Capitals are looking for Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov to emerge as the No. 1 goalkeeper

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The Washington Capitals, less than four weeks before the regular season kicks off, have an open competition in goalkeeping — once again. Capitals coach Peter Laviollette said he is looking for one of the team’s two goalkeepers, Vitek Vanessek or Ilya Samsonov, to go further away from the goalkeeping and be the man who “grabs and keeps the pucker”.

Vanecek looked like a lock to lead the Capitals beyond the season, but he has struggled in recent weeks. Vanessek is 1-4-0 in his past five games starting with .863 saves and 3.80 goals-to-average. January 1 to March 21 trade deadline was the clear starter for the capitals, going 10-4-0 with a 0.925 savings ratio.

“Just talking to Vitek, we’re looking for him to come back to call where he is,” Laviolette said. “He’s been really good and really strong for us for a long period of time, roughly from January 1 onwards, and the matches he’s been in, when he wasn’t injured, he’s done really well at the net.”

Samsonov’s last start was on March 25 in a 4-3 penalty shootout win against Buffalo. He’s had a season of ups and downs, full of contradictions that started in training camp. Samsonov looked like he would be the starting goalkeeper on opening night, but Vanessek got the nod instead.

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The Capitals have lost back-to-back goals and will have to decide who will start in the net Wednesday against Tampa Bay, two-time Stanley Cup champions.

If Washington decides to go with Vanecek, it will be a chance for the goalkeeper to strike a rhythm and get back on track. Choosing Samsonov may give him a chance to prove he deserves more starts.

“I’d like to have a guy who emerged and evolved from that group,” Laviolette said. “They are both good goalkeepers, but you want one of them to really take over.”

Washington was adamant that she would run with a goalkeeper for the majority of the season, and didn’t want to name either Vanessek or Samsonov as the team’s true No. 1. That changed when Lavolette suggested in late January that Vanessek was ahead of the competition and he could “take control”. Vanessek was injured in early February, but was right back where he left off when he returned in March.

Washington did not trade any goalkeepers on the deadline, believing Vanecek was enough to continue beyond the season. At the time, general manager Brian MacLellan said Vanecek deserved to be the number one goalkeeper.

“I love these two guys,” the center said earlier in the week, Yevgeny Kuznetsov. “that they [are] Young and a little reckless at times. But at the same time, whoever is playing, we feel confident. We trust them, and we all make mistakes sometimes, right? It’s just about how we support them when they make mistakes.”

Capitals hold player-only meetings

TJ Oshie said the Capitals have held some player-only meetings in the past few days after lopsided losses to Carolina and Minnesota. O’Shea said they talked about who the team is, how they want to play and how their mindset should change before the post-season.

“We’re not playing with who we are,” O’Shea said. “I don’t think any amount of training is going to get you out of that. It’s up to the players on the ice, the players play a certain way, the preparation is done a certain way. So we’ve been talking as a group as players and just have a few ideas.”

O’Shea said the meetings were less about in-game details and more about each player “seeing what they want from this season” and how they can get there.

“We got away from having 20 players in the squad who come in with the goal of winning and winning a certain way, and we just didn’t have that,” O’Shea said. “Sometimes you can get away with it [Alex Ovechkin] He goes out and scores a set of goals or [Kuznetsov] does his thing. But often you can’t.”

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