For as good as the stat sheet says Ilya Samsonov played, the reality was much more promising for the Russian netminder.
In a relief appearance for an injured Vitek Vanecek, Samsonov stopped 43 of 45 shots sent his way in a 4-3 Capitals overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. And were it not for him, the Capitals likely wouldn’t have walked away with a point — let alone two.
Of those 45 shots he faced, 33 of them came with the Capitals and Penguins at even strength. Samsonov stopped all of them.
In what was undoubtedly the best performance of his season, and perhaps his career, he faced the second-most shots he’d faced in his career. That other night was in a 46-save performance in a loss to the Florida Panthers this season.
But aside from the three shutouts he’s put up this season, of which he faced 34, 22 and 16 shots total in each contest, there likely wasn’t a game the Capitals needed him more this season.
Samsonov kept the Capitals in the game with a mix of timely and outstanding saves, notably one on Sidney Crosby in overtime, to keep the score tied.
At all strengths, the Penguins had 19 high-danger chances per Natural Stat Trick, and nine at five-on-five. The Capitals swung the possession game back in their favor in the back-half of the night, but it was Samsonov that allowed them to do so.
The Capitals will play the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday at home in their last game before the All-Star Break, and if Vanecek (upper-body injury) is unable to play, it’s unclear if the Capitals will rely on Samsonov for a second-straight night, or turn to Zach Fucale or even Hunter Shepard.
Still, at 25-12-9 with about six weeks until the NHL’s trade deadline, the time for Samsonov to take the No. 1 job and run with it is there if he can take it. And Tuesday was a nice start.