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Where will Vitek Vanecek play next season?


Where will Vitek Vanecek play next season?

Goaltending prospect Vitek Vanecek, taken by the Capitals in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft (39th overall), likely will be leaving the Czech Republic to play for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL next season, Caps goaltending coach Mitch Korn said Thursday.

“There was a discussion of leaving him there, but I think the majority of us felt that the sooner we can acclimate him to North America and he becomes able to communicate, the sooner we can start to make more progress,” Korn said, “and I’d rather start that now than later.”

Vanecek, 19, spent most of last season with Benalky of the Czech Republic’s second-tier league, where he had a 2.24 GAA and .925 save percentage in 20 games. He also played two games with Liberec Bill Tygri of the top Czech League and represented his country in the World Junior Championships.

“I think (South Carolina) is the best place for him to start as a 19-year-old,” Korn said. “We want guys to have success at every level they play at. We don’t want them treading water; we want them swimming ahead.”

Vanecek speaks little English and Korn found the best way to communicate with him last season was through Czech League goaltending partner Jan Lasak, a Slovakian netminder who was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 1999 and worked with Korn in the Predators organization.

“Jan has kept me informed throughout the season,” Korn said. “It’s nice to have spies throughout the world. It’s hard to communicate with Vitek because his English has been an issue. It is getting better.”

Korn said the improvements he’s seen in Vanecek’s game over a calendar year have been dramatic.

“He’s way better,” Korn said. “Last year when he came over here the proverbial deer-in-headlights probably comes to mind. I can just imagine picking myself up and dropping myself into a country that speaks no English and having to perform being that young.”

Korn said Vanecek is now exhibiting better balance, better rebound placement and better quickness in the crease than he showed at last year’s development camp.

“I often joke that when you take the SATs the second time you’re no smarter, but you’re results are better and they should be because we all have a learning curve.”

Following his season in the Czech Republic, the Capitals flew Vanecek to Hershey to spend 12 days working out with the Bears and taking English lessons. He is also taking English lessons this week.

Meanwhile, the Capitals’ 2015 first-round draft pick, Ilya Samsonov, is working out with his KHL team, Mettalurg Magnitogorsk, which is why he is not at development camp. Samsonov stands 6-foot-3, 201 pounds and was the first goalie taken in this year’s draft. Korn said he has only seen Samsonov on video, but likes what he sees.

“He’s an ominous body and for a big man he moves exceptionally well,” Korn said. “And there’s a thing that we call goalie sense. It’s not where the puck is, it’s where the puck’s going, and the guys that are really good know where the puck’s going, whether it’s off the stick to the net or off the stick to another option.

“He seems to have really solid goalie sense. The speed of the game requires great processing and he seems to possess that. But you never really know I until you own  it, and until I get to know him first-hand I’m projecting.”

Speaking of goaltending, Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann said he is preparing to lose goalie Philipp Grubauer to the Capitals and accept veterans Justin Peters and Dan Ellis as his two goalies in Hershey next season.  

“From a coaching perspective I don’t think (Grubauer) has anything left to prove at the American Hockey League level,” Mann said.

As for Peters and Ellis, Mann said both are quality goalies and quality people.

“We’ll see how we have to handle it,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge for (goaltending instructor) Scott Murray with potentially two older, veteran type of goalies. It’ll be a bit of a balancing act there. If you can’t be in the NHL I would think Hershey’s a pretty good spot with what I would consider an NHL atmosphere in the building.”

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5 reasons the Caps lost to the Jets

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5 reasons the Caps lost to the Jets

A shorthanded Caps team entered Wednesday's game, lost Evgeny Kuznetsov midway through the first period and lost the game midway through the third period.

After playing a tight game for two periods, the Jets finally broke the tie in the third period and added an empty-net goal for the 3-1 win.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost:

So many injuries

Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch with an upper-body injury, Michal Kempny was out with an illness and midway through the first period, Kuznetsov took an elbow to the head from Brandon Tanev and had to leave the game for an upper-body injury.

Not having your starting goalie, your top line center or a top-four defenseman makes it hard for any team to win, especially against an opponent as good as Winnipeg.

The second period

With no Braden Holtby and no Michal Kempny, the Caps came out ready to play and completely dominated Winnipeg in the opening frame. Washington took a 1-0 lead in the first and outshot the Jets 10-2.

Things completely flipped in the second period.

Winnipeg took to the Caps in the middle frame as they outshot Washington 14-10, drew two penalties and scored a power play goal to tie the game at one.

The first period was about as perfect a game as a shorthanded Caps team could play. The second period, however, allowed the Jets to climb back into it.

Seven seconds on the power play

The Jets utilize a very similar power play to that of the Caps and it’s about as effective. In fact, Winnipeg is the only team with a better power play this season than Washington. That was on the display in the second period when it took just seven seconds for Winnipeg to carve up the penalty kill and score the game-tying goal.

Mark Scheifele was lined up in the T.J. Oshie spot in the slot ready to take the goal line pass from Kyle Connor and he buried it home just seven seconds into the power play.

A Backstrom shot that somehow did not go in

With the scored tied at 1 in the third, Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to give the Caps the lead. It looked like he did just that, but the puck just would not trickle over the line. Backstrom beat Connor Hellebuyck up high but the puck hit the crossbar. It did not go in. It trickled on the goal line before Hellebuyck swept it off with this stick. It did not go in. Hellebuyck could not control it and the puck trickled back on the line again before getting swept out by Dustin Byfuglien. Once again, It. Did. Not. Go. In.

Three different times it looked like the Caps had taken the lead and all three times the puck somehow did not go in.

One tough goal

Give Copley all the credit in the world. He was given the tough assignment of playing in Winnipeg on the back end of a back-to-back after playing the night before. For the most part, he was brilliant Wednesday.

Unfortunately, in a game that was as close as this one was, Copley’s lone mistake proved costly.

Ben Chiarot carried the puck over the blue line and fired a slap shot from distance that somehow got past the glove of Copley.

The puck was knuckling a bit and may have deflected slightly off the stick of John Carlson – it was not clear from the replay – but in a 1-1 game in the third period, Copley needs to save a shot like that. It was harder than it looked, but the Caps really needed that save.


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Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves game after taking an elbow to the head

Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves game after taking an elbow to the head

About midway through the first period, Kuznetsov skated towards the boards when he was hit in the head with an elbow by Brandon Tanev. Kuznetsov was not looking and Tanev clearly raised the elbow for the high hit. He was assessed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head. Kuznetsov left for the locker room.

Kuznetsov was not on the bench for the start of the second period and it was announced soon after that he would not return due to an upper-body injury. He will be re-evaluated on Thursday.

Kuznetsov was just another in a long list of injuries the team suffered for Wednesday’s game. Pheonix Copley got the surprise start in Winnipeg as it was announced prior to the start that Braden Holtby would not dress due to an upper-body injury. Michal Kempny was also out of the lineup due to an illness. He is considered day-to-day.

A hit to the head that caused an injury to Kuznetsov calls into question whether any supplementary discipline will be coming for Brandon Tanev. The hit cannot be deemed anything but intentional and avoidable and it also caused an injury.