Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Washington Capitals: 2021-2022 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Vitek Vanecek

Vitek Vanecek

“You have to think of your career the way you look at the ocean, deciding which wave you're gonna take and which waves you're not gonna take. Some of the waves are going to be big, some are gonna be small, sometimes the sea is going to be calm. Your career is not going to be one steady march upward to glory.”

-- Alan Arkin

Vitek Vanecek has just two years of NHL experience on his resume, but he already is exhibiting a steadiness of performance.  Last season, 21 wins; this season, 20 wins.  Last season, 2.69 goals against average; this season, 2.67.  Last season, a .908 save percentage; this season, .908.  Last season, .915 even strength save percentage; this season, .914.  Last season, a .867 save percentage when the Caps were shorthanded; this season, .865.  Last season, .909 save percentage in games he started; this season, .910.

Fearless’ Take…
The 2014 Entry Draft was a good one for goaltenders.  Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Thatcher Demko, Ville Husso, Elvis Merzlikins.  And Vitek Vanecek.  One of ten goalies taken in that draft to appear in the NHL, Vanacek has held his own, performance-wise, in his career to date – fifth in games played (79), fourth in wins (41), third in goals against average (2.68), fifth in shutouts (six), second in Gimmick save percentage (.793).

Cheerless’ Take… About his place in his draft class.  Vanecek ranks eighth of 11 goalies in save percentage (.908), eighth in even strength save percentage (.915), seventh in save percentage when shorthanded (.866). This season, of 48 goalies logging at least 1,500 minutes, he was 28th in overall save percentage (.908).  Of 53 goalies appearing in at least 25 games, his .914 even strength save percentage ranked 32nd.

Odd Vanecek Fact… Vanecek did well with higher shot volumes, going 11-4-2, 2.74, .918 with one shutout when facing 30 or more shots.

Odd Vanecek Fact II… Vanecek had ten games with save percentages over .950 and ten games with save percentages of .870 or lower.

Odd Vanecek Fact III… Vanecek is already in the top ten in wins, all-time, among goalies born in Czech Republic (ninth with 41 wins).

Game to Remember… January 15th at New York Islanders. When the Caps headed to Long Island to face the Islanders in mid-January, they were in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season to that point – four games (0-2-2).  They allowed 19 goals in the four games. Vanecek was coming off a lackluster 12 saves on 15 shots performance in relief of Zach Fucale in a 7-3 loss to Boston in the game before the Islanders contest. 

The Caps scored early to take a 1-0 lead, Tom Wilson putting them in front just 4:35 into the game.  Vanecek would make sure that goal held up until Alex Ovechkin scored an empty net goal to give the Caps a 2-0 win.  The 23-save shutout was Vanecek’s first of the season and set him off on a run of four shutouts over a 23-game span. 

Game to Forget… March 28th vs. Carolina.  The Caps won back-to-back 4-3 decisions over Buffalo and New Jersey as March was coming to a close, but they would move up in weight class when the Carolina Hurricanes came to Washington for the last game of the month.  The Hurricanes were struggling, going 2-3-2 in their previous seven games and 1-3-1 in their previous five road games.  The Caps fell behind early, trailing by a pair of goals at the first intermission.  The Caps halved the lead on a Tom Wilson goal in the seventh minute of the second period, but Carolina scored three times in a span of seven minutes to end the competitive portion of the game and Vanecek’s evening after 40 minutes.  The five goals Vanecek allowed on 23 shots marked the first time in his career he allowed five goals in regulation in a game on home ice.  Starting with that game, he finished the regular season with a 3-3-1 (one no-decision), 3.61, .864 record in eight games.

Postseason… Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde performance.  Vanecek played in two postseason games, stopping 30 of 32 shots (.938 save percentage) in a 4-2 Game 1 win over Florida.  In his other game, he allowed five goals on 19 shots in 39:49 worth of work in a 5-1 loss to the Panthers in Game 2.

