Two Dudes: playoff goaltender
It’s been a few years since the Caps wondered who their starting goalie in the playoffs would be. The last time it came to light, as you may remember, the Caps nodded in Game 1 (and Game 2) to youngster Philipp Grubauer, who didn’t perform particularly well and was replaced to start Game 3 by Braden Holtby, who … well, you know what happened next.
This year, as crazy as it sounds, the Caps may have a better team than they did before the 2018 playoffs. Maybe even have a better coach.
This year was meant to be the year Ilya Samsonov rightly took on the role of “franchise goalie” in DC…. if he could fend off another king for the throne. That didn’t happen, of course, in part because if his competitor’s metaphorical heart was up for the challenge, his heart wasn’t, but also because, well, Samsonov had his own. ups and downs this season, both on and off the ice.
Enter Vitek Vanecek, somewhat after the fact, who seized the opportunity and established himself as an NHL goalie at the start of this bizarre season. And now, as the season draws to a close, Peter Laviolette has a decision to make: who is his number one goalie? Luckily, we’re here to help. So, assuming things continue the way they’ve gone so far this season, who is he going to be?
Kevin: For me, the guy has to be Ilya Samsonov, and the reason is simple: if you don’t get a goalie who extends his game on the rise in the playoffs, your playoff time will be a brief affair, and I think Samsonov’s ceiling is significantly higher than Vitek Vanecek’s. We saw it when Samsonov first entered the League, when he posted a 5-game save percentage in the .950 for a while and threatened to take the net from Braden Holtby. Granted, Samsonov’s troughs were relatively horrible, but let’s zoom out for a second and make sure we don’t lose the forest. The guy is 12-3-1 this year and 28-9-3 in his career. All he’s done is win, and as you pointed out enough last week, he’s also enjoyed better goal support than any other goaltender in the past decade. Knowing what we know about scoring effects, it’s hard to think that a guy is going to be able to maintain a high level save percentage while his teammates light the lamp at high rates in the league (there is has more forces at play to turn PDO towards 1 than regression). No one in the NHL wins 4-1 every night, that’s just not how hockey works at this level.
Plus, if Ilya Samsonov is to be The Guy, and he’s certainly been drafted to be The Guy, here’s a golden opportunity for the team to move in that direction. Samsonov has accomplished what he has achieved so far in his career without ever receiving more than a few straight starts, and his best game came when he saw the net at a more predictable pace. None of the goalkeepers instilled confidence in the Caps fans so if I’m Lavy and have to make a bet one way or the other I’m taking my chance on the dude who was an elite prospect. , has always won in his young NHL career despite inconsistent net assignments, and would theoretically benefit from the pace of nightly starting tasks.
JP: Alright, alright, we figured it out – Samsonov has first-round pedigree and they cost him money, so he should get the chance. Looks like you are ready to become an NHL GM! (Heck, you can even rely on recency bias.)
But I’m going to take the opposite stance and suggest the Caps should go with the goalie who you know was better, and that’s Vitek Vanecek. Although the team plays better defense in front of Samsonov (and Lord knows they score more for him), Vanecek posted better numbers:
Despite a higher shot rate, high scoring chances and high danger scoring chances (and therefore a higher goals against rate), Vanecek gave up fewer goals for sixty and posted a significantly better save percentage.
Plus, unlike Samsonov (who has never started three straight games in the NHL), we know Vanecek can take on the workload of a playoff starter, because he basically did so while Samsonov was on the COVID roster, starting 13 straight games earlier in the season and continuing. 8-4-3 / 2.92 / .905 in the absence of Samsonov. Is it awesome? No. Is that good enough to win multiple games for a team that scores almost three and a half goals per game? You bet.
And, really, that’s what it’s all about with this team – getting “good enough” goalies. We talked about how this team, given their offense, can be successful with the kind of defensive play they got during periods of the season and with an average goaltender. Well, one of those two was above replacement level and the other …
In half of his 30 starts this season, Vanecek has posted a save percentage of 0.917 or better and over 0.941 in a full third of his starts, and his save percentage in 20 games since February 16 is a respectable of 0.912. In contrast, Samsonov has been below .898 in half of his 16 starts, and his save percentage in starts after a start in which he records a save percentage of .920 or better is .882. Vanecek has 14 seven-game periods (not an arbitrary number of games!) This season, in which he has posted at least four games with a save percentage above 0.900 (including 13 of the 15 seven-game periods since the end of February); Samsonov has five (and none since the segment that ended on April 1).
Look, the reality is none of these guys have been great this year, and to think that will change in the playoffs is wishful thinking. But that’s okay – they probably don’t need a goalie who will be relied on to steal games for them; they need a wrong guy to lose games for them. They need a guy who constantly gives them a chance to win. And that guy, more often this season, has been Vitek Vanecek, and he should be the starting goalie for this team heading into the playoffs.
Kevin: Nice plots, but if I see a smoking gun in them, it targets both goalkeepers. Whatever metric you choose to define overall goalkeeper effectiveness, Samsonov and Vanecek are well below the mark needed to instill confidence in regular season carryover play, good enough to support a run. significant of the Cup, and thus highlight the margins between them. doesn’t pack a lot of oomph.
It might be weird to suggest that the guy who apparently got better if you dig around topsoil analysis shouldn’t get the playoff net on merit of that accolade alone, but I don’t think so. make it that simple. Vanecek has seen the Caps’ three potential playoff opponents at least four times this season and has no record wins against any of them. He’s also extremely likely to give up on rebounds. The Pittsburgh Penguins have made a small fortune surpassing the Caps in net over the years. Can you imagine what a disaster it would be with Vitek dropping change all over the place for an entire series?
I also don’t agree with the claim that Vitek Vanecek is less likely to lose a game than Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov’s single-game save percentage has been under the dismal 0.800 three times in 43 career appearances, which probably isn’t great, but Vanecek made the same questionable distinction in 12 fewer appearances. On the other hand, the probability of a single match of Samsonov with a save percentage above 0.900 is 58%, and that of Vanecek is 51%. Ilya Samsonov is a better goalkeeper than Vitek Vanecek and if the Caps are going for gold they have to play for a guy’s ceiling instead of the idea that they will more reliably receive an average goalie, which they would do by playing Vanecek. .
Either way, the good news is that none of the goalkeepers have behaved in a way that deserves something remotely like a long leash, so as far as this will all be about grabbing. opportunity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both. these guys end up with an egg crack. Man, it’s a lot of work putting all that lipstick on these pigs. I need a beer, do you?
JP: Always … but a little note to finish. You mentioned Vanecek’s record against the other teams in the East (I’d note he’s 2-1-0 against the Isles, though). It is true that he compiled a mediocre score of 7-5-2 / .908 / 2.94 against all three, but if we remove the modest Flyers and Devils from Samsonov’s sheet (he started 8-0- 0 / .925 / 2.25 against them), he’s 4-3-1 / .880 / 3.04 on the season. Is this your king?
Either way, yes, let’s have that drink – we need to get our livers ready for the playoffs.
If the playoffs have started next week, who should be the Caps’ starting goalie?
2 votes in total