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SKATE SHAVINGS -- News and Notes From Caps' Morning Skate

Caps conclude set of back-to-backs in Minnesota, McMichael back in lineup, Fucale starts in net, more

by Mike Vogel @vogscaps / washingtoncaps.com

Almost Saturday Night - The Caps finish up a weekend set of back-to-back games on Saturday night in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild. Washington dropped a 5-1 decision to the Blues in St. Louis on Friday night.

Saturday's game marks the Caps' first visit to Minnesota in more than 22 months. Washington played one of its final road games prior to the pandemic here, defeating the Wild 4-3 on March 1, 2020.

Washington is seeking its first win of calendar 2020; it started the New Year with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils in D.C. last Saturday afternoon. The Caps have yet to go consecutive games without collecting a point this season, a streak they're seeking to continue on Saturday against Minnesota.

"They're playing really well," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette of the Wild. "They're a real aggressive team. They're still missing guys, and they go in and beat Boston [on Thursday] and play really well there.

"We're going to have to make sure we're ready to play. It doesn't matter who's in your lineup if you play hard. They've got some dangerous players on their top line and some good defensemen as well, so you're going to be battling."

Rookie Caps forward Connor McMichael was a scratch on Friday night in St. Louis, the first time he sat out a game since the first two games of the season. McMichael will be reinserted into the Washington lineup tonight.

In The Nets - A night after relieving Ilya Samsonov at the outset of the third period in St. Louis, Zach Fucale will get his second career NHL start on Saturday night in St. Paul. Fucale stopped all seven shots he faced in Friday's game, his second career appearance in the NHL following his 21-save shutout over the Red Wings in Detroit on Nov. 11.

"Just more consistency, he has played really well," says Laviolette when asked what he's hoping to see from Fucale tonight. "He was off a little bit since returning from COVID, and then [Hershey] got postponed, so it hasn't been a real smooth rhythm for him from the time he left us until he game back here. But his last game was pretty good and with Vitek [Vanecek] not being available, it gave him an opportunity in the back-to-back. We put him in [Friday] night and he played really well, and he gets a start tonight."

The word "consistency" addresses what's currently lacking in the Capitals' crease situation. Washington's defense is second best in the League at shot suppression and the Caps are third in the NHL in 5-on-5 scoring, but the Caps will need more consistent goaltending, more key saves at key moments in games, and more games "stolen" by their netminders if they hope to achieve a deep playoff run this spring.

When Samsonov authored back-to-back road shutouts in Los Angeles and San Jose, respectively, less than two months ago, the hope was that he was taking a step forward in this, his third season in the NHL. He didn't start the game following the second of those shutouts because it was the second of back-to-backs in Seattle, but Samsonov started four straight regular season games for the first time in his career right after the Nov. 21 loss to the Kraken.

Including Friday's game against St. Louis, Samsonov has started 12 of Washington's last 16 games, and he owns a 7-2-3 record over that span. But the underlying numbers aren't as good as the record might indicate; he has a 3.15 GAA and an .891 save pct. during that stretch.

Samsonov has permitted fewer than three goals in only three of those 12 starts and ranks tied for 33rd (with Vanecek and others) in the NHL in percentage of starts with a save pct. above .900 (9 of 18, 50%), among goalies with 10 or more starts.

Samsonov faces an average of 28.4 shots per 60 minutes in net, eighth fewest in the NHL. Vanecek is sixth in that category with an average of 28 shots faced per game. One of the biggest differences between the two goaltenders this season has been offensive support. Samsonov gets 3.66 goals per game to rank third in the NHL behind only Darcy Kuemper (4.13) of Colorado and Spencer Knight (3.95) of Florida. Vanecek gets an average of 2.97 goals per game in offensive support, ranking 24th in the League.

Washington's two goaltenders are also far apart in the even-strength save percentage rankings. Vanecek owns a .922 save pct. at evens to rank 19th in the League while Samsonov's .905 save pct. at evens has him at 43rd in the circuit.  

In hockey, the term "quality start" (coined by The Hockey Abstract's Rob Vollman) refers to a start in which a goaltender delivers a save pct. that's better than the League average number, or, in the event of a start with fewer than 20 shots against, a save pct. of at least .885. In his rookie season of 2019-20, Samsonov delivered 13 quality starts in 22 assignments for a .591 quality start percentage. Last season, that number dipped to .389 and it has fallen again this season to just .333. That rate of .333 is tied for 46th in the NHL among goaltenders with 10 or more starts this season.

Washington needs one of its goalies to step forward and take the reins. Samsonov has had the best opportunity to do so over the last several weeks, but it hasn't happened yet. Fucale has an opportunity to insert himself into the Caps' goaltending conversation tonight in Minnesota.

For the Wild, Kaapo Kahkonen gets the start on Saturday against the Caps. In nine appearances this season, he is 5-2-1 with a 2.59 GAA and a .913 save pct. He will be making his first career appearance against Washington.

All Lined Up - Here's how we believe the Capitals and the Wild might look on Saturday night in St. Paul:

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson

24-McMichael, 20-Eller, 73-Sheary

62-Hagelin, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway

59-Protas, 23-Sgarbossa, 10-Sprong

Defensemen

42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

57-van Riemsdyk, 2-Schultz

Goaltenders

60-Fucale

30-Samsonov

Extras/Taxi Squad

6-Kempny

38-Cholowski

49-Leason

52-Irwin

Injured/Out

19-Backstrom (non-COVID illness)

41-Vanecek (non-COVID illness)

39-Mantha (upper body, indefinite)

77-Oshie (non-COVID illness)

 

MINNESOTA

Forwards

22-Fiala, 38-Hartman, 36-Zuccarello

12-Boldy, 23-Rossi, 17-M. Foligno

7-Sturm, 52-Dewar, 89-Gaudreau

37-Rau, 49-Rask, 16-R. Pitlick

Defensemen

8-Jordie Benn, 24-Dumba

4-Merrill, 57-Mermis

59-Addison, 29-Kulikov

Goaltenders

34-Kahkonen

35-Hammond

Extras

 

Injured/Out

14-Eriksson Ek (upper body)

18-Greenway (COVID-19 protocol)

21-Duhaime (COVID-19 protocol)

25-Brodin (upper body)

27-Bjugstad (upper body)

33-Talbot (lower body)

46-Spurgeon (lower body)

47-Goligoski (COVID-19 protocol)

97-Kaprizov (upper body)

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