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
How long do the Caps give Samsonov? Indeed. I gotta think the sands in the hour glass are dwindling for Sammy.
Capitals have proven in the past to stick with first round draft picks a little longer (see Lucas Johansen).
Guys, he’s 24. He’s a goalie. They sometimes take a little longer. And Laviolette has never been considered a good developmental coach.
Kolzig wasn’t a starter until he was 27.
The focus of the piece was to assess how they stack up today against the rest of the netminders in the league. I’m fine with sending him back to Hershey for more development time.
He’s not waiver exempt, so I’m not sure what you’re thinking would happen.
Thanks for this great info on goaltending…and for anyone who still is undecided on who our #1 goalie is this that should be a no-brainer according to these stats.
Why they keep giving games to Sami is beyond me, as I would think they should give Vanny as much time on ice as possible from here on in.
Besides the fact that he outshines Sami by a ton, he also stacks up pretty darn well against the other 60 goaltenders.
VV and Copley for back up
Let me tell you why VV isn’t giving the control because his numbers are still barely above average at best. Just because Sammy’s numbers are worse doesn’t mean VV is the clear number one. Neither goalie has proven they are it Laviolette has given these two opportunity after Opportunity and they blew it neither seem to want this rather it be with VV getting hurt in the playoffs or Sammy’s immaturity we need a real number one at the deadline and I’d be willing to trade both these mediocre goalies for one last shot at winning the Cup.
You’re an idiot. You were literally shown in the article he’s not “barely above average at best”, but in top 30% in most statistics, in 5on5 sv% actually the third best in NHL. While playing on an average team.
But I agree. Trade him to a better team. He has no future in this dying franchise.
Great article! This basically tells us what we’ve all suspected- vanecek is playing better than samsonov and above what’s expected of him. But neither seem capable of carrying a team on a deep cup run
Thanks Craig! And unfortunately I believe you might be right. The trade deadline (March 21) should be interesting this season.
This team will not make a deep cup run with any goalie. They will go to playoffs from the last spot. Unless they are bringing Shesterkin or Saros they have no hope.
None of the available options (Fleury? Holtby? LOL) are better than VV.