Of all the issues the Washington Capitals have faced this season — be it special teams, slow starts, or losing at home — poor goaltending has seemed to rear its ugly head more frequently than the rest.
It did again on Monday night, as Washington took a 5-3 loss at home to Toronto in part due to some less-than-spectacular play from their netminders. When asked about it, head coach Peter Laviolette did not call out his goalies.
“You go back and look at the [Maple Leaf] goals, we made a mistake on the goals, and it ends up in the back of the net,” Laviolette said postgame. “Listen, there’s things that we can do better…we’re in a position right now where it’s not bouncing our way so we gotta clean it up.”
When asked why he pulled Samsonov to start the second period, he called it a "coach's decision."
However, NBC Sports Washington’s Al Koken thinks it’s high time for Laviolette to call out his goaltenders for notably subpar play.
“One of the things that I liked about Peter Laviolette is the fact that he did not call out his goaltender, that’s why he’s won 700 games. But I think it’s time to call out Ilya Samsonov. That was unacceptable,” Koken said on Capitals Postgame Live. “He talked about mistakes, but Ilya Samsonov made the biggest mistake — particularly on that last goal, but he didn’t know where the puck was on the second Toronto goal.”
Samsonov got the start for the Caps, but once again the team was not able to get out to the start they wanted. Martin Fehervary turned the puck over in the defensive zone which led to Toronto’s opening strike just 2:35 into the game. From there, Samsonov was pulled after the first period in which he allowed three goals on a mere 10 shots.
“You’ve got a situation here where this is unacceptable goaltending,” Koken said. “Ilya Samsonov has his moments, but it can’t be good game, bad game, good game, bad game.”
That sentiment has been echoed across the Caps’ locker room, not just regarding goaltending. Carl Hagelin, almost verbatim, had the same sentiment after Washington’s loss in Philadelphia over the weekend.
Vitek Vanecek stepped in for the latter 40 minutes of the game against Toronto and played well. He stopped 16 of 17 shots in his first NHL appearance since Feb. 1, though it wasn’t enough to prevent a Capitals loss. They will now begin March without a home win to their name over the month of February.
“Vitek Vanecek came in and at least gave the Capitals an opportunity to pick up a point, maybe even two, but [Samsonov’s] .700 save percentage? Uh uh, that ain’t cutting it,” Koken said.
With the NHL’s trade deadline looming on March 21, Washington finds themselves deprived of a franchise netminder. Certain names have been thrown around as possible candidates for the D.C. job, but whatever the case may be, it’ll be an interesting stretch for the Capitals over the next three weeks.
“Vitek Vanecek obviously, barring an injury, is gonna be given the reigns the rest of this way. He has got to show this team that he can be the guy, because if not, what is this team going to do at the trade deadline?” Koken said. “If [Vanecek is] gonna be up-and-down the way Ilya Samsonov is, this team has got major, major troubles…it’s his job to lose right now, because I don’t think anybody believes right now that Ilya Samsonov is the answer.”