Vitek Vanecek – Grade: D-
Despite entering the postseason with shoddy playoff stats from previous seasons with the Washington Capitals, Vitek Vanecek was Lindy Ruff’s starting goaltender for the start of the 2023 playoffs. At the time, the decision was fairly obvious, especially with no legitimate alternatives on the roster. After getting blown away in each of his first two starts against the Rangers, Vanecek was hooked for Akira Schmid. The rest is history.
While Schmid stole the show on Broadway, his success wasn’t sustained against a Hurricanes team that outmatched the Devils by a significant margin in each of the first two games of that series. For some reason, Ruff decided to turn back to Vanecek. While the Devils did win Game 3, Vanecek’s performance was unremarkable, and the team allowed three shorthanded goals in the 8-4 win. Scoring eight times and allowing four goals is just not something you can do more than a few times, if that, at the NHL level.
Naturally, Ruff rolled out Vanecek once again in Game 4 thanks to his “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” coaching style, and predictably added insult to injury for Vanecek and Devils fans. After the loss, Vanecek was clearly dejected, as observed by reporters. Although the loss was largely due to his performance, it was pretty apparent that Vanecek should not have been thrown to the wolves like that, with his struggles already visible in prior games. Ruff’s handling of the situation was cruel and unfair to a player with as much charisma as Vanecek, who deserved so much better than this.