Over the summer, the Capitals’ general manager Brian MacLellan parted ways with the team’s two young goalies. Ilya Samsonov was not made a qualifying offer and was signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs while Mac was trading Vitek Vanecek to Upstart Division rival New Jersey.
It was a crucial moment for both goalkeepers. But two months into their stint with their new teams, they’re both swimming.
The most recent example of success is Vitek Vanecekwho started the season slowly but is now thriving under a lighter workload under the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils, who missed the playoffs last season, have won 10 straight games and shot up to first place in the Metropolitan Division. In seven appearances at this stage (as of October 25), Vanecek is 7-0-0 with 1.40 goals against average and a 0.946 percent save rate.
Now all together from your couch: VI-TEK 👏👏 VI-TEK 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/t1USOCsaa4
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 16, 2022
The Devils’ tenth straight win came Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens. During that 5-1 win, Vanecek stopped 25 of 26 shots in the W, which was good for a .962 percent save.
“Honestly, it’s great,” Vanecek said the stripe. “The first period was a bit tough, but after that we wake up, come on and win the game. 10 in a row, it’s really really big. I hope we continue like this.”
Vanecek said of his performance: “To be honest, I felt good. I felt good. That was a good thing, but the guys helped me.”
He later posted excitedly on his Instagram page.
Vanecek will undoubtedly be carried by a Devils team that is among the best in the NHL as the season begins. The Devils have posted a division-high 60 goals and given up a division-low 39 goals — good for a plus 21-goal difference. The Devils in 5v5 have the most shot attempts in the NHL (881) and have the second-highest shot attempt percentage in the league at 59.7. They’ve also scored a league-high 43 goals at 5v5.
That means the Devils put a lot of pressure on opposing teams and keep the puck in the offensive zone a lot more than other clubs. Their exemplary play takes the pressure off goalies who were seen as a possible liability pre-season (Vanecek/MacKenzie Blackwood) and turns them into a strength. The Devils’ most impressive stat so far this season is that they gave up a league-low 107 high-danger chances at 5v5.
While Vanecek’s dashboard stats are stellar, his process stats suggest he’s not exactly upside down — at least not yet. According to Money PuckHe has kept 0.6 goals above expectations and is good for 40th-best in the league.
It’s unclear if Vanecek would have repeated his success in Washington this season and continued to grow as a player. The Capitals are one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this season.
Here are some statistics to illustrate this. CF = shot attempts. xGF % = Expected target percentage. SCF = goal chances ended. HDCF% = High Hazard Probability.
Devil 5v5: 60.8 CF% (2nd), 63.6 xGF% (1st), 63.0 SCF% (1st), 65.4 HDCF% (1st)
Caps 5v5: 49.7 CF% (18th), 46.5 xGF% (24th), 48.6 SCF% (21st), 47.6 HDCF% (20th)
The Devils are also posting a league-low 24.5 shots per game while the Caps are 16th at 31.9.
Vanecek’s stats are similar to Darcy Kuemper – Washington’s main starter this season.
Vanecek: 7-1-0, 2.18 GAA, 0.915% save (5v5% 0.921 save)
Kuemper: 5-8-1, 2.74 GAA, 0.911% save (5v5 save % 0.918)
Vanecek has been good, but it also speaks to how well Kuemper has done this season despite a challenging workload.
Screenshot: New Jersey Devils