesday morning, but Laviolette confirmed that captain Alex Ovechkin will be in the lineup.
The team held an optional skate at FLA Live Arena ahead of Game 1, which begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington (with pregame coverage begining at 6:30).
“To be honest, I haven’t really noticed anything different,” Laviolette said. “He was a full participant (in practice), he wasn’t held out of anything and he competed at full go. Just through the days leading up to this, his status becomes clearer. Today we’re here, and he’s good to go.”