When the Capitals take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday in the team's lone exhibition game before the 2020 season restarts, Vitek Vanecek will be the backup goalie to Braden Holtby. The goalie tandem was revealed by head coach Todd Reirden in a pregame availability.
Ilya Samsonov suffered an injury prior to training camp and did not travel with the team to Toronto. Without their promising rookie Russian, Washington needed a new backup for the postseason. Pheonix Copley seemed the likely choice given that he has 29 games of NHL experience and was the team's backup just last season. Instead, Reirden will turn to Vanecek, who spent the entire season with American Hockey League-affiliate Hershey and has no NHL experience. He seems to be the leading candidate to hold onto the No. 2 job for the playoffs.
"It's something we spent a lot of time with as a staff," Reirden said of the decision to go with Vanacek over Copley. "I'd say at this point, he's in a good spot to be that backup goaltender. That's why he's getting that opportunity [Wednesday]. Whether it goes really well or it doesn't, we're going to evaluate it, but ultimately he's done a lot of really good things over the last couple of years, being a two-time All Star in the American Hockey League and he continues to improve every year. Had another solid year before the pause down in Hershey and is a guy that we want to see in this type of a setting."
Holtby will play the first two periods against Carolina and Vanecek will come in for the third.
In Hershey this season, Vanecek was the better goalie with a .917 save percentage and 2.26 GAA in 31 games. Copley had a .905 save percentage and 2.47 GAA in 31 games and it now appears he has slid to fourth on the organization's depth chart behind Holtby, Samsonov and Vanecek just one year after managing a 16-7-3 record with the Caps.
Vanecek has played in preseason games before, but those games typically feature several players who will not make the NHL roster. Wednesday's game will be the first time Vanecek has faced a full NHL roster in a game situation.
"It's a body of work decision and it's something we evaluated every day,," Reirden said. "We looked at, just in terms of his comfort in the net every day, every drill against obviously the shooters that we have on our team. It's a good challenge for our goaltenders every day in practice. Our guys are competitive, they like scoring goals so they certainly don't let up, especially not on the backup goaltenders. He's been challenged regularly and I think the staff, this is the decision we've come to and we feel confident in."
In addition to the goalie news, Reirden also revealed that Travis Boyd and Radko Gudas will dress as the team's extras for Wednesday. In a normal game, teams are allowed 18 skaters and two goalies. For the exhibition game, however, the NHL has allowed teams to dress an extra forward and defenseman.
With the addition of Boyd and Gudas, here are the projected lines:
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller/Travis Boyd - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Brenden Dillon - Dmitry Orlov
Jonas Siegenthaler - Nick Jensen/Radko Gudas
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