It’s difficult to find many flaws in the Capitals 5-1 steamrolling of the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. Franchise captain Alex Ovechkin notched two more tallies to move past Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the all times goals list and media-darling Hendrix Lapierre recorded his first career NHL goal. Not too shabby for an opening night.
But somewhat lost in the hoopla on Wednesday night was the effort turned in by netminder Vitek Vanecek. He stopped 23 of 24 shots, 15 of 15 at even strength, for a .958 game save percentage.
Vanecek’s start was somewhat of a surprise to many Capitals fans, as most thought Ilya Samsonov would get the nod on opening night. Coach Laviolette said after Friday’s morning skate that he thought Vanecek was the better netminder during training camp.
“Just thought his camp, for me, I thought it was really good. Separated himself a little bit. For that, he gets the opportunity to start,” said Laviolette.
Following Wednesday night’s game Vanecek wouldn’t acknowledge that he felt he had a better camp than Samsonov, but said he worked hard.
”I was working hard in the camp, we was pushing each other. I’m happy he gave me the first start.”
It’s still unknown who will get the start in goal on Saturday when the Capitals host the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Laviolette did a bit of rotating last season when both netminders were healthy and available at the same time. However, most would agree that’s not the ideal path for long-term success and that there needs to be a number one.
The question remains how Ilya Samsonov will deal with the quasi-demotion. Will he use this as motivation? It’s likely he gets the start Saturday against the Lightning or Tuesday against the high-flying Colorado Avalanche. A tall order to make a statement, but the ball is in his court.
By Jon Sorensen