Heading into an unprecedented postseason, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden will have to make several key decisions for his team. Among the most important is how to manage the goaltenders and for now, Braden Holtby remains the No. 1.
Who should be the team's starter has been a question for much of the season, not just now heading into the playoffs. The incumbent, Braden Holtby, had an incredibly slow start to the season calling into question whether or not the team would be better off giving backup Ilya Samsonov more starts. Samsonov is seen as the future starter in net for Washington and had an incredibly strong start. The long season seemed to wear Samsonov down before the pause, however, which is not unexpected for a goalie in whom the most games he has played in a season is 37 which he did last year with the Hersey Bears.
For Reirden, the starting goalie is set...for now.
"Going into it’s Braden Holtby’s job to lose and I feel confident in him,' Reirden said Monday in a video conference. "I felt confident with where things were going right before the pause in terms of how his game was coming around and I think he’ll get the first crack at it."
From October through January, Holtby had struggled significantly with a .896 save percentage and 3.11 GAA. Samsonov had a .925 save percentage and 2.12 GAA during the same stretch. The roles were reversed from the start of February up until the league paused the season on March 12. During that time, Holtby had a .901 save percentage and 3.08 GAA. That's not great, but was an improvement on his season and drastically better than Samsonov's .869 save percentage and 4.34 GAA during that same stretch. During that time, Samsonov had a record of 0-4-1.
"Braden Holtby’s body of work in playoff games speaks for itself and how he definitely helped our team to win our first-ever Stanley Cup and was a huge, huge part of that," Reirden said. "So, I’m happy to see that Braden’s back here in town and will be working with our goalie coach coming up later this week when we’re allowed to have staff join these sessions."
But while Holtby will be the No. 1, Reirden stressed the importance of having all the goalies ready to play, and not just Samsonov.
"The one thing that I’ve taken all of this is we’ve got to be adaptable and be ready to adjust to anything that can happen, and lots of things can go awry, especially in the way that this NHL is going to be played out," Reirden said. "So we need to have both of our goalies be ready and on top of that our third and fourth goalies be ready to play."
While Pheonix Copley had previously confirmed he would be a black ace, this would seem to suggest Vitek Vanecek will be joining the team for the playoffs as well.
Whether all of the preparation for the backup goalies would happen in training camp and exhibition games or in the round-robin remains to be seen.
As one of the top-four seeds in the conference, Washington will get to play in three round-robin games to determine seeding before the team gets into a playoff series. This offers the team three competitive games to potentially get different players into the lineup.
Reirden was non-committal when asked if Samsonov would get a start in one of the team's three round-robin games.
"It's something that we're gonna want to get both Braden and Ilya the proper starts and the proper reps, and for that matter, we also need to make sure that if we are choosing to have our four goalies here with Copley and Vanecek, that they're prepared too," Reirden said. "So it all goes into our process. You don't know how deep you're gonna need your roster to be. But the way I see it, you're gonna need a lot of players and it's important that all of our players are ready and when they get that opportunity they're able to take advantage of it."
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