After 13 consecutive starts, Vitek Vanecek is finally getting a game off, but it won't be for Ilya Samsonov. Craig Anderson will get his first start for the Capitals on Sunday against the New Jersey Devils (2 p.m., NBC), head coach Peter Laviolette told the media during a pregame availability.
Anderson came on once in relief of Vanecek this season, but this will be his first start since March 11, 2020 when he was with the Ottawa Senators.
The fact that Vanecek is getting a game off is no surprise considering he has started the last 13 straight for Washington and Sunday's game is the second leg of a back-to-back. What is a bit of a surprise is that it is Anderson getting the nod and not Ilya Samsonov.
Samsonov has not started in an NHL game since Jan .17. He tested positive for the coronavirus on Jan. 19 and dealt with symptoms leading to a lengthy stay on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol-related absence list. After a two-game conditioning sting in Hershey, Samsonov was recalled to Washington on Friday and placed on the taxi squad Saturday.
WIth the back-to-back, Sunday seemed like a good opportunity to get him back in, but Laviolette elected to go with Anderson.
One has to wonder if Samsonov would have started Sunday had the game remained a 7 p.m. start. It was moved on Saturday as the Lake Tahoe game between Boston and Philadelphia was pushed back to avoid sunlight which is wreaking havoc on the playing surface.
The Caps are 0-3-2 in afternoon games this season and the early start would not allow Samsonov a full day of prep as the starter. Starting Anderson may be more about wanting Samsonov to feel as comfortable in his return as possible. Otherwise, if conditioning was still a concern, it would have made more sense to keep him in Hershey to get more playing time.