Without a Change in Goal, the Capitals Could Miss the Playoffs

Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Washington Capitals need to make an upgrade in order to reach the postseason.

Washington’s goaltending situation is a topic that has been discussed a lot recently. The tandem of second-year netminder Vitek Vanecek and third-year NHLer Ilya Samsonov has been average at best, and it needs to be improved.

The 26-year-old Vanecek has been the better of the two players, posting a 2.36 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in 25 games this season. Both figures rank in the top-20 league-wide.

Samsonov has been less effective when between the pipes. The 25-year-old has recorded a 2.93 goals against average and a .901 save percentage in 32 games this season.

The Capitals concede 2.8 goals per game, which at 11th in the league, is not a bad number. However, the Caps are second in the NHL in shots allowed per game (28.8), and the penalty killing unit ranks 14th (80.1%), which tells me that any defensive deficiencies stem from the goaltending.

The Capitals must acquire an upgrade in goal.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that those ranks are detrimental to the Capitals. Clearly, having defensive numbers that rank in the top half of the league means that Washington is doing something right.

However, looking at the Capitals’ defensive ranks in the Metropolitan Division paints a different picture.

In terms of goals against per contest, the Caps are fifth in the Metro, and when it comes to killing penalties, they are seventh. Sure, Washington’s defense isn’t bad overall, but when you look at the teams that it will have to play most often to reach the postseason, and once in the postseason, it really doesn’t compare.

I think it’s safe to say that those defensive ranks in the Metro are a big reason that the Capitals are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington is 28-18-9 overall and 8-12-2 since January 1. The team has surrendered three or more goals 15 times during that brutal 22-game span.

What really concerns me is that the eight teams currently in a playoff position in the East have been solidly in those spots for much of the year, but now, the Columbus Blue Jackets are making a push. As the Jackets emerge as a team that could challenge for a playoff berth, the Capitals seem to be the only top-eight club that’s flirting with falling out of its position.

Early in the season, the Caps were leading the Metro behind an incredible start from captain Alex Ovechkin, but now that he has cooled off, the team has as well. Even if Washington does hang on to get in, that’s not the goal in the U.S. capital.

The goal is to win the Stanley Cup one more time before eventually watching core players age out of their competitive state. That’s going to be a difficult goal to achieve when your starting goalies have a combined four playoff appearances and zero wins.

If you’ll remember last year’s playoffs, you’ll recall that Craig Anderson was the lone Capitals goaltender to earn a win in their 4-1 series defeat.

Of course, we know that Washington has made a push for three-time champion and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, but he apparently has no desire to play for his old rival.

Perhaps instead we could see the Caps turn to the Dallas Stars, where veterans like Anton Khudobin or ex-Capital Braden Holtby could be available. Both players have competed in the Stanley Cup Final since 2018.

Maybe, in the spirit of reunions, Washington turns to a division rival and inquires about Semyon Varlamov, who spent three years in D.C. and has 60 games of playoff experience in his career.

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Goalie is not the only position that could be due for an upgrade in Washington, but it is the one that is most glaring, especially in the Metro. If the Capitals want to make the playoffs, let alone a run at the Cup, they’ll need to make a move before March 21.