ARLINGTON, Va. — There has been lots of excitement brewing in the Washington Capitals’ dressing room for quite some time. Now, the Caps are just 24 hours away from opening a new season and looking to get back in the playoffs after failing to qualify for the first time in eight seasons.
Along with the team itself being excited for the upcoming campaign, goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren are looking forward to working together once again as a goaltending tandem.
“I think we’re both just excited to get this train on the tracks and drop the puck,” Lindgren said.
After the Capitals were eliminated in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Washington wanted to overhaul its goaltending. For the past two seasons, the Caps ran with a young and inexperienced duo in Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, but neither netminder stood out as the goalie of the future, and management did not want to wait any longer.
Once free agency opened, the Capitals signed Kuemper, who was coming off a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche, to a five-year, $26.25 million contract with the expectation that he will be the solidified No. 1 goaltender. Then the Caps inked Lindgren to a three-year, $3.3 million contract to be the backup. The 29-year-old did not have a lot of NHL experience. He played in five games with the St. Louis Blues in 2021-22, winning all five, and led the Springfield Thunderbirds, the Blues’ AHL affiliate, to a Calder Cup Final appearance.
Despite some struggles, the duo had a pretty decent first season. Kuemper finished the year going 22-26-7 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. He was also tied for second in the NHL with five shutouts.
Lindgren was outstanding at the start of last season, but started to fizzle out down the stretch, in large part because of the defense struggling. The St. Cloud product finished the year going 13-11-3 in 31 appearances, with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.
But he stepped up when the Capitals needed him to.
When Kuemper went down with an injury on Dec. 4, 2022, Lindgren did a fantastic job holding the fort down, going 9-2-0 in 10 starts and the Capitals went 11-2-2, which was the second-best record in the NHL during the month of December.
However, the biggest question with any new goaltending duo is how they would mesh on and off the ice. Heading into last season, each of them understood their roles and why they were brought into D.C.
“I talked to guys beforehand about how Darcy Kuemper is as a guy and everyone I talked to had rave reviews about him. Certainly when I got here and met him for the first time last year, right off the bat, I could tell that everyone was right,” Lindgren said. “Off the ice he’s someone that is really easy to get along with, extremely humble, just a really down to earth human. We get along really well. Our wives are best friends, so it’s just a really good partnership. He’s a team first guy, a hard worker and just someone that wants to win. And that’s someone I can definitely appreciate and that’s someone that I definitely relate to.”
While Kuemper brings a cool and easy-going mindset, Lindgren on the other hand is a competitive and feisty individual, who treats every practice like a game. That energy is contagious in Washington’s locker room.
“I just love his attitude. He brings it every day. He’s pretty fiery on the ice, but he’s also really positive too. So he’s great to be around and it’s nice being around that kind of energy,” Kuemper said. “It’s really nice especially when your goalie partner is also a good friend and we’re fortunate enough that we have that situation here where we really enjoy spending time together and just hanging out being friends. So I think that helps a lot with our business relationship at the workplace too.”
Headed into year two as a couple, Kuemper and Lindgren are excited to be in between the pipes for the Capitals once again and are hopeful that they can backstop this franchise to another Stanley Cup.
By Jacob Cheris