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Capitals prospect report: Exploring the Samsonov, Vanecek goalie tandem in Hershey

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Capitals prospect report: Exploring the Samsonov, Vanecek goalie tandem in Hershey

Imagine you are the first-year head coach of an AHL team. You are given two goalies for the season. One of them is entering his third year in the AHL, the other is from Russia and in his first season in North America. He doesn’t speak English, but is considered your NHL affiliate’s top prospect.

And by the way, you’re expected to win.

That is the situation that was handed to Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery this season with Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov.

The much heralded Samsonv was the Capitals’ first round draft pick in 2015. He is widely seen as the Caps’ future starter in net and there was a lot of excitement over his first season in the AHL.

But that didn’t mean Vanecek was simply going to yield the starting job in Hershey to Samsonov.

Vanecek was a high draft pick as well, going in the second round in 2014 just one year before Samsonov and he has NHL aspirations of his own.

So what do you do with two goalies competing to impress the NHL club, one with the experience and the other with the fame and expectations?

Carbery elected to go with an even split throughout the season.

Through 47 games, Samsonov has played in 25, Vanecek in 23. Rather than lean on one goalie as the clear starter, the goalies cycle in and out.

As was to be expected, Samsonov struggled initially while Vanecek thrived. Vanecek’s game seemed to go up to another level this season and to Carbery, it’s not hard to figure out why.

“Going into the year, I would have said that I think Vitek understood sort of the situation that Ilya Samsonov is coming here to play in Hershey is a top prospect,” Carbery said. “He understood all of that and I think he took it in a way of, OK, I need to now when I get an opportunity to play whether that's opening night, whether it's the next night, I want to prove to everybody in this organization and around the AHL and the NHL that I can be the guy and I'm going to push whether it's a first round, second round or a top prospect, I'm going to push whoever is my goaltending partner and that's kind of the way I think it started and Vitek had a great start.”

Vanecek was the team’s lone representative at the AHL All-Star game and was the best goalie at the event, helping lead the Atlantic Division all the way to the final in the 3-on-3 tournament before the team lost in a shootout. 

But regardless of how well Vanecek played and how much Samsonov struggled, Carbery maintained the cycle. By keeping the playing time an even split, it took away from any tension there may have been between the two netminders. Rather than feeling like they are in constant competition with one another, Carbery has been very impressed with how both netminders always seem to lift each other up.

“The cool thing between these two guys which I think I have grown to really appreciate and I've watched it and I keep kind of a close eye on how they interact is they pull for one another and they're very supportive of one another,” Carbery said. “They're very close when it comes to when they do their goalie drills, when they compete against shooters, they're rooting for one another. When they do shootouts, all these little things, they celebrate together which I always smile when I see that because they're two competitive guys that want to play every night, but they also have a special bond I feel like and I've observed.”

The continued confidence Carbery has shown both netminders seems to be working. Vanecek has played consistently well all season. Samsonov, on the other hand, seems to have turned a corner from his initial struggles.

“We've got we [feel] a good one, two or 1a, 1b where either guy plays gives us a great chance to win games,” Carbery said, “And now they're taking it as a competitive environment where they're trying to earn more starts, but also in a way that they're supporting one another and pushing one another in a real productive way.”

Other prospect notes:

