When Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek went down with an upper-body injury in early February, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The 26-year-old netminder was in the midst of an impressive stretch, perhaps finally edging out Ilya Samsonov in Washington’s two-year goalie competition.
He was forced to miss eight games, during which Samsonov struggled to find consistency between the pipes. Yet when Vanecek returned, he picked up right where he left off. The Capitals have won back-to-back games with him in net and head coach Peter Laviolette has been impressed with how Vanecek avoided picking up any rust while on the shelf.
“He’s been really, really good at controlling the game,” Laviolette said Tuesday on 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies. “You get a comfort when he’s in net that he’s in control of the crease and he was like that before [he got hurt].
“The big concern is when you come back from something. He’s playing well, he got injured and he takes time off…and so those three weeks you’re wondering where that’s gonna go, how you’re gonna come back from that, how you’re gonna feel. It’s such an important position where if you mess up in the offensive zone as a forward, well you still have to go 200 feet through three or four other players. His crease is the last line of defense and he’s gotta be on his game in order for our team to be successful.”
Since January 15, Vanecek has gone 6-3 with a .945 save percentage, 1.40 goals against average and three shutouts across 10 appearances (nine starts).
To put those numbers in perspective, New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin leads the NHL with a .942 save percentage and 1.93 GAA. Vanecek’s numbers for the year aren’t quite as high — .921 SV%, 2.25 GAA in 27 games — but still impressive.
“He’s been really sharp,” Laviolette said. “Since about January, it’s been a 15-game run or so where he’s been outstanding and the numbers back that up as well so we’re looking forward to that continuing.”