Darcy Kuemper’s start with Capitals puts him in rare company

Kuemper’s start with Capitals puts him in rare company originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For the fifth time this season, Darcy Kuemper left the ice with a zero still on the scoreboard.

The Capitals’ veteran netminder blanked the Arizona Coyotes with 26 saves Thursday night, continuing his stellar start to his Washington career by improving to 14-11-4 with a .920 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average in 30 games.

Kuemper signed with the Capitals fresh off a Stanley Cup title with the Colorado Avalanche and he cost as much, inking a five-year, $26.25 deal to be their top option in net. Aside from a three-week stint on Injured Reserve, Kuemper has carried over the success he enjoyed in Denver and shown why he commanded such an investment.

With shutouts against the Coyotes, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets, the 32-year-old has two more zero-goal outings than any other netminder in the league. He’s the first goalie in Capitals history to post five or more shutouts in his first 30 starts to begin a season.

His total body of work has been just as impressive. Kuemper has racked up 811 saves with 71 goals allowed, joining Olaf Kölzig (2002-03) as the only Capitals goaltenders to stop at least 800 shots and allow 75 goals or fewer over their first 30 starts of a campaign. Should he continue his current pace and reach 50 starts, his numbers would put him among the best single seasons the Capitals have ever seen between the pipes.

Though a longshot to compete for the Vezina Trophy this season (BetMGM gives him 800/1 odds, tied for 13th in the NHL), Kuemper has still been the reliable goal-stopper the Capitals had been searching for the last few seasons. Washington allows 2.20 goals per 60 minutes at even strength with him on the ice this year for the seventh-best rate in the league. In two seasons with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, the Capitals allowed 2.68 — tied for 17th.

Considering the Capitals carried over an almost-identical depth chart of defensemen from last season save for the addition of Erik Gustafsson, Kuemper deserves a lot of the credit for Capitals’ improvements defensively. The Capitals are also averaging a five-year low of 3.21 goals per game on the other end despite league-wide scoring rates trending up, which has made Kuemper’s contributions all the more important.

While Charlie Lindgren was just as impressive starting in Kuemper’s stead when he was on IR in December, the latter has reinforced his standing as the team’s starter with a 6-2-2 record and .926 save percentage in his 10 starts since his return. If he remains healthy the rest of the way, the Capitals may have a few new additions to make to their history books.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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