It wasn’t a given Vitek Vanecek would have an opportunity with the Capitals in the offseason. Now in the first six games of his rookie season, the former Hershey Bears goalie Vanecek is 4-0-2 with a .915 save percentage allowing less than three goals per game.
Coming into the season, Capitals Head Coach Peter Laviolette said he had no set goal rotation in mind with two young Bears products on the roster. Ilya Samsonov is highly regarded as the future of the team, but has spent weeks on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol-related absence list.
“This is the perfect example of opportunity being given to somebody and that person making the most of it,” Laviolette said. “Everybody gets opportunity at some point from there is what you do with it, he certainly has made the most of his opportunity.”
It’s been somewhat of a revolving door for the Capitals in goal. Henrik Lundqvist out with a heart condition before the season began; Samsonov on the COVID-19 protocol list. Now, Vanecek is just one game away from tying Jim Carey’s franchise record for the longest point streak by a rookie to start his career.
“He’s been unreal,” said defenseman Justin Schultz of Vitek on Sunday after the Capitals 4-3 shootout loss to the Sabres. Vanecek racked up 45 saves in his third-straight start.
“Every game he’s played he’s kept us in it at times when we haven’t played as well, and tonight was no exception,” Schultz continued. “He made some huge saves, especially in overtime, and allowed us to get a point at least.”
Vanecek leads the NHL among rookie goaltenders in wins this season with four. He is third among rookie goaltenders in save percentage and fourth in goals against average.
With the Bears last season, Vanecek racked up 19 wins in net with a .917 save percentage and an average of 2.26 goals allowed per game. It was his best overall season since he entered the AHL in 2015.
In four games played in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, he had 130 saves, a 2.25 goals allowed average with a save percentage of 0.935. The Hershey Bears were eliminated by the Charlotte Checkers 1-3 in the second round.