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Prospect report: Vanecek is exceeding expectations in Hershey

Prospect report: Vanecek is exceeding expectations in Hershey

Hershey update: 7-4-2-1, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-2-0-1

Hershey had a tough week losing three out of four games to snap a five-game winning streak.

It was another good week offensively for Jakub Vrana who notched two goals and an assist. He currently leads the Bears in goals with seven. Travis Boyd also had an impressive week with two goals and an assist. Boyd has very quietly been racking up the points this season and now ranks third on the team with 11. When contemplating who could get a call-up at some point this season, don’t count him out.

Chandler Stephenson notched his first goal of the season and Nathan Walkers scored twice on Wednesday to lead the Bears to their only win over the week.

In net, Vitek Vanecek did everything he could in his two starts to keep Hershey in it especially in Sunday’s game against Lehigh Valley. Vanecek turned aside 28 of the 31 shots including two breakaways in the first period.

Check out the highlights from the game:

Vanecek is often overshadowed by the young Ilya Samsonov who the Caps drafted in the first round in 2015 (more on him later), but he has been a pleasant surprise this season in his first season in Hershey. In six games, he has a 2.35 goals-against average (GAA) and a .920 save percentage. Those are good numbers.

Obviously, Vancecek still has things to work on as you can see based on the highlights. That long range shot he lets in from the boards is just plain bad. He also seems to really struggle with traffic in front of the net and tracking the puck. Teams are going to screen you, good goaltenders need to track the puck and battle through screens.

But at 20 years old, Vanceck is still very much developing and he has exceeded expectations thus far with his overall body of work in Hershey.

RELATED: Backstrom, Oshie are en fuego

Other prospect notes:

Samsonov still does not have a regulation loss this season in the KHL with a 7-0-3 record, 2.36 GAA and .919 save percentage. The KHL is the second best hockey league in the world and Samsonov has no looked out of place at all there despite being just 19 years old. As the Caps spent a first-round pick on him, he is expected to be this team’s future in net and given what he has done in the KHL, he appears to be right on track.

In another goalie update, Adam Carlson is playing well in the ECHL for South Carolina. When starter Parker Milner was dealing with skate issues on Thursday, Carlson stepped in stop all 15 shots he faced in the Stingrays’ 5-1 win. Carlson was handed a loss on Saturday, but played well with 28 saves on 30 shots.

Check out the highlights here:

In his first professional season, Carlson has a 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage. Not bad for a guy with only one year of college hockey under his belt.

Shane Gersich put on an absolute show this week for North Dakota. On Friday, he gave the Fighting Hawks the win over Denver on Friday with a beautiful spin move to score in overtime. On Saturday, Gersich dazzled again scoring both of his team's two goals.You can watch the highlights of Gersich’s two goals here:

Gersich is really coming into his own this season with six goals and eight assists in 11 games and he’s getting those points in different ways. On Friday, you saw the skill, on Saturday you saw the grit with Gersich fighting in front of the net for both of those goals.

Another player to get excited about is defenseman Connor Hobbs. Check out his two-goal performance from Sunday’s game:

Hobbs tallied three goals and three assists in three games for Regina of the WHL last week. While it’s important to keep in mind the level of competition when evaluating the offensive numbers (defense tends to be optional in junior leagues), you can see from the highlights that Hobbs has good instincts and one heck of a one-timer. See if you can spot where the puck ends up after that second goal. That just shows you the kind of power he had on that shot.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps exceed expectations against Pittsburgh

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There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

There’s no setback, but just when Michal Kempny will return remains uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Around the time when the Colorado Avalanche scored its fourth goal to take a 4-0 lead on Monday, the Twitter questions started rolling in. “When is Michal Kempny coming back?”

The Caps’ top-pair left defenseman has yet to play this season after tearing his hamstring in March. His loss was a major factor in the team’s first-round defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs and has led to inconsistent defensive play to start the season.

But the Caps’ defense is going to have to figure out how to defend against the star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday without Kempny as head coach Todd Reirden declared after practice on Tuesday that Kempny will not play.

“We're getting close,” Reirden said. “That's at least today's report on him without having spoken to our trainer or team doctor anything right now. I just know that he took another step in terms of visually from me that he is getting closer and closer to game action.”

