Capitals

Previously on: Samsonov shines, but Holtby remains Washington's No. 1 netminder

Capitals

At long last, hockey is almost back! The Capitals begin the 2020 postseason on Aug. 3, nearly five months after the 2019-20 season was initially paused due to the coronavirus. That’s a long time ago. Let’s take a look back at the biggest stories of the 2019-20 season to refresh our memories before the Caps continue their quest for a second Stanley Cup.

There's no real way to sugarcoat it. Braden Holtby had a rough regular season. His .897 save percentage and 3.11 GAA are easily the worst of his career.  He had to take time to "reset" early in the season, but his numbers were just consistently bad all season long. Even when he began to improve towards the end of the year, it was only slightly. From Feb. 15 to March 12, Holtby played in nine games with a save percentage of .904 and a 2.97 GAA.

To make matters worse, Holtby's struggles were magnified by the fact that he is on the final year of his contract and by the strong play of rookie Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, who was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft and is widely seen to be Holtby's successor, had a very strong rookie campaign with a .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA. Samsonov has 16 of Washington's 41 wins and outplayed the incumbent Holtby for much of the season. He even seemed to overtake Holtby as the No. 1 very briefly. 

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In the Caps' first matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins this season on Feb. 2, it was Samsonov and not Holtby who got the nod.

But towards the end of the season, as Holtby's numbers began to improve slightly, Samsonov's numbers tanked. The Caps suddenly looked awful defensively and Samsonov clearly struggled as a result.  Samsonov was 0-4-1 with a .869 save percentage and 4.34 GAA from Feb. 1 to March 12. It is perhaps then no surprise that, heading into the Phase 3 training camp, head coach Todd Reirden declared that the starting job was "Holtby's job to lose."

The future in net will be coming to Washington sooner rather than later. For now, however, Holtby has done just enough to remain the No. 1 in the playoffs.

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