Penguins, Capitals seek consistency in net

NHL Hockey

Goaltending has been a key storyline for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, who have had opposite results so far as they head into Sunday’s matinee in Pittsburgh.

The Capitals opened the season with two wins at Buffalo, the first 6-4 with Ilya Samsonov in net, and the second 2-1 with Vitek Vanacek making 30 saves in his NHL debut.

It’s unclear which will start Sunday, or Tuesday in a rematch, but Vanacek, 25, certainly made an impression after logging five seasons in the minor leagues.

“I’m impressed with how he handled everything,” Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said of Vanacek. “He’s very calm back there. Buffalo played way better than us, and they really attacked him, so looking at the game overall, he won the game for us.”

Vanacek was understandably elated.

“The dream came true,” the Czech native said.

Washington is going with two young goalies — Samsonov, 23, has played in just 27 NHL games — after losing Braden Holtby to free agency and signing veteran Henrik Lundqvist, only for Lundqvist to be diagnosed with a problem that required heart surgery.

Vanacek has made the biggest splash so far.

“He was really good,” Peter Laviolette said of Vanacek after coaching the Capitals to wins in his first two games with the club.

“When we weren’t really sharp, he was really sharp and gave us an opportunity.”

Pittsburgh has made a change in its goaltending rotation since the start of last season, too.

Tristan Jarry was named to the All-Star team and overtook two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray last season as the No. 1 goaltender, and Casey DeSmith — the Penguins’ backup two years ago — is back at the NHL level after Murray was traded to Ottawa.

Things have been a bit rough for Jarry, who gave up nine goals in less than four periods of play in the Penguins’ 6-3 and 5-2 losses at Philadelphia to open the season.

That includes letting in three goals on six shots — although one came after his stick broke — over about the first half of the first period Friday before getting pulled for DeSmith, who allowed one goal on 13 shots.

“We’re going to assess (Jarry’s performance) as objectively as we can,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “But Tristan’s a good goalie. He’s a competitor. I know he’ll bounce back.”

When Jarry will get that chance is unclear. As with Washington, it’s not known which Pittsburgh goalie will start Sunday.

“I know (Jarry) gave up a fair amount of goals, but to his defense, the types of goals that went into the net were high-quality chances,” Sullivan said.

DeSmith, who had not played in the NHL in 22 months but had a strong season in the American Hockey League last year, also offered an endorsement of Jarry.

“He doesn’t get too high or too low; he’s pretty even-keel,” DeSmith said. “When I went in there, he was cheering me on.

“I think he’ll bounce back pretty smoothly the next game he plays, and I’m confident he’ll be good.”

On the offensive side, Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby and Washington winger Jakub Vrana each leads his team with two goals.

Pittsburgh was bracing for the possible absence of winger Jared McCann, part of the third line that has been arguably its best trio. McCann faced a disciplinary hearing with the NHL player safety department for elbowing Philadelphia’s Travis Sanheim.

–Field Level Media

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