Laviolette says not even Caps knew what they had in Vanecek originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
To say Vitek Vanecek was an overlooked member of the Capitals’ organization this offseason would be the understatement of the year.
Three months ago, his name wasn’t included in the conversation surrounding Washington’s goalie situation. Henrik Lundqvist had signed a deal to be the veteran netminder, completing a lineup with Ilya Samsonov, a former first-round pick widely considered to be a top goalie prospect.
However, things didn’t go the way the Capitals expected. Lundqvist announced in December that he had been diagnosed with a heart condition that was going to require surgery. He decided to step away from the NHL in order to take the time to heal. Vanecek reported for camp and impressed coaches enough to earn a spot on the roster to start the season.
Samsonov, the de facto starter with Lundqvist out, appeared in just two games before testing positive for the coronavirus. That thrust Vanecek into an everyday role and he’s thrived with it ever since, posting a .909 save percentage with 2.9 goals allowed per game while being named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January.
“The way he’s handled himself and just the quality of work he’s put in has really impressed me because I didn’t know what we had,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said on 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Friday morning. “I don’t think anyone really knew because he had never taken any games before. He didn’t have the experience and so for him to come in and handle all that, you ought to give him credit. He’s given our team a chance to win every night.”
The Capitals will go into Saturday afternoon’s game against the New York Rangers sporting an 8-4-3 record with 19 points in the standings that put them in a three-way tie for second place in the East Division. Vanecek has started 13 of those games and, though Samsonov is working back up to game speed down in Hershey, he’s expected to remain a prominent member of the goalie rotation moving forward.
“Like any player, it’s not always perfect but for the most part he’s done his job and he’s made the saves he’s supposed to, made some that he shouldn’t,” Laviolette said. “For me, with our team, if you can keep us in the game eventually we can score goals and get ahead of ya.”
For more interviews, tune into the Sports Junkies on NBC Sports Washington, weekdays from 6-10 a.m.