Looking Ahead… Vanecek is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent.  Given that the Caps left him exposed in the expansion draft, where he was selected by Seattle, they would not seem completely wedded to the idea that he will be with the club going forward.  But complicating matters is the inconsistent play of the goalie the Caps hoped would take the number one job by the throat in 2021-2022 – Ilya Samsonov.  Vanecek’s just-expired contract had a $716,667 cap hit, and it would seem unlikely he would be getting much of a raise on a new deal. 

In the End…

Are the last two remarkably similar seasons for Vanecek a floor for his performance from which he will improve, or is it a ceiling that will retard his progress?  How the Caps see that future will be the basis for not only his future with the team, but possibly that of his partner, Samsonov, also an arbitration-eligible free agent who, even with his inconsistent season, would likely place a heavier burden on the Capitals’ salary cap (his cap hit in 2021-2022 was $2.0 million, all of it in base salary).  In what will be just his third season in the NHL, Vanecek might have come to a career crossroads.

Grade: B-minus

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Washington Capitals: 2021-2022 By the Tens -- Goaltenders: Ilya Samsonov

Ilya Samsonov

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.”
-- Bruce Lee.

If one was to play a game of word association about the Capitals, and one said “Ilya Samsonov,” the word most often associated with him might be “inconsistency.” He has yet to play in 100 games in his career to date, but consistency in performance over time has eluded him.  His early career win-loss record resembles that of his predecessor, Braden Holtby – 52-22-8 in 89 games to 51-28-6 in Holtby’s first 89 games, but his performance numbers lag – 2.81 goals against average, .902 save percentage, six shutouts compared to 2.57/.919/nine shutouts in Holtby’s first 89 games.

Fearless’ Take… Samsonov thrived in high-workload situations, going 9-4-3, 2.93, .919, with one shutout when facing 30 or more shots on goal.  He also demonstrated an ability to win on the road, going 14-6-3, 3.00, .906, with two shutouts.  He was 8-2-2, 2.84, .924, with one shutout in 12 road games in which he faced at least 30 shots.

Cheerless’ Take… In an 82-game season, some games matter more than others, and by two measures Samsonov had issues.  Against the Metropolitan Division he was 8-6-1, 2.82, .901.  Against playoff teams he was 9-6-2, 3.47, .889, with one shutout.  He was successful in a win-loss sense in facing these groups, but it seemed to be more as a passenger than as a goalie who consistently led the Caps by virtue of his performance.

Odd Samsonov Fact… Only once did this season did Samsonov string together at least three consecutive games with save percentage of .900 or better.  Over a five-game stretch from November 28th to December 10th, he was 3-2-0, 2.78, .916.

Odd Samsonov Fact II… In 89 career games, Samsonov recorded a save percentage under .900 43 times (43.8 percent).  Of 25 Caps goalies to play in at least 50 games for the team, that ranks as the 14th highest share of sub-.900 games to total games played, but among the eight goalies to play at least 50 games for the Caps since the 2004-2005 lockout season, his is the highest share of sub-.900 games.

Odd Samsonov Fact III… There were 27 goalies to win at least 20 games this season.  Only two – Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and Boston’s Jeremy Swayman – were younger, and of the two, only Oettinger won more games (30; Samsonov and Swayman finished with 23 wins).

Game to Remember… February 1st at Pittsburgh.  It is not often a three goals allowed performance would be a game to remember, but this one was special for Samsonov.  It was a strange game that started with the Caps scoring first, a shorthanded goal by Nic Dowd 5:50 into the game.  The Penguins came back, scoring a pair of power play goals five minutes apart in the first period.  The Caps tied the game late in the first period on, yes, another power play goal, this one by Dmitry Orlov.  Pittsburgh regained the lead early in the second period on Bryan Rust’s second power play goal of the game and the fifth of five goals scored by both teams on special teams.  The Caps tied the game in the last minute of the second period on a Daniel Sprong goal, and this would end the scoring in regulation.  The Caps won the game in overtime when Orlov scored his second goal of the game in the last minute of the five-minute overtime.  

