The Capitals are coming off a game in which they started their fourth goalie of the season. Pheonix Copley, who prior to this season hadn’t appeared in the NHL for three years, suited up for Washington’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday and allowed four goals before being pulled for Ilya Samsonov in the third period.
A little over halfway through the season, the Capitals have already started more goalies than they have since 2013-14. They’re tied with nine other teams for the most goalies to start a game this season, trailing only the St. Louis Blues ( 5), New Jersey Devils (6) and Buffalo Sabres (5).
Injuries and coronavirus outbreaks have been the source of the Capitals’ carousel, preventing both Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek from settling in. Capitals center Lars Eller joined 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Thursday morning and discussed the toll it’s taken on both the goalies and the rest of the team.
“I have never been a part of that,” Eller said of being on team that’s used this many goalies. “It’s been hard on those guys this year being in and out a lot with COVID and different injuries, both Vitek and Sammy. It hasn’t been easy on them and it hasn’t been easy on us. The only thing I can remember, I remember Vegas’s first year I think they were down to their seventh goalie at one point.”
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The Golden Knights used five goalies during their inaugural season in 2017-18, which was third-most in the NHL. Vegas ultimately wasn’t hurt too badly by the constant turnover between the pipes, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to the Capitals in five games. Marc-Andre Fleury, their top option at goaltender, missed time with a concussion before hitting his stride down the stretch.
However, the Capitals are still trying to figure out who their No. 1 goalie is and whether they should acquire one by the March 21 NHL trade deadline. Head coach Peter Laviolette told NBC Sports Washington that Vanecek “has emerged a little bit in the last month as the guy that has answered the bell and his numbers are really good for the last month…He's finding a way to get it done.”
Whether it’s Vanecek, Samsonov or someone else, the Capitals are looking for consistency in net. As the current holders of fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, some stability at hockey’s most important position could go a long way toward helping them climb back up the standings.