  • In addition to feeling more comfortable on the ice, Samsonov also seems to be feeling more comfortable with the language as well.
  • Could something as simple as a number change be responsible for Samsonov’s turnaround? He began the season as No. 1 for the Bears, but recently asked for a different number and now wears 35. Apparently he feels there is a lot of pressure associated with wearing the No. 1. The change happened near the start of his hot streak. It’s far too simplistic to credit wearing No. 35 for his improved play, but I also would not dismiss what that little bit of extra confidence could mean for a goalie.
  • Aaron Ness is tied for first among all AHL defensemen with 32 assists.
  • Chase Priskie intended to sign with the Capitals last season, he told the New Haven Register, but returned for his senior season after Quinnipiac suffered a tough loss in the conference quarterfinals against Cornell. “My initial intentions were to leave and sign,” Priskie said. “But I thought I could leave more of a legacy at this program. I want to be one of the best players to ever come out of here. That’s my goal. I hadn’t obtained that after my junior year. I decided there was no rush and that it would be best to come back and mentor the big freshman class we had coming in.” Read the full story here.
  • Priskie has been nominated for yet another award in his phenomenal senior season. Priskie is among the ten nominees for the 2018-19 Senior CLASS Award. “To be eligible for the award, student-athletes must be classified as NCAA Division I seniors and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Priskie has 35 points this season, second in the nation among defensemen. He also leads the nation in power-play goals with nine and is tied for the most goals by a defenseman with 14.
  • Martin Fehervary competed for his native Slovakia in the Kaufland Cup this past week, a three-team international tournament. Slovakia won the tournament with a 2-1 win over Belarus and a 5-1 win over Russia.
  • In an interview, Fehervary talked about keeping in contact with the Caps will playing in the SHL in Sweden. He fills out a questionnaire for Washington every week talking about his games, how much he plays and in what situations, how much he sleeps, etc. It’s an interesting look into how the Caps keep track of their prospects overseas.
  • There’s a very touching story out of Vancouver involving prospect Alex Kannok-Leipert. A young 10-year-old girl has become a regular at Vancouver Giants games with handmade signs for the players. Several of the players, including Kannok-Leipert, returned the favor by showing up to her first hockey practice with signs for her. “She first saw us when she was on the ice,” Kannok-Leipert told the National Post. “She took a minute to read all the signs and then she had to skate away or else she was going to break down a little bit. Her reaction and the way her parents thanked us … it’s a time I’ll always remember. It was pretty cool that we were able to do that.” This is a very cool story and one that’s worth the time to read.

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Braden Holtby is back, Carl Hagelin heats up and 700 is coming

Braden Holtby is back, Carl Hagelin heats up and 700 is coming

The Capitals may have lost to the Arizona Coyotes 3-1 on Saturday, but if Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin kept playing like they did, that will lead to a lot more wins down the line.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

Holtby looks like Holtby again

It's a loss, but there are some positives to take away from this game and the biggest is the play of Holtby. Antti Raanta was the star of this game, but Holtby was just as good for Washington with 28 saves on 30 shots. In the third period with the Caps trailing by 1, Arizona tried to close the game, but could not because of Holtby. He absolutely robbed Derek Stepan who stole the puck away from Dmitry Orlov and was in on net. Holtby poked the puck away, but it was still loose in front. Stepan wheeled around to get the shot, but Holtby somehow managed to deny him.

Holtby was Washington's best player. This game may have been a loss, but if Holtby is back to his normal form that will translate to a lot of wins down the stretch of the season.

Raanta was great, but the Caps' offense still wasn't good enough

I think the Caps deserved a better outcome in this game than the one they got, but even with 36 shots on goal and a great performance by Antti Raanta, Washington could have made things tougher on the Coyotes' netminder.

Despite the high volume of shots, there weren't enough high-danger chances and not nearly enough sustained offensive pressure. The offense looked the most dangerous in the first period, but Washington was not able to really push that in the final 40 minutes.

You can't always rely on Ovechkin, you have to be able to generate offense from the rest of the lineup. Not having Evgeny Kuznetsov hurts, but injuries happen and the Caps have very good center depth. They have to play better offensively regardless.

Watch those wings

An issue I have noticed since the team returned from the all-star break is the defense's tendency to lose wings when they go wide. Several teams have taken advantage of this with forwards going wide down the wings, then cutting in behind the defense and Christian Dvorak's goal was an example of that. In this case, Dvorak turns as he goes down the wing as if he was setting up to shoot so I wonder if Jonas Siegenthaler did not expect him to cut inside, but that's exactly what he did and Siegenthaler was slow to react.

This is an issue more on odd-man breaks with the defense stepping into the middle to defend the puck and losing track of what the wings are doing so perhaps Saturday's goal was not indicative of the pattern, but still something to keep an eye on.

700 is coming

With no goals in four straight games, this is now the longest goalless drought of the season for Ovechkin, but don't worry, it's coming.

Ovechkin had 17 total shot attempts in this game with eight shots on goal. He also hit one off the post. I think initially No. 700 was in his head and neither he nor the team was playing well as a result. Now he looks as dangerous as ever and he is going to torch someone for those last two goals sooner rather than later.

