Capitals

Samsonov is taking pressure off Caps as trade deadline nears

Capitals

The final score read 4-0 for the Capitals, but Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils could have gone very differently if not for the great start by goalie Ilya Samsonov. Just 29 seconds in, Travis Zajac fired a slap shot off the rush forcing a big save from Samsonov.

“Yeah that was a funny play," Tom Wilson said. "I think [Dmitry Orlov] got hit in the face and obviously when a d-man is out of it they got some guys behind us. That was a huge save. The first goal is big in this league, if you can get out to a good start and roll from there."

That was the first of 24 saves Samsonov would make on the night in the second shutout of this career and a big save that allowed the team time to find its legs before taking over the game.

With a record of 7-1-1 on the season, Friday was just the latest example of how Samsonov continues to improve with every passing game.

No team wants to give up a scoring chance in the first 30 seconds, but Samsonov's save on Zajac certainly seemed to contribute to his big performance, giving him a massive dose of confidence early on.

"Any time you get some early couple good saves, you feel more comfortable and stay in the game," Samsonov said. "I like it. ... I think every goalie like it."

From there, Samsonov looked unbeatable. He was especially strong with the glove with a number saves that reflected the confidence in which he played the game with.

 

Samsonov has certainly come a long way from his shaky start to the season. He did not register a save percentage above .900 in either of his first two starts before testing positive for the coronavirus. He would not return to action for over a month and, though he won in his first game back on Feb. 28 against New Jersey, he allowed two shaky goals in the process.

With every passing game, however, Samsonov has been playing with visibly more confidence and now looks like the No. 1 goalie the team envisioned him being in the offseason.

Samsonov's continued improvement is especially important less than a month before the NHL trade deadline.

The Caps' goalie tandem consists of the 24-year-old Samsonov and the 25-year-old Vitek Vanecek. Though both have contributed to Washington's high place in the standings, goaltending looks like a position of need for a Washington team hoping to compete for the Stanley Cup this season. Thinking ahead to the playoffs, having such a young goalie tandem is a gamble.

Though it would be hard for general manager Brian MacLellan to make any significant addition at the trade deadline, it is feeling more and more as if the Caps may not need to make a move to pick an additional goalie just to find some veteran experience. There seems to be a growing sense that the team is just fine with what it's got.

“Both of our goalies have been unbelievable," Wilson said. "They are poised back there. For being young guys, it is second to none and they look awesome. I think in this league you have to have good goaltending to win games and they’ve given us a chance every night.”

"We don't even think about it anymore," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "That's not really looked at like that anymore. At the beginning of the year, we've got a couple young guys that have to prove themselves. You can give somebody an opportunity, it's up to them to make the most of the opportunity and I think they have. They're both playing really well. I know that they're considered rookies, but inside of our room it's more like they're just considered part of the team."

Performance's like Saturday are the reason why.

"Whole team played hard tonight," Samsonov said. "I feel comfortable. A good shutout, and thank you, my team. Thank you, everyone."