The Washington Capitals will begin their final push for the 2022 postseason on Tuesday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena. And while the Capitals are still in the thick of the battle at the top of the Metropolitan Division, the team is apparently no closer to identifying the team’s number one goaltender than they were at the beginning of the season, or the beginning of last season, for that matter.
The performances of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov have been mixed to this point. Neither netminder has grabbed the reins as a the number one starter, although one could argue that neither has been given a sufficient stretch of games to prove their viability as the teams “starter” on a regular basis.
Most consecutive appearances by a Capitals goaltender so far this season is 4 games. Vanecek and Samsonov have each done it twice. #ALLCAPS
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) February 3, 2022
I’ve regularly analyzed and documented the performances of each goaltender this season in my regular goaltender analytics reports (here, here and Justin dug into it here), but how are Vanecek and Samsonov stacking up against the rest of the league’s goaltenders? How do they compare against potential postseason opponents? In this post we take a look.
Statistics used are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com. If you’d like to learn more about the terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary. (Reminder, simply click on any of the graphics to enlarge).
OVERALL SAVE PERCENTAGE (SV%)
Let’s start with the basics – save percentage and goals against average.
Vanecek has done fairly well in save percentage so far this season, when compared to the rest of the league’s netminders who have played more than 400 minutes (8 games). He currently ranks 18th out of 61 goaltenders and is well above the league’s average save percentage of .911%
Ilya Samsonov remains below the league average save percentage. And while that’s certainly disappointing for a first round draft pick, there has been some recent improvement (with the exception of his last start).
GOALS AGAINST AVERAGE (GAA)
The next basic stat to consider is goals against average. Once again Vanecek is performing better than the league average, while Samsonov is not.
The basic stats tell us that Vitek Vanecek has had the better season, to date. But let’s dig a little deeper in order to potentially determine where each goalie stacks up in certain areas of the game.
GOALS DIFFERENTIAL (xGA – GA)
Goals differential is simply the difference of goals that are expected to be scored minus the actual goals given up by a netminder (Analytics glossary). In other words, how is a goaltender performing in relation to what is “expected”?
Once again Vitek Vanecek is well above the league average of .629. He ranks 12th overall among goaltenders with more than 400 minutes of ice time. And once again, while Samsonov still remains below league average, he has been rising in the ranks over the past five weeks. It’s something to keep an eye on.
HIGH-DANGER SAVE PERCENTAGE (HDSV%)
The postseason typically places a higher premium on defending against the close-range shots or gritty goal area. This is generally known as the “high-danger” area.
High-danger shots refer to a specific area of the ice close to the opponents goal that has historically yielded a higher percentage of goals per shot attempts. In general terms it’s the “home plate” area from the goal out to the faceoff dots to the top of the circles.
Vitek Vanecek has been solid all season in saving high-danger shots. In fact he’s been one of the best in the league at even strength. He currently has the 5th-best high-danger save percentage in the league.
Ilya Samsonov continues to struggle in this area. However, as noted before, there has been some improvement in recent weeks and is a stat that should be watched when evaluating his game in the coming weeks.
SAVE PERCENTAGE ON PENALTY KILL
Once again Vitek Vanecek is above the league average in save percentage during penalty kills, while Ilya Samsonov is below league average, although both are very close to the league average.
It’s clear that Vitek Vanecek has been the better goaltender so far this season, yet he hasn’t really been given complete control of the number one spot. The big question is why not?
In tracking Ilya Samsonov since his draft in 2015, including all of his games with Metallurg in the KHL and all of his games with Hershey, it’s become fairly apparent to me that Samsonov has shown he needs consistent games to gain steam and to find his top-end groove. Do the Capitals have that luxury and will he ever get that chance remains to be seen.
Vitek Vanecek should get the first start on Tuesday night against the Blue Jackets. If Ilya Samsonov gets the start that tells me the team is still trying to give Samsonov a chance to find his top-end groove. The question remains, how long does that continue?
The trade deadline is set for March 21 and I’d expect GM Brian MacLellan to be active. He’s made it clear the team is “all in” during the final years of Ovechkin and Backstrom’s current deals. Look for a veteran goaltender to be added in the coming weeks.
By Jon Sorensen