At the start of training camp, the hope was that Kempny would be able to return for the start of the season. He was not. The team elected not to place him on long-term injured reserve which requires a player to miss 10 games. Now seven games into the season, Kempny’s timetable remains uncertain.

When asked if he was hopeful Kempny could return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, Reirden did not sound all that confident.

“I am, yeah. I mean, I'm hopeful every time I walk into the training room.”

For the timeline to keep getting pushed back has raised concerns over whether Kempny has suffered a setback in his recovery, but Reirden insists that is not the case.

“There's not nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great.”

Kempny was cleared for contact on Oct. 2. and has been a full participant at practice ever since. Getting him back to a point where the doctors and the team can feel comfortable about getting him into the lineup, however, has proven difficult.

Even after losing four of their first seven games to start the season including all three home games, Reirden says the team is committed to remaining patient and cautious with Kempny’s recovery.

“It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” he said. “I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play.”

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Holtby's early exit leaves Caps pondering their goalie situation

Holtby's early exit leaves Caps pondering their goalie situation

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby faced three shots in Monday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. All three went in.

That’s no way to start a game. Before the contest was eight minutes old Washington was down 3-0. Holtby knew what was coming. His day was done before it really even started. The frustration was evident as he skated off the ice to be replaced by rookie Ilya Samsonov. 
“You need to fight harder to find that first one and find a way to make a save on either of the second ones,” Holtby said. “It's unacceptable on my half and the last few games here, I feel like I've put a lot of that weight on my shoulders and it's something I really need to get better at. Because we fought hard and I just need to be better."
Holtby took the blame. Hard to make him shoulder all of it given that his teammates started slowly against a very good team. Colorado is now 5-0-0 after its 6-3 win at Capital One Arena.
Holtby probably could have stopped Erik Johnson’s slap shot from just inside the blueline 3:42 into the game. A nice screen in front by former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky made the puck hard to see. Still, it’s one Holtby would like back. 
At 6:00 of the first period Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen beat Capitals defenseman John Carlson to a clearing attempt and found defenseman Nikita Zadorov in front of the goal with a nice pass. Jonas Siegenthaler was nowhere to be found to cover for Carlson. Holtby was left out to dry. 
Just 1:54 later, Washington defenseman Tyler Lewington failed to read a cross-ice pass on a rush up ice by Jonas Donskoi. He hit Nazem Kadri in stride entering the offensive zone. Lewington was already beat by the time he realized what had happened. So was Holtby, who was faced with an oncoming skater on the left wing with no one in front to stop him
"I just gotta find a way. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."
No one is suggesting Holtby’s job status is in jeopardy. He is 14 months removed from a brilliant two months that helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and he’s been a mainstay in net since 2012. But the numbers are rough through five games. Holtby has an .846 save percentage, 45thin the NHL. He has stopped 99 of 117 shots. 
“It's a team. We're a team. Our players are accountable to themselves, to one another,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That's good that Braden said that and I'm sure there are some things that he would like to have done different. But there are some things that a lot of us will like to have done different. We're in this together and that's something that hasn't been a problem to start and it was tonight.”
Reirden did acknowledge, though, that Samsonov was playing well enough to give the coaching staff something to think about. He’s been solid. Expect Holtby to start Wednesday against the talented, skilled Toronto Maple Leafs as Washington looks for its first home win. But it’s a situation to monitor with Holtby in the final year of his contract and Samsonov the organization’s top prospect.  
Samsonov has 68 saves on 72 shots (.951 save percentage). But he is a rookie and that number is unsustainable for any goalie. He also showed his youth in the third period with a bad giveaway behind the net that Colorado easily converted into a goal. It didn’t seem to matter much at the time. The Avalanche took a 5-2 lead. It mattered a lot when Washington scored a late goal to cut the deficit to 5-3 and had another wiped away on video review. 
“Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it doesn't,” Holtby said. “You just gotta find a way to help the team win. Tonight I didn't do that and it's on me to make sure I improve that. It's frustrating. You just gotta go back to work, work even harder and find a way back into that mindset that success comes from."