Performance Review: Ilya Samsonov And Vitek Vanecek After The First 37 Games

The Washington Capitals have completed 37 games of their 2o21-22 regular season and amassed a record of 20-8-9 (49 points). That’s good enough for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

With a little more than 45% of the regular season now in the books, it’s time to take our third in-depth look at the Capitals goaltenders and their level of performance through the first (nearly) half of the season. [Our first goaltender analysis of the season conducted after 12 games can be found here. The second analysis done after 26 games can be found here.]

Before we begin, If you’d like to learn more about the analytical terms used in this post, please feel free to check out our NHL Analytics Glossary. Statistics in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com. Let’s dive right in.

The Basics

Most would agree that the Capitals still don’t have a number one goaltender. In fact, one could easily argue the team is no closer to deciding a number one starter than they were when they opened training camp for the 2020-21 season.

The first table in this analysis presents the basic stats for each goaltender through the first 37 games of the season.

The basic stats are rather straightforward, however, I would add that Samsonov’s rather impressive overall record masks many of the underlying issues with his play, which I’ll get to later in this post.

Goal Support

A big part of a goaltenders won-loss record is the goal support he gets in each game. In other words, how are the Capitals performing, offensively, each time the netminder steps on the ice.

Samsonov has been the benefactor of the better goal support so far this season. Samsonov is +16 in 20 appearances, while Vanecek is +7 in 16 appearances. That certainly helps to mask underperforming games.

Advanced Stats

The next table dives a little deeper into the basic stats, and looks at shots against, the expected goals and goals differentialhigh-danger saves and rebound shot attempts at five-on-five, averaged for each game the goaltender has played so far this season.

The stats continue to favor Vanecek in a majority of these categories. Vanecek has the better total goals differential (xGA – GA) yet has faced a higher volume of high-danger chances per game.

Vanecek has the better high-danger goals against and resultant high-danger save percentage as well. He’s also stacking up fairly well against the league when it comes to the the goals differentials (xGA – GA), which I’ll present at the end of this post.

Strength of Opposition

Basic goaltending stats leave out a lot of important context. First and foremost, what kind of teams has the goaltender faced to amass his statistics and overall record? Has he faced a majority of the top teams in the league? or has he faced a majority of his games against cellar dwellers? All of that factors into the overall effectiveness of a performance of a netminder.

The first table presents the average stats for opposing goaltenders entering (before) games against each of the Capitals goaltenders.

Nothing too earth shattering here. Samsonov has faced opposing goaltenders with a better save percentage and goals against average so far this season.

The next table presents the average possession metrics for opposing teams entering games against each goaltender.

Samsonov has also faced teams with the better possession metrics, including CF%, xGF% and SCF%. He’s also faced teams with higher winning percentages. This may be an indication that there is a leaning or slight preference for one netminder over the other, at least at certain points this season.

Game Data For Opposition

The next table presents the average game stats for opposing netminders when facing each of the Capitals goaltenders (5v5).

Opposing netminders have seen more shots but received less goal support than the netminders that faced Samsonov. Netminders have also had worse goal differentials (xGA-GA) when facing Samsonov.

THE BIG PICTURE

The next few graphics provide a “big picture” view of how the Capitals netminders are doing with respect to other goaltenders in the the league and in the Metropolitan Division.

High-Danger Save Percentage

The first chart plots the high-danger save percentage for all goaltenders in the league with more than five starts so far this season. [Click to enlarge]

As you can see the Capitals netminders have struggled mightily in high-danger save percentage when compared to the rest of the league. In fact, they are very near the bottom of the league.

Goals Differentials (xGA – GA) at 5v5

The next chart plots the goals differential (expected goals against minus goals against) at five-on-five for each goaltender in the league with more than five starts. [ Click to enlarge]

Vitek Vanecek has done well in this area, providing some hope as to possibly pulling together a pretty good game on any night. Ilya Samsonov has struggled, and unfortunately the numbers align with his numbers from last season in this category.

Penalty Kill Save Percentage

The next graph plots each of the league’s goaltenders save percentage when his team is on the penalty kill. It is here where we see Samsonov outperform Vanecek and by a wide margin. [Click to enlarge].

This is one area Vanecek will need to improve if he is to assume a regular starting position. Or the Capitals should put Samsonov in the game when they are on the penalty kill (kidding, but…).

Metropolitan Division Comparison

The following graph narrows the focus to within the Metropolitan Division. It includes all Metro goaltenders with 200+ minutes at five-on-five. The divisional averages are delineated by the thin red lines, with the upper right quadrant representing the divisions top netminders in this category. [Click to Enlarge]

As you can see Vitek Vanecek finds his way into the top right quadrant once again, while Ilya Samsonov continues to move into the lower left quadrant.

Summary

It’s clear that Vanecek has been the better goaltender in certain game situations and against certain shot types, while Samsonov has been better during penalty kills and faced better overall competition and opposing netminders. But that’s not a formula for success.

One of the netminders will need to improve in their areas of weakness, or the Capitals need to start thinking seriously about chasing a goaltender prior to the upcoming trade deadline.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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2 Responses to Performance Review: Ilya Samsonov And Vitek Vanecek After The First 37 Games

  1. Anonymous says:

    We are basically in a worst case scenario, with one goaltender good in certain situations and the other goaltender good in other areas. Half a goaltender plus half a goaltender does not equal one full goaltender.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s a shame one of them hasn’t stepped up since January of 2021. It’s been a full calendar year of games and still no decisive starter. I think we’ve reached the point where we need to make a move. Caps need to be “all-in” for next couple of Ovechkin-Backstrom seasons.

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