There’s no debating it. Vitek Vanecek kept the Capitals in games during the first 10 games of the 2020-21 season. He was essentially under siege at the start of the season, yet the Capitals managed to eke out at least one point in each game in January, thanks in large part to Vanecek’s play in the crease. As a result, he was named NHL rookie of the month for his outstanding play.
Unfortunately, Vanecek has now hit the first performance dip of his very young NHL career, as he and the Capitals remain winless in February. It happens to every goaltender at some point, and now it’s Vanecek’s turn. However, digging into his numbers and potential issues related to the dip, there comes a few surprising stats.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Vanecek is 64th out of 70 netminders in average goal distance at 27.38 feet. This means the average shot distance for each goal he has given up comes to 27.38 feet. This also means only six goaltenders in the NHL have a greater average goal distance than Vanecek. [Click to enlarge]
Additionally, according to the HBF Analytics site, Vanecek is in the 3 percentile (worst) at low danger shots (LD GSAx). Low danger shots are generally considered to be shots from outside the home plate area in front of the goal to the tops of each faceoff circle.
To confuse things a little more, his performance improves to the 38 percentile for medium danger shots (MD GSAx) and improves even more, to the top 79 percentile of all NHL goaltenders, in high danger shots (HD GSAx). That would seem counterintuitive, as Vanecek improves as the danger in shot quality increases. [Click to enlarge]
For reference, here’s how Moneypuck defines shot danger (with the help of their expected goals model)
Low-Danger Shot: <8% xGoal value
Medium-Danger Shot: Between 8% and 20% xGoal value
High-Danger Shot: >20% xGoal value
So while the dip in performance is somewhat expected, the numbers behind Vanecek’s shot distance and shot quality are somewhat surprising. Could it be a tracking issue for shots from a distance? Could it be defense not clearing screens? or could it simply be getting use overall play in the NHL? It’s difficult to say at this point.
One thing is certain, the Capitals will need Vanecek to return to his level of play in the first 10 games of the season as soon as possible, and that will mean saving more shots from longer distances.
Having watched all of Ilya Samsonov’s game in Hershey on Sunday, it looks like he could use at least one more game in Chocolate Town to knock the rust off. Don’t be surprised if Craig Anderson gets a start in the mean time.
By Jon Sorensen