The Capitals entered this season with high expectations for their goaltending after signing both Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren to multi-year deals in free agency. One month into the campaign, both have stood out as impact players between the pipes.
Even after they allowed a season-high five goals, not counting an empty netter, to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, the Capitals’ goalies rank ninth in the NHL with a .913 save percentage and 12th with a goals against average (GAA) of 2.73. Kuemper has made 13 of the 17 starts in net, ceding the crease to Lindgren only for occasional rest days.
Washington signed Kuemper to a five-year, $26.25 million deal to be its No. 1 starter after waiting two years for either Ilya Samsonov, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, or Vitek Vanecek, traded to the New Jersey Devils, to establish himself as the starter. Lindgren inked a three-year, $3.3 million pact shortly thereafter as the clear backup.
The biggest difference so far between last year’s tandem and the Kuemper-Lindgren pairing has been consistency.
“So far, just consistency,” defenseman Nick Jensen said of how Kuemper and Lindgren have impressed him. “That was always something that we’ve had in mind. I’ve never played goalie. I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know mentally what it’s like. I know it’s probably not easy, so consistency is just as important as making big saves in a game. If you’re making huge saves and then letting a few slip the next game, it’s that up and down that can get a team out of funk.”
Last season, Capitals goaltenders combined to post 33 Quality Starts (40.2% of all games) and 15 Really Bad Starts (18.3%), two statistics introduced in Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract. Kuemper and Lindgren have combined for nine Quality Starts (52.9%) and one Really Bad Start (5.9%) thus far this year.
Though the results have been better, the Capitals have still had to go through an adjustment period with their new netminders. Lindgren, who catches right-handed, plays more pucks behind the net while Kuemper, who catches with his left, tends to stay in goal. Both goalies have done well to swallow pucks and prevent rebounds; Samsonov and Vanecek each ranked among the worst goalies in hockey at freezing pucks.
“They both have their own individual styles,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said of Kuemper and Lindgren. “They don’t play the same way but they’re both extremely effective.”
The goalies have had to adjust to the players in front of them as well. Kuemper has faced the most rush attempts (39) of any goalie in the NHL but has still managed to stop more than four goals than expected, per Natural Stat Trick. Meanwhile, Lindgren’s goals against have been scored from an average distance of just 13.2 feet from the net, the shortest in the league.
“I think for a goalie, it’s maybe a good thing because it means you’re not getting beat from — usually, the farther out, the easier it should be to stop the puck,” Lindgren said. “So you can see teams are obviously really good about getting in our faces and being dirty around the crease. I think it’s one of those things where it’s still a little early to tell, but I’d say it’s a positive for at least the goalies and just shows how hard teams work to get to those areas against us.”
The Capitals have seen several factors contribute to their lackluster 7-8-2 start to the season, but goaltending hasn’t been one of them.