Vitek Vanecek And Ilya Samsonov: Who Has Been The Better Netminder This Season? It Depends On The Situation

Photos: NHL via Getty Images

Heading into the 2021-22 regular season, the major point of concern among the Capitals’ front office and fans alike was goaltending. The Capitals have one of the most veteran rosters in the NHL, but also have one of the youngest goaltending tandems in the league, especially among other contenders.

The goaltending question was made a bit more complicated when starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. General Manager Brian MacLellan ended up parting ways with a second round draft pick to bring Vanecek back, but the inexperience in net was thought to be the Caps’ downfall this season.

Overall, there is no clear run-away favorite for the number one starting goaltending job, 30 games into the season. There have been stretches this season where both Ilya Samsonov and Vanecek have started multiple games in a row. It appears for now, head coach Peter Laviolette will continue to ride the hot hand in net.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the performance by the Capitals’ netminders so far this season. Statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Evolving-Hockey. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.

Goals Above Replacement

Goals Above Replacement is a metric that compares a player’s value on ice relative to a replacement level player. For goaltenders, GAR takes into account performance during even strength, penalty kill, as well as drawing and taking penalties. Let’s take a look at how Samsonov and Vanecek have fared so far this season:

Although Vanecek has performed at a higher level during even strength play, Samsonov has a higher value in GAR due to his performance during the penalty kill. In that regard, Vanecek has struggled, performing at a level below replacement. We’ll get into the statistics both Samsonov and Vanecek have generated so far this season later in this post.

The real interesting piece is how different the two netminders have performed during the penalty kill, where the goaltender is relied upon to be the best penalty killer on the ice.

Save Percentages By Game Situation

Below is both goaltenders’ save percentages by game situation: five-on-five play, during the penalty kill, and on the power play:

It’s interesting to see how the save percentages by game situation mirror how the GAR values for both Samsonov and Vanecek thus far this season. Samsonov is slightly worse in save percentage during five-on-five play, but his save percentage during the penalty kill is 4.2 net percentage points higher than Vanecek’s.

The save percentage during the power play was just added for informational purposes. Most times, shorthanded goals allowed are more often a result of mistakes made by the players on the power play than being the fault of the goaltender.

Goals Allowed During Five-on-Five Play

Below, we look at both netminders’ goals allowed and goals saved above average during five-on-five play:

Vanecek’s performance during five-on-five play is commendable. He’s allowed fewer goals than his expected goals allowed figure (xGA), and a large part of that is his ability to keep high-danger shots on goal out of the back of the net.

His 2.51 HDGSAA is considerably better than Samsonov’s -3.34, and is likely a major reason why Samsonov’s numbers during five-on-five play are worse than Vanecek’s. These numbers are also interesting because Samsonov and Vanecek have played in nearly the same amount of games (Samsonov with 16 and Vanecek with 15).

Goals Allowed During the Penalty Kill

Next we look at the same metrics, but during the penalty kill:

It’s interesting that the two netminders’ performances essentially inverted from five-on-five play to the penalty kill. Samsonov has allowed fewer goals than expected, and is on the positive side of high-danger goals saved above average. Vanecek is the complete opposite in those regards. These metrics support the GAR values for penalty killing earlier in this post.

Goals Allowed in All Situations

Now, let’s take a look at this metrics for all situations:

Now that we’re looking at Samsonov and Vanecek’s performance holistically, it’s apparent just how similar their performances have been so far. Each of them obviously have their strengths and weaknesses, but both allow slightly more goals than expected.

Samsonov struggles with HDGSAA, mostly due to time during five-on-five play, and Vanecek thrives in saving high-danger chances during five-on-five play, boosting his value there.

Average Distance of Shots Faced and Goals Allowed

Here’s a look at the average distance of the shots that both goaltenders faced, as well as the average distance of goals allowed:

Something is intriguing about these averages for each goaltender. Samsonov’s average shot distance faced is higher than Vanecek’s, but his average goal distance is lower. One thing to consider here is that Samsonov tends to allow more high-danger goals against than Vanecek. The other piece is that Vanecek has tended to struggle tracking pucks on shots taken from a bit farther out.

Statistically, the difference of average distances of goals allowed is not large enough to concretely declare that Vanecek struggles much more on long range shots than Samsonov does.

The main statistical difference we can infer from looking at the data holistically is that due to Vanecek’s talent for keeping high-danger chances out of the net, his average goal distance is higher than Samsonov’s. It would also make sense why this makes Vanecek’s average distance of shots faced lower than Samsonov’s.

To further back this up, Vanecek has only faced four fewer high-danger shots against than Samsonov in one fewer game played, but has one more high-danger save and five fewer high danger goals against.

Summary

Through 30 total games for the two netminders, the sample size is still a bit too small to declare a starter and a backup goaltender. Both Vanecek and Samsonov’s statistical performances have been considerably similar, with both goaltenders outperforming the other in different scenarios on the ice.

Realistically, the main driving difference between Samsonov and Vanecek is Samsonov’s better performance during the penalty kill and Vanecek’s acumen for high-danger saves during five-on-five play.

Ultimately, five-on-five play is more important than the penalty kill, since more of the game is played during five-on-five, which gives Vanecek a slight upper hand in this positional battle. On the other hand, the Capitals benefit because there’s not much drop off between either goalie night in and night out. There’s definitely a level of consistency in net that provides an advantage to the Capitals in a league where teams need two good goaltenders to compete.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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