This summer, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan parted ways with two of the team’s youngest players. Ilya Samsonov was not given a qualifying offer and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs while Mac was traded Vitek Vanecek starting a rival in New Jersey.
It was a sink or swim moment for both players. But in the two months they live with their new teams, they both swim.
A recent example of success is Vitek Vanecekwho had a slow start to the season but is now thriving under an easy job under the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils, who missed the playoffs last season, have won 10 straight games and moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division. In seven games that season (starting October 25), Vanecek is 7-0-0 with a 1.40 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.
All together now from your bed: VI-TEK 👏👏 VI-TEK 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/t1USOCsaa4
– New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 16, 2022
The Devils’ tenth straight win came against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. During that 5-1 win, Vanecek stopped 25 of 26 shots at the W, which was good for a .962 save percentage.
“To be honest it’s fun,” Vanecek he said in a series. “The first half was a little difficult but after that we got up, got there, and won the game. 10 in a row, it’s really big. I hope we can continue like that.”
Regarding his performance, Vanecek said, “To be honest, I felt good. I felt comfortable. That was a good thing, but the guys helped me.”
She later wrote on her Instagram page that she was happy.
There is no doubt that Vanecek has been inspired by a Devils team that has been one of the best in the NHL this early in the season. The Devils have scored a team-high 60 goals and given up a team-low 39 – good for a goal differential of 21. The Devils at 5v5 have the most shot attempts in the NHL (881) and have 59.7 percent of attempts, second most in the league. They posted a league-high 43 clearances at 5v5 as well.
This means the Devils put more pressure on opposing teams and keep the puck in the offensive zone than other teams. Their model game takes the pressure off its goal, which before the season was seen as a potential liability (Vanecek / MacKenzie Blackwood) and turns it into a force. The Devils most impressive stat so far this season is that they have given up a league-low 107 dangerous chances at 5v5.
While Vanecek’s dashboard stats are impressive, his performance stats suggest he’s not really in over his head — at least not yet. According to Money Puck, he has 0.6 goals saved above expectations which is good for 40th best in the league.
It’s unclear if Vanecek would have lived up to his success and continued to grow as a player in Washington this season. The Capitals are one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this season.
Here are the statistics that prove this. CF = Shooting effort. xGF % = Expected Goal Percent. SCF = Scoring opportunities complete. HDCF% = High risk factor.
Devils 5v5 60.8 CF % (2nd), 63.6 xGF% (1st), 63.0 SCF % (1st), 65.4 HDCF % (1st)
Chapters 5v5: 49.7 CF % (18th), 46.5 xGF% (24th), 48.6 SCF % (21st), 47.6 HDCF % (20th)
The Devils also gave up a league-low 24.5 shots against per game while the Caps were 16th best at 31.9.
Vanecek’s stats match those of Darcy Kuemper – Washington’s leading scorer this season.
Vanecek: 7-1-0, 2.18 GAA, .915 save % (5v5 save % .921)
Kuemper: 5-8-1, 2.74 GAA, .911 save % (5v5 save % .918)
Vanecek did well, but it also speaks to how well Kuemper has done this season despite the heavy workload.
Screenshot: New Jersey Devils