The 39-year-old signed a professional tryout agreement with the Capitals on Sunday after Lundqvist announced Dec. 17 he is unable to play this season because of a heart condition. Lundqvist announced Monday that he will have open-heart surgery to repair the issue.
“I think adding a guy like Anderson, kind of the same way we were talking about Henrik, he comes to a new organization and (has) something to prove and fighting for a space and fighting for the crease,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday. “I love that. And so I think it’ll be a really good battle with the players that are here and in place, and then adding a guy like Anderson.”
Ilya Samsonov is expected to be the Capitals’ starting goalie with Anderson, a veteran of 17 NHL seasons, battling with rookie Vitek Vanecek and Pheonix Copley for the backup job and a spot on the taxi squad as their third goalie. Washington’s training camp opens Monday.
Anderson was 11-17-2 with a 3.25 goals-against average and .902 save percentage for the Ottawa Senators last season. In 648 NHL games (633 starts) for the Senators, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks, he is 289-251-67 and two ties with a 2.84 GAA, .913 save percentage and 42 shutouts.
Laviolette stopped short of declaring Samsonov the No. 1 goalie, but expressed confidence in the 23-year-old, who went 16-6-2 with a 2.55 GAA, .913 save percentage and one shutout in 26 regular-season games (22 starts) as a rookie backup to longtime starter Braden Holtby last season.
Vanecek dressed as Holtby’s backup during the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Samsonov was out with an upper-body injury that is now healed.
With Holtby leaving to sign with the Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent, Samsonov, the No. 22 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, is the heir apparent to the starting job.
“Certainly, Samsonov being part of the team, having a little bit of experience, his pedigree of who he is, we’re excited to get him back and healthy and to show what he can do in training camp,” Laviolette said. “It’s a big step for those young goaltenders, but we do have confidence in them to go into camp and to battle it out a little bit.”
The Capitals wanted an experienced goalie to help mentor Samsonov, though, which is part of the reason they signed Lundqvist to a one-year, $1.5 million contract Oct. 9 after the 38-year-old had the final season of his contract bought out by the New York Rangers on Sept. 30. After learning Lundqvist won’t be able to play, the Capitals began looking for another veteran and decided to bring in Anderson on a tryout.
Vanecek, who turns 25 on Jan. 9 and has yet to make his NHL debut, was in line to be the backup after going 19-10-1 with a 2.26 GAA, .917 save percentage and two shutouts in 31 games for Hershey in the American Hockey League last season. Copley has played in 29 NHL games for the St. Louis Blues and Capitals including 27 as Holtby’s backup in 2018-19, when he went 16-7-3 with a 2.90 GAA, .905 save percentage and one shutout. But the 28-year-old was surpassed by Samsonov and Vanecek on Washington’s depth chart and played for Hershey last season.
“We’ve got pieces that we’re really excited to get into training camp and see with the goaltenders, the young goaltenders that we have in place as well as bringing in a guy like Craig Anderson with his experience and adding him to the mix,” Laviolette said. “I think it’s going to be a great battle through the course of the training camp. … There’s going to be an evaluation period that goes on with this, and then we’re going to have to make decisions. But we still have a lot of confidence in the people that we have in place, even though Henrik won’t be with us.”