As for Samsonov, he was not even the scheduled starter. Vitek Vanecek started the game but lasted just 6:23 before he was run over by Kasperi Kapanen, allowing one goal on two shots.  In relief, Samsonov did not allow an even strength goal, stopped 43 of 45 shots overall and stopped the last 25 shots he faced over the last 39:33 of regulation and overtime.  He was magnificent in the second period, stopping 22 of 23 shots.  And what is more, his performance ended a personal four-game losing streak (0-3-1) in which he posted a 3.84 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.

Game to Forget… February 2nd vs. Edmonton.  What February 1st giveth, February 2nd taketh away.  The night after his sublime performance against the Penguins, he laid an egg against the Edmonton Oilers.  Four shots faced, three goals allowed, 5:07 in ice time. It was the earliest exit of his career. The less said about it (and the Caps dropping a 5-3 decision), the better.

Postseason… It was more of the same from Samsonov in the postseason.  In five games, for the most part, he was either very good (twice posting save percentages over .950, although one was in a 20-minute effort) and two with save percentages under .875.  His 1-6, 2.98, .907 career postseason numbers need to improve. 

Looking Ahead… Samsonov is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent.  His entry level contract carried a $1.475 million cap hit.  Does he merit a raise?  Consider that his base salary under that deal was $832,500 a year.  He is not likely to sign a deal at that level, but a raise over his total compensation of $1.475 million would be risky, given his inconsistency in performance to date.  He will be 26 years old in February, and although he got something of a late start to his career in North America (he was drafted in 2015 but did not play his first game for Hershey in the AHL until 2018-2019), age should not be a factor in this point in evaluating his performance, especially from a consistency standpoint.  How the Caps evaluate his potential progress in that area will go a long way, not only to determining a compensation level, but whether the team actively seeks to move him in the off-season.

In the End… Ilya Samsonov is a goalie of considerable skill.  When he is on his game, he is among the most effective goalies in the league.  But the problem is that he is not “on his game” enough, from game-to-game, and sometimes in a period-to-period perspective.  Effective veterans seem to avoid the high “highs” and the low “lows.”  They make the saves they are supposed to make, make many the have no business making, and can put their teams on their backs for stretches and steal games.  Samsonov is not yet that goaltender, and the clock is ticking on his development to that level of performance.

Grade: B-minus


Monday, June 20, 2022

Washington Capitals: 2021-2022 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Trevor van Riemsdyk

Trevor van Riemsdyk

“Forward, as occasion offers. Never look round to see whether any shall note it… Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle.”
-- Marcus Aurelius

“Modest” would be an apt description of the numbers Trevor van Riemsdyk has compiled over his career and, for that matter, the 2021-2022 season with the Washington Capitals.  But things are a bit more nuanced than just the numbers fans generally pay attention to.  His complete resume does not paint the picture of an elite defenseman, but the 2021-2022 season for “TVR” was a portrait of a player who has settled in to a role as a third-pair defenseman who tends to business in the finer details of his job.

Fearless’ Take… No, van Riemsdyk is not an offensive defenseman by an stretch of the imagination, but the Caps do have that talent elsewhere on the blue line.  He did shine in some of the more obscure statistics, though… first among defensemen in shorthanded ice time per game (2:29), first in blocked shots per 60 minutes (6.15), first in takeaways per 60 minutes (1.43), the only Capitals defenseman with a takeaway-to-giveaway ratio greater than 1.00-to-1 (1.58-to-1; compared to Dmitry Orlov, next at 0.84-to-1).  He was second among defensemen in net penalties (drawn to taken) per 60 minutes (0.24; Nick Jensen led with 0.49) and led all Caps defensemen in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (0.86).