Turning point

With the game tied at 1 in the third period, Phil Kessel gave Arizona the lead with a power play deflection to beat Holtby high to the glove side.

The play was really set up by Jakob Chychrun as the Coyotes went low to high, passing out to Chychrun at the blue line. Chychrun wound up for the shot, seemed to hesitate for just a moment, then delivered a slap pass right to the stick of Kessel for the deflection. Chychrun knew exactly what he was doing on that play and delivered the great pass.

Play of the game

Holtby was Washington's best player on Saturday and it was because of saves like this. Watch this highway robbery of Stepan.

Stat of the game

Offense has been a bit tough to come by for the third line and Carl Hagelin in particular, but both are really starting to heat up.

Quote of the game

Ovechkin had 17 shot attempts and eight shots. He did everything but score and he was encouraged by that rather than frustrated.

"I would be pissed if I don't have any chances, but it's OK. It's going to come."

Fan predictions

He definitely tried and credit to you for going bold.

I've been seeing a lot of calls for a Holtby goal lately. He's a great stickhandler so I could definitely see it happening. He didn't get the chance on Saturday though.

You got the Holtby part right. He finished with a .931. The other two...well, you were about as hot as Washington's offense.

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Capitals can't solve Antti Raanta, fall to Coyotes in the desert

Capitals can't solve Antti Raanta, fall to Coyotes in the desert

Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta stifled a strong Capitals' attack all night long as he handed Washington a 3-1 loss on Saturday. The Caps deserved points for their performance in Arizona, but that's what happens when you run into a hot goalie.

Here is why Washington lost.

Antti Raanta 

It takes goals to win, but there's no question why the Coyotes walked away with two points and that was between the pipes. Raanta was brilliant for Arizona with 35 saves.

Washington had plenty of opportunities to take control of this game offensively early on. and poured 14 shots on goal in the opening frame. Raanta really frustrated a Caps' team that seemed to be largely in control at the start in all areas but the scoreboard.

Raanta was particularly strong against Alex Ovechkin who looked more dangerous than he has in any of the four straight games in which he has now been held without a goal. Ovechkin had 17 shot attempts total and managed to get eight of those shots on net. Raanta turned aside all eight to keep Ovechkin at 698 career goals.

With no goals in four games, this is now the longest goalless streak for Ovechkin this season.

Troubling trends

Overall, this was a good defensive game for Washington. But when Arizona finally got on the board in the second period, it was the result of some familiar issues.

Lars Eller managed to get the puck away from Arizona in the defensive zone and tried to launch the breakout. His deke on Christian Dvorak was too strong and he ended up turning the puck over in the neutral zone. As Arizona was just leaving the offensive zone, they were in good position to immediately break the puck back in. Dvorak dropped the puck off to Connor Garland then went wide on the wing. Jonas Siegenthaler was slow to react and when Garland returned the puck to Dvorak, he was behind the defense and tucked the puck through the 5-hole of Braden Holtby.

Turnovers have been an issue in Washington's recent slump. While Eller's turnover was not all that egregious, it still caught the Caps in a position in which they had to scramble defensively to cover a quick rush. The second issue has been a noticeable issue for Washington since the return from the all-star break and that is wings going wide and cutting in behind the defense. Siegenthaler knew he was there and looked like he was in good position, but he was just too slow to react to Dvorak who may have caught him off guard because he turned his body and was basically skating backward when he got to Siegenthaler. Siegenthaler may have thought Dvorak was looking for a one-timer or a pass and wasn't trying to cut behind him. Either way, that's exactly what he did and was alone in front of Holtby.

A Kessel deflection

With the game tied at 1 in the third period, Phil Kessel gave Arizona the lead with a power play deflection to beat Braden Holtby high to the glove side.

The play was really set up by Jakob Chychrun as the Coyotes went low to high, passing out to Chychrun at the blue line. Chychrun wound up for the shot, seemed to hesitate for just a moment, then delivered a slap pass right to the stick of Kessel for the deflection. Chychrun knew exactly what he was doing on that play and delivered the great pass.

An empty-net goal with less than a minute remaining for Lawson Crouse would seal the deal.

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