Cheerless’ Take… Well, there were those number fans pay attention to.  He had one goal, which isn’t bad by itself (a lot of defensemen aren’t goal scorers), but of 145 defensemen recording at least 75 shots on goal, he was 134th in shooting percentage (1.3).  He had a minus-3 rating, tied for eighth among the 11 defensemen to dress for the Caps this season, fifth of six defensemen to dress for at least 20 games.  His minus-5 goal differential at even strength was next to last among those 11 defensemen.  He had a 49.4 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 despite 54.8 percent offensive zone starts.

Odd van Riemsdyk Fact… Van Riemsdyk posted 17 points this season.  That is a career high.

Odd van Riemsdyk Fact II… In 364 career games with Chicago and Carolina, van Riemsdyk posted 15 goals (0.04 per game).  A modest total, but he has only two in 92 games with the Caps (0.02 per game).

Odd van Riemsdyk Fact III… Among players born in New Jersey, only Paul Mara has played in more NHL games among defensemen (734 with six teams) than van Riemsdyk (456 with three teams)

Game to Remember… January 15th at. New York Islanders.  There are no games that stand out for van Riemsdyk statistically this season, but there was a situation that merits notice.  The Caps took the ice against the Islanders in New York after a four-day hiatus.  Before going on their break, the Caps were pasted by the Boston Bruins, 7-3.  The Caps scored in the fifth minute of the game on a Tom Wilson goal, and then they held on in a close-to-the-vest game, that being the only goal going deep into the third period.  With the Caps clinging to that 1-0 lead, van Riemsdyk got the call to take the last shift or the game in regulation.  He and the Caps were rewarded when Alex Ovechkin potted an empty net goal with 10.2 seconds left. It was a solid game for van Riemsdyk who, in 18:41 of ice time, recorded a pair of shot attempts (one on goal), three credited hits, two blocked shots, no giveaways, and finished with a plus-2 rating.

Game to Forget… November 21st at Seattle.  The Caps wrapped up an early season west coast road trip with a back-to-back set of games, shutting out the San Jose Sharks, 4-0, before making their first trip to Seattle to meet the expansion Kraken.  Things looked good early for the Caps when Tom Wilson scored the game’s first goal less than four minutes into the contest.  The good times did not last.  Seattle tied the game late in the period and then put up three goals in the second period.  The Caps got one back early in the third period on an Alex Ovechkin goal to make things interesting, but the Kraken scored an empty net goal in the last minute to win, 5-2.  Van Riemsdyk skated just 12:36, his second-lowest ice time of the season and lowest in a loss.  He recorded on shot on goal and one hit for his effort, one that like that for many Caps in this game was barely noticeable.

Postseason… In what might have been one of the strangest developments in the Caps’ postseason, van Riemsdyk and Justin Schultz were two of the Capital defensemen to record goals John Carlson was the other).  Van Riemsdyk led the Caps defense in plus-minus rating (plus-3) and was one of two Capital defensemen to record two even strength points (Schultz was the other).  He led the Caps’ defense in blocked shots (13) and was the only Capital defenseman not to be charged with a penalty.  On the other side, his 43.2 percent shot attempts-for on ice was second worst among the six defensemen to appear in the postseason.

Looking Ahead… Van Riemsdyk has one year remaining on his current contract with a $950,000 cap hit.  He will be 31 years old on Opening Night, so age should not be a factor in any team decision to re-sign him.  The Caps have prospects coming through the pipeline who could challenge van Riemsdyk for a roster spot, and there are always the free agent/trade/waiver claims that could affect the roster, especially among the 5/6/7 group of defensemen, where van Riemsdyk resides. 

In the End… Trevor van Riemsdyk won’t wow people with his scoring prowess, nor will he bring people out of their seats with a physical game. His game is more subtle, as evidenced by the statistical categories in which he fared well in 2021-2022, and it is how well he deploys those skills that will determine whether he is with the club going forward.

